Attachment Theory

This popped up on my Facebook news feed a few weeks ago and I thought it so simply summed up the impact a child’s home life can have on their education.

Attachment theory explores the link between the mother (or primary care giver) and the child. It originated with the work of Bowlby and Ainsworth in the 1930’s but it is still very relevant today.

Children who are securely attached have adult figures in their life that are available, responsive and supportive. These children have knowledge and confidence in a secure base and believe the world is a safe place. Such children come to school ready to learn. They will be comfortable taking risks and when presented with difficult tasks they are more likely to be engaged and persistent and show less frustration and aggression. They are also more likely to be autonomous, creative and spontaneous and develop caring relationships with their peers. They are able to do these things because they trust the world to be safe and predictable; they know that if something goes wrong they can call on a safe adult figure for support.

In contrast to this there are insecurely attached children. Parents of these children will generally be unavailable, unpredictable or inconsistent in their care giving or parenting. These parents may be affected by personal trauma or loss themselves. Children who are insecurely attached generally lack confidence and self-assurance. Such a lack of confidence means they do not have the means to explore the world around them on their own and become over cautious of new situations. Therefore, they come to see the world as unsafe and unpredictable. Children who are insecurely attached are more likely to suffer from anxiety, guilt and have difficulty forming positive relationships. For some of these children school is the first environment in which they have the opportunity to build positive relationships and learn what it is to feel emotionally safe.

Brain research shows that the neural pathways, which are lacking in such children, can be developed at school age or even later. For this to happen these children will need an adult figure, or teacher, who is caring, consistent and predictable. Such children will try and get your attention any way they know how; they may be disengaged, act out or be violent towards others, as they have not learned any different. Chances are that they will also find it hard to concentrate or lack the confidence to attempt or complete work.

To connect with such children it will be important to speak gently, to not use sarcasm, to praise them where appropriate and to have regular conversations with them one on one opposed to in front of a group. They must still be held accountable for their actions but conversations about their behaviour must also show a willingness on your part to gently support them to become more appropriately engaged just as we would support a child lacking in any other academic area.

Working with ‘difficult’ children can be challenging! It often helps to keep attachment theory in mind though and to try to understand ‘why’ they are behaving the way they are. Building positive relationships with these children can make a huge impact on their lives and can also be very rewarding for you!

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