Children’s attachment to their primary care givers is of paramount importance in their development and wellbeing. When very young children know that they are safe and secure, and have someone to turn to in times of threat, they are more likely to thrive and develop in a healthy way.
The attachment patterns that children have are influenced greatly by the environment in which they live. Consequently, children in care, on the edge of care or adopted from care are of particular concern, although the attachment patterns of all children are, of course, important.
When there is a secure parent/carer-child bond, children are more likely to be able to understand and manage their emotions and to feel competent socially. They have the confidence to explore their world and they feel loved.
Bowlby’s theory of attachment, (a joint work with Mary Ainsworth), draws on concepts from ethology, cybernetics, information processing, developmental psychology and psychoanalysts. It has greatly contributed to our understanding of the importance of a child’s need for attachment to his or her significant adults from a very early age, and what can happen when attachment is disrupted, perhaps through bereavement or deprivation.
Many initial teacher education courses cover attachment and the effects of disorganised attachment on young learners, but there is always a need to top up that knowledge through professional development.
Ideas for further exploration
1. Former Children’s Commissioner for England, Maggie Atkinson, explains that children from backgrounds where attachment may be disorganised may struggle with navigating life and school with its rules and routines. In this short film on YouTube she explains that such children will be less ready to learn than we need them to be. For children with disorganised or insecure attachment, school can be a crucial time of stability in their lives. Find out more here.
2. Bath Spa University website pages on Attachment Aware Schools explain the importance of attachment and the impact this can have in schools. The site carries some excellent links to resources for further reading (Attachment Aware Schools is a partnership between Bath Spa University, Bath and North East Somerset Council, the National College for Teaching and Leadership, a range of third sector organisations and attachment specialists and schools.)
3. Most, if not all, classrooms will have children for whom a secure attachment did not develop. Experts suggest that working with the child, his or her caregivers and any other organisations and professionals who may be involved will help teachers and schools to offer the security needed for children to thrive in their learning. Reassuring children that you are there for them, and will always be there regardless, may lead to the breakthrough needed.
4. Attachment Aware Schools suggests that the significant minority of children suffering may be unfocused, disruptive, controlling, withdrawn, and destructive. Finding out why and how some children behave can be the key to helping them to thrive in their education.
Children with attachment problems have immense challenges to overcome. With a fully informed staff taking a consistent approach to children who are suffering, and a strong commitment to the emotional wellbeing of all children, some if not all of these challenges can be overcome.
Find out more
John Bowlby’s book, Attachment: Volume One of the Attachment and Loss Trilogy is published by Pimlico. Separation and Loss are volumes two and three of the trilogy.
Young Minds runs training on early years and mental health, including learning about attachment and brain development in infants and young children. More here.
About the author
After graduating with a degree in Politics and International Relations from the University of Reading, Elizabeth Holmes completed her PGCE at the Institute of Education, University of London. She then taught humanities and social sciences in schools in London, Oxfordshire and West Sussex, where she ran the history department in a challenging comprehensive. Elizabeth specialises in education but also writes on many other issues and themes. As well as her regular blogs for eTeach and FEjobs, her books have been published by a variety of publishers and translated around the world.