Tips for Teachers: 16. Understanding attachment

Oct 10, 2023 | Blogs

Tips for Teachers: 16. Understanding attachment

Oct 10, 2023 | Blogs

The theory of attachment was first proposed by John Bowlby in 1988, who described it as a ‘lasting psychological connectedness between human beings.’

Secure attachments support mental processes that enable a child to regulate emotions, reduce fear, attune to others, have self-understanding and insight, empathy for others and appropriate moral reasoning – Bowlby called these mental representations the internal working model.

Insecure attachments, on the other hand, can have unfortunate consequences. If a child cannot rely on an adult to respond to their needs in times of stress, they are unable to learn how to soothe themselves, manage their emotions and engage in reciprocal relationships.

Most children enjoy their life, are successful in school and in relationships. However, a significant number struggle from an early age and particularly in adolescence. These children can be unfocussed, disruptive, controlling, withdrawn and destructive.

These children may underachieve in school, may be punished and even excluded. Little we do in school seems to work. As a result, these children may not fulfil their potential as adults, either in employment or relationships.

Research has shown that a child’s ability to form relationships and learn is shaped by their early experiences.

Secure attachment relationships correlate strongly with higher academic attainment, better self-regulation and social competence. Attachment relationships therefore have a direct bearing on children’s capacity to succeed in school.

As teachers we can:

  • be child-centred and acknowledge children’s different attachment styles
  • create nurturing relationships to promote children’s learning and behaviour and satisfy children’s innate need to have a secure ‘sense of belonging’
  • acknowledge our role as a possible secondary attachment figure who can help reshape insecure attachment behaviours and support the development of more secure ones
  • commit to professional development on attachment and achievement so we understand current research and practice
  • respond to the needs of children who have unmet attachment needs and have experienced trauma
  • manage behaviour and build the child’s capacity for self-regulation, resilience and confidence.

‘Nurturing adult attachments provide children with protective, safe havens from which to explore and engage with others and their environment.’ (Bowlby)

This blog was written by Bretta Townend-Jowitt, Education Consultant and Trainer. 

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