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  • Clinton White

Indiscriminate Affection, or, NO, those kids might not really be that friendly and loving.

Updated: Nov 21, 2018

Shade for children, October 2018


Indiscriminate Affection

You know how, when we go to orphanages, a lot of the kids are quick to run and jump into your arms? They seem so loving and happy and happy to see you. Their behavior makes you feel like you are doing the most important work in the world.

That behavior is a sign that they are broken inside. Don’t get me wrong; I love their little hugs, but I am heartbroken too because I know that the affection they so easily give (too easily) indicates that they are not securely attached to one or two primary caregivers such as parents.


Indiscriminate Affection is the phrase that describes the behavior of a child who shows affection toward or charms anyone and everyone. This is a survival technique learned in an institution used to gain the attention and affection of adults, which was established from not having a stable, consistent and affectionate caregiver to show them what healthy attachment looks like. In an institution indiscriminate behavior works and is encouraged. (Simpson, Angela, BSW. MLJ Adoptions, 2014).


In fact, the behavior is often encouraged by visitors and even by staff members.

Children, especially in institutions at a young age, learn this behavior and it almost always hurts them in the future if they can return to a home or to a foster or adoptive home. They might have a difficult time distinguishing between safe, secure adults (with whom they should be properly “attached”) and peers or adults whom they should be wary. They will often have a difficult time understanding how to safely make friends, who to ask for help, and when and how to approach strangers. It’s not hard to imagine in the world we live in what could happen if a child (or that same child when he or she is a teenager) has not learned proper boundaries and too easily befriends a person bent on exploiting him or her.


What can we do as volunteers?

· Begin by being aware that their friendly, loving behavior is not normal. Pray for them.

· Visit regularly. Build genuine relationships with kids so that the affection is no longer indiscriminate but real.

· Deflect affection from children you don’t know but don’t reject the affection. This is hard to do but try to exchange names and get to know a child before accepting affection.

· Ask the child for permission to hug or hold, especially new children or kids you don’t know yet.

· Encourage real attachment. It’s not as common as it should be, but some kids have bonded with the caretakers on staff. Encourage that attachment. When the kid falls and scrapes a knee, direct the child to that worker instead of scooping the child up in your own arms. Difficult, but probably best for the child.

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