Westfield Academy Training: Adolescents and Attachment
Delivered by: Dr Ruth Rogers and Dr Madelaine Smith
Educational Psychology Service
Last week we had a wonderful session led by our Educational Psychologists Ruth and Madelaine, discussing the impact of early experiences on a young person’s behaviour.
Throughout this post, we will reflect on the questions they asked us and the important research behind ‘Attachment Disorder’. As you read, reflect upon your own experiences as a teacher,a carer, or a parent and think about how you can adapt your approaches to help our children.
Opening Message: “It is impossible to understand a child correctly unless one recognises the purpose of their behaviour”Driekurs, 1998
WHAT IS A CHILD TRYING TO COMMUNICATE?
WHAT DO THEY NEED?
Ruth and Madelaine delivered a key opening message: what we see in affected children or teenagers is unfortunately only the surface. It is only the tip of the iceberg. In order to understand ‘Attachment Disorder’ and its effects, we must dig deeper and have a better insight.
So, what do psychologists mean when they talk about having a secure attachment?
We were asked to discuss the following:
- What does this look like in a toddler?
- What does this look like in a teenager?
As a group we came up with a variety of responses. Mostly we all agreed that ‘secure’ attachment was when a toddler cried when left, but recovered quickly- adapting to their social environment. In a teenager, for example at the prospect of a spot test, there might be initial stress, but then adapting to the situation and trying their best.
We were then introduced to Maslow’s hierarchy of need
Why is attachment important?
Some of us were already aware of this theory, through Educational pedagogy. For others it was their first introduction. The group were able to appreciate, at this point how important these ‘needs’ are for a child, and if one base level was not met a child could not progress onto the next. As a stark reminder we were asked to think of pupils in our school who may not have received each level. At this point, I believe it made the training a lot more real.
What does a secure attachment look like?
Their carers are available, warm and loving…
….sensitive to what they are thinking and feeling and respond in comforting ways
These are the children who form secure relationships and attachments
Here’s how it happens….
We make blueprints for houses and cars- plans we follow.
Young children make mental blueprints- plans they follow- based on what their first relationships teach them about.. .
- what relationships are all about and what they can expect from them.
- what the world is like and what to expect will happen to them when they are in it.
- themselves and who they are.
Children make mental blueprints about relationships…
…about the world…
…and about themselves.
Why is attachment important?
It is an essential foundation for healthy personality and functioning in society
- Cognitive ability – attention, making connections, capacity to learn
- Development of conscience, empathy, attunement
- Coping skills (frustration and stress)
- Relationship development
- Ability to handle perceived threats
- Ability to handle negative emotions
This reflection was a pivotal moment in the training. We were now educated on attachments- secure and insecure. We were able to identify as teachers and parents what was healthy, normal, expected. We could now easily identify, as teachers what we recognised as ‘unnatural’ and began to think about the impact we have on them. We began to think below the surface…
Still Face Experiment: Dr. Edward Tronick – YouTube
Activity: ‘still face’ discussion
- Discuss your thoughts about the video in groups of 2-3
- Note down the possible situations where the parent might present like the adult in the second clip.
This clip changed the way we look at teaching,parenting and communicating. It made us all reflect on the ways we communicate with one another and how very important our facial expressions and how the learning environment we create is essential in enabling our pupils to become ‘secure’ and safe.
Ruth and Madelaine began to dig a little deeper and we started to look more closely at insecurities and ‘behaviour’ within our pupils.
We were asked to discuss the following question:
What are the risk factors affecting attachment?
The group came up with a range of responses and started to consider what it looks like within their learning environments. What we have seen/ witnessed/ written concerns about…
The following factors may present a risk to the quality of attachment between child and parent:
- -Parental mental health difficulties e.g., depression (post-natal)
- -Exposure to neglect, domestic violence or other forms of abuse
- -Alcohol/drug taking during pregnancy
- -Multiple home and school placements
- -Premature birth
- -Family bereavement
Vulnerable groups may include:
- -Children in areas of social and economic deprivation
- -Children in care
- -Adopted children whose early experiences of trauma continue to affect their lives
- -Disabled children
- -Children with medical conditions or illness or SEN
- -Children who have moved home frequently during the early years e.g. forces families
- -Refugees and children who have been traumatised by conflict or loss
Insecure attachments may occur within non-vulnerable children as well!
The next stage was the big task: Looking at Trauma in children
What is Trauma?
- Trauma is the emotional, psychological and physiological residue left over from heightened stress that accompanies experience of threat, violence and life changing events
- Source: Australian Childhood Foundation, Making Space for Learning: Trauma Informed Practice in Schools, 2010, <www.childhood.org.au>
Types of Trauma:
- Family violence
- Medical trauma
- Natural disasters
- Community and
- School violence
- Physical abuse
- Sexual abuse
- Traumatic grief
- Refugee and war zone trauma
- Source: Adapted from The National Child Traumatic Stress Network, http://www.nctsn.org
Now it was time to get scientific- and this is where I personally began to really understand the effects of attachment disorder on a child.
What does neuroscience tell us about emotions and learning?
- Source: Perry, BD., 2002, Childhood Experience and the Expression of Genetic Potential: What Childhood Neglect Tells Us About Nature and Nurture, Brain and Mind Vol 3: pp 79-100.
Our minds are continually shaped by emotions, experiences, relationships, opportunities, attitudes, values and beliefs, knowledge and genes. However, there is an instinctive priority of attachment over the brain’s exploratory system – feeling Safe and Secure is more important than learning.
More Theory: Types of Attachment
Derived from Ainsworth and her work with the Strange Situation
–Insecure and avoidant
–Insecure and disorganised
(Main and Soloman, 1990)
A cautionary note…
Attachment theories have their uses – But …
“Once we attach a label to a child we are likely to have stereotyped expectations and to lose sight of her individuality. Furthermore, we may treat the label as an explanation ……”
Attachment types can be seen as self – protective behavioural strategies
There are 4 identified attachment types:
- Secure – ‘I’m ok, you’re there for me’
- Insecure avoidant – ‘It’s not ok to be emotional’
- Insecure ambivalent – ‘I want comfort but it doesn’t help me’
- Insecure disorganized – ‘I’m frightened’
Current research suggests that:
- •At least one third of children have an insecure attachment with at least one caregiver (Bergin and Bergin 2009)
- •As many as 80% of children diagnosed with ADHD have attachment issues (Clarke et al 2002; Moss and St-Laurent 2001)
- •98% of children surveyed experienced one or more trauma event – for one in four this trauma resulted in behavioural and/or emotional disturbance (O’Connor and Russell 2004)
Neuroscientists are researching the impact of attachment style on brain development:
Some interesting studies:
- Secure attachment status is associated with white matter integrity in healthy young adults. (Serra et al., 2015)
- Attachment style, affective loss and gray matter volume: a voxel-based morphometry study. (Benetti et al., 2010)
This session was part one of two sessions; where Ruth and Madelaine will be delivering on Attachment Disorder. It is so crucial to understand the theory and the science behind this, before we can actually implement changes into our routine within schools. Our staff found this extremely beneficial and very thought provoking. After the session we could all identify with students who present with these behaviours. None of us have gone away believing we are experts in diagnosing or treating, but we are better equipped mentally and emotionally; with a more in-depth knowledge and awareness. We we can now begin to look behind the behaviour and think about how we can help a child who needs us, more than ever.
Our next session will be on the 30th March and we will be looking at strategies we can use within our classroom- keep your eyes peeled for this invaluable insight into Attachment Disorder (Part 2).