Attachment Theory

What it is...

Attachment is a deep and enduring emotional bond that connects one person to another across time and space.

Ainsworth, 1973; Bowlby, 1969

An infant needs to develop a relationship with at least one primary caregiver for social and emotional development to occur normally. Attachment theory explains how much the parents relationship with the child influences development.


However if a baby/child experiences a disruption in the bonding process through trauma, long periods of hospitalisation, abuse or neglect certain connections in the brain are often not made and the child will develop strategies helpful for survival.

However these strategies can inhibit social interactions and the child may respond very differently to a ‘securely attached’ child.

What behaviours might you see in school if this bonding is disrupted?

  • The child does not seem to learn from usual behaviour strategies, even knowing the consequences they will continue to do things that are inappropriate.
  • The child has poor impulse control yet have a real need to be in control.
  • The child may be very destructive. They may also have an unhealthy interest in violence and death.
  • The child is very focused on the adults, relationships with children are not as important. Very often they have poor relationships with their peer group.
  • The child is indiscriminate with affection and may be superficially charming.
  • The child is constantly looking around the classroom and is very distracted. They notice the slightest change. The child does not seem able to concentrate on the class teacher but could tell them how many times Fred has sharpened his pencil and Thelma has been to the toilet.
  • The child does all they can to get noticed, whether for good or bad reactions.
  • The child is quiet and withdrawn. They avoid interaction as much as they can.
  • The child wanders off.
  • The child often tells lies, even when it is obvious they have or will be found out.
  • The child may have eating problems and may still wet and soil.
  • The child has a LAC background and/or has experienced trauma.

What happens when a child has experienced trauma? How can we support them better?

It is vital we understand how brains are changed and function following trauma and loss. What part of the brain is the child accessing? Are they reacting in survival mode with fight, flight, freeze, flop and friend? Dan Siegel’s hand model of the brain, “flipping its lid” explains this brilliantly. We need to use Bruce Perry’s Regulate, Relate and Reason to ensure the child can access their Prefrontal Cortex and is able to think.

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