Raising a child with attachment issues is incredibly challenging. It can – at times – be exhausting, upsetting, frustrating, depressing, frightening or infuriating. And, it can take a toll on even the strongest, most devoted parent.

Secondary traumatic stress (STS) is a natural consequence of helping a traumatized or suffering person. For example, social workers are exposed to significant stress through the trauma of their clients. Similarly, foster and adoptive parents deal with the painful details of the awful things some adults have done to their children. Empathy and caring, so important to building a relationship with a child, is also a channel through which a caring adult is exposed to traumatic stress.

We have found many adoptive and foster parents who are trying to make a difference in the lives of wounded children are sustaining blows to their own emotional and physical well-being. Parents who have a personal history of maltreatment and compromised attachment will have a good deal of empathy for their children but are also even more susceptible to psychological harm and symptoms of STS. It is often parents who have suffered their own trauma who are triggered by the anger, defiance, and ongoing stress of dealing with a child with attachment issues and we see their emotional stability, marriages and family relationships suffer as a result.

The helping individual who develops STS, whether or not compounded by their own personal history, runs the risk of burning out and no longer being able to parent their child in a healing way.

As the saying goes: You can’t pour from an empty cup. Take care of yourself first.


Here are some of our tips to help you prevent and recover from parenting burnout.

  1. Keep clear of denial – We have the tendency to deny there is a problem until things get out of hand. Admit you are under stress, identify the sources of your stress, and then you can learn better ways to cope.
  2. Avoid isolation – You may not feel like interacting with others when you are stressed. But closeness and communication help alleviate stress. Closeness decreases the negative effects of anxiety and depression and also increases self-awareness as you share your feelings with others and receive their feedback.
  3. Reduce the pressure – Recognize areas of your life that produce the most stress and work toward lightening your load. See if you can eliminate some tasks and ask for help when you need it.
  4. Pace yourself — Strive for moderation and balance. Make sure you build relaxing breaks into your daily schedule.
  5. Minimize worrying – Worrying does not solve problems. Instead, it leads to more anxiety and distress. Rather than brooding over your concerns, write in a journal, talk with someone you trust, use a constructive problem-solving method to find solutions and then take action.
  6. Take care of yourself – The number one rule of parenting is to take care of yourself. Get plenty of exercise, have a nutritious diet, avoid drugs and alcohol, and get enough sleep. Nurture yourself. If you are more focused on caring for others than caring for your own needs, you will burn out.

If you are looking for help dealing with the stress of parenting a child with an attachment disorder, we are here to support you. Contact Evergreen Psychotherapy Center at (866) 674-4029 or info@evergreenpsychotherapycenter.com.