Attachment Theory: Why teachers shouldn’t get too excited about it.

John Bowlby: Attachment theory

The British psychologist John Bowlby is fairly synonymous with attachment theory. From his clinical work with ‘juvenile delinquents’ over the course of World War II be began formulating ideas about the role of early and prolonged separation from parents and caregivers in the development of problems in those children’s social and emotional development.

The core of his theory is that attachment is an evolutionary adaptation which is characterised by a child seeking proximity to caregiver when that child perceives a threat or suffers discomfort. Given the intense needs of human infants, it is perhaps unsurprising that the formation of a “deep and enduring emotional bond that connects one person to another across time and space” evolved to improve the chances of an infant’s survival.

Over the first year of life, an infant begins to develop attachments with parents or carers. As these attachments form we tend to see characteristic behaviour in infant interactions with their attachment figure:

  • Stranger Anxiety – the infant responds with fear or distress to arrival of a stranger.
  • Separation Anxiety – when separated from parent or carer the infant shows distress and upon that attachment figure’s return a degree of proximity seeking for comfort.
  • Social Referencing – the infant looks at the parent or carer to see how they respond to something novel in the environment. The infant looks at the facial expressions of the parent or carer (e.g. smiling or fearful) which influences how they behave in an uncertain situation.

Attachment figures aren’t simply individuals who spend a lot of time with the infant, or the one who feeds them, but typically the individuals who responds the most sensitively, for example often playing and communicating with the infant. For many infants the principal attachment figure is their mother, but fathers, grandparents or siblings may also fulfil this role. By about 18 months, most infants enjoy multiple attachments though these may be somewhat hierarchical with a primary attachment figure of particular importance. The behaviour relating to attachment develops over early childhood, for example babies tend to cry because of fear or pain, whereas by about two-years-old they may cry to beckon their caregiver (and cry louder or shout if that doesn’t work!).

Bowlby believed these early experiences of attachment formed an internal ‘working model’ which the child used to form relationships with secondary attachment figures, later friendships with peers and eventually romantic and parenting relationships in adult life.

Mary Ainsworth: Types of attachment

There are individual differences in the behaviour related to attachment. Famous observation studies by Mary Ainsworth (who worked with John Bowlby during the 1950s) identified that in normal children there were a range of attachment types:

Secure attachment: The majority of infants, across different cultures, tend to have an attachment style typified by strong stranger and separation anxiety along with enthusiastic proximity seeking with the parent upon reunion.

Insecure –avoidant: Slightly more common in western cultures, an insecure-avoidant attachment tends to be characterised by avoiding or ignoring the caregiver and showing little emotion (whilst experiencing inward anxiety) when the caregiver leaves the room, and displaying little enthusiasm when the caregiver returns.

Insecure-resistant: Perhaps more common in ‘collectivist cultures’, an insecure-resistant (sometimes also called insecure-ambivalent) attachment tends to be characterised as showing intense distress during separation, and being difficult to comfort when the caregiver returns. Infants with this attachment type may also show some rejection or resentment towards the caregiver after a separation.

Disorganised attachment: Added in the 1990s, infants with a disorganised attachment tend to show no consistent pattern in behaviour towards their caregiver. For example, they may show intense proximity seeking behaviour one moment, then avoid or ignore the caregiver the next.

If you you’re interested in some of the history and the origins of attachment theory, the work of John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth are good places to start. There’s a nice summary here – Bretherton, I. (1992). The origins of attachment theory: John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth. Developmental psychology, 28(5), 759.

Many children may display behaviour suggesting an ‘insecure’ attachment type which may make it a harder to form peer friendships, and this likely underlies an association between insecure and disorganised attachment and higher levels of behaviour problems. However, it’s not certain that differences in attachment are specifically the cause of behaviour problems.  For example, a meta-analysis by Fearnon, et al (2010) found that socio-economic status accounted for a considerable portion of the variance in behaviour problems in childhood.

Fearon, R. P., Bakermans‐Kranenburg, M. J., Van IJzendoorn, M. H., Lapsley, A. M., & Roisman, G. I. (2010). The significance of insecure attachment and disorganization in the development of children’s externalizing behavior: a meta‐analytic study. Child development, 81(2), 435-456.

So, whilst there’s reasonable evidence to suggest that these individual differences in attachment correlate to differences in behaviour within school, it is very important to note that these differences are not ‘pathological’ in a clinical sense. Given that about 30-35% of representative populations have an ‘insecure’ attachment, NICE suggests that it is unhelpful to view insecure attachment as an ‘attachment problem’.

Reactive Attachment Disorder

A popular misconception about attachment is a conflation between the ‘types of attachment’ that children possess and an ‘attachment disorder’. CoramBAAF, a leading charity working within adoption and fostering, suggests that even when used by those trained to do so, attachment classifications cannot be equated with a clinical diagnosis of disorder. While the insecure patterns may indicate a risk factor in a child’s development, they do not by themselves identify disorders. The term ‘attachment disorder’ refers to a highly atypical set of behaviours indicative of children who experience extreme difficulty in forming close attachments. NICE suggests that the prevalence of attachment disorders in the general population is not well established, but is likely to be low. However there are substantially higher rates among young children raised in institutional care or who have been exposed to abuse or neglect. The Office for National Statistics (2002) report for the Department of Health estimated that somewhere between 2.5% to 20% of looked after children had an attachment disorder (depending on whether a broad or narrow definition was used).

There is a broad distinction between two classifications of RAD:

Inhibited attachment disorders: Characterised by significant difficulties with social interactions such as extremely detached or withdrawn – usually attributed to early and severe abuse from ‘attachment figures’ such as parents.

Disinhibited attachment disorders: Characterised by diffuse attachments, as shown by indiscriminate familiarity and affection without the usual selectivity in choice of attachment figures – often attributed to frequent changes of caregiver in the early years.

Reactive Attachment Disorder is a psychiatric condition and often accompanied by other psychiatric disorders. CoramBAAF argues that the lack of clarity about the use of attachment concepts in describing children’s relationship difficulties can create confusion and advises extreme caution. A diagnosis of an attachment disorder can only be undertaken by a psychiatrist.

Unfortunately, there are also no widely applicable, evidence-based set of therapies for RAD. However, there has been significant concern expressed about some therapies. One example is “Holding therapy” involving holding a child in a position which prevents escape whilst engaging in an intense physical and emotional confrontation. CoramBAAF argues there is nothing in attachment theory to suggest that holding therapy is either justifiable or effective for the treatment of attachment disorders. Less controversial therapies involve counselling to address the issues that are affecting the carer’s relationship with the child and teaching parenting skills to help develop attachment.

What should teachers be doing?

This is why I don’t really understand all the apparent excitement about attachment theory at the moment: there’s nothing a teacher should be doing that they shouldn’t already be doing.

Firstly, given the relationship between attachment disorders and abusive or neglectful relationships, perhaps some teachers are worried that they need to know about attachment disorder in order to fulfil their statutory safeguarding responsibilities. However, it’s important to note that whilst some children with RAD have suffered abuse or neglect, that doesn’t mean that problematic behaviour is evidence of such. The teacher isn’t in a position to make either the clinical judgement or investigate the cause of problematic behaviour they suspect may relate to a safeguarding concern. If a student is behaving in a way which concerns you, then report that concerns to your designated member of SLT (as you would any safeguarding concern). Whether or not you might think a child has an insecure attachment or a disordered attachment isn’t really your professional call.

Secondly, it may be that some teachers feel they need to know more about attachment in order to support students with behaviour problems in school. However, the advice for working with RAD students isn’t really any different to good behaviour management generally. Teachers should not confuse their role in loco parentis with being the primary caregiver for a child. For example, the Center for Family Development is an attachment centre based in New York specializing in the treatment of adopted and foster families with trauma and attachment disorder. In their ‘Overview of Reactive Attachment Disorder for Teachers’ they point out that, as a teacher, you are not the primary caregiver for a child you teach.

“You cannot parent this child. You are the child’s teacher, not therapist, nor parent. Teachers are left behind each year, its normal.  These children need to learn that lesson.”

They recommend approaching behaviour through explicit teaching of consequences: that there’s a consequence associated with good behaviour and there’s a consequence for poor behaviour.

Further suggestions include:

  • Creating a structured environment with extremely consistent rules
  • Being consistent and specific when giving praise or confronting poor behaviour
  • Providing the child with choices, but choices provided by you, the teacher.
  • Maintaining your professional boundaries (avoid attempting to create ‘friendship’ or ‘intimacy’ with the child).
  • Keep your calm and avoid losing your temper; communicate directly, positively, and firmly.
  • When implementing consequences, remain unemotional and assume a tone that says, effectively, “That’s just the way business is done – nothing personal.”

In short, there’s nothing that teachers shouldn’t do when working with any student with challenging behaviour. Whether the challenging behaviour is due to an issue with attachment isn’t really the issue.

In Summary

Whilst there’s a relationship between insecure attachment and behaviour problems in the classroom, teachers are not qualified to ‘diagnose’ a student’s attachment type nor engage in any kind of ‘therapy’ with that student. There is a condition called ‘Reactive Attachment Disorder’ which has a higher incidence within ‘looked after’ students. Again, teachers are not qualified to make this psychiatric diagnosis.

There is an important difference between the professional role of a teacher and the role of a primary caregiver, and it’s vital that recent interest in attachment theory within the profession doesn’t blur that line. Where teachers are concerned that behaviour presented in the classroom might indicate abuse or neglect, then they are already obliged by law to report these concerns (but not investigate them or try to involve themselves in resolving them).

In terms of managing the behaviour of students with attachment problems, so that they can overcome the difficulties of their family background and experience success within school, the guidance suggests things like a structured environment, consistent rules, professional distance and focusing feedback on behaviour not the child: Advice that forms the basis of good behaviour management regardless of the cause of problematic behaviour.

It may be the case that specific children with RAD will have different strategies which will help them achieve in school. However, that’s also the case for any student with SEND. Perhaps what is important for teachers is not specific ‘training’ in attachment theory to help them ‘diagnose’ attachments, but a clear understanding of their school’s SEND system and time to read, implement and work with SEND coordinators to ensure any specific strategies suggested by an educational psychologist or child psychiatrist are employed effectively.

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25 Responses to Attachment Theory: Why teachers shouldn’t get too excited about it.

  1. teachwell says:

    What is your take on Nurture Groups? Because they are set up precisely to try for the purpose of rectifying attachment problems as diagnosed by the Boxall Profile?


    • In short, I don’t know.

      Non randomised studies appear to show promise – e.g. and

      However, some initiatives (based on social and emotional learning – rather than specifically a nurture group) haven’t robustly demonstrated effectiveness for improving student outcomes (academically at least) when evaluation involved a randomised controlled trial. For example:

      Liked by 1 person

      • teachwell says:

        Thank you. It seems to be in line with what I have found which is researchers who are positive about nurture groups finding positive results!! But there is an issue in the underlying philosophy surely which is to create dependence in order to enable independence. That is how the BST outlined it to us as staff! This has always disturbed me as has the diagnosis of an attachment disorders. In addition, the idea is to compensate for the primary caregiver, at least that’s what we were told!

        What isn’t discussed is whether the Boxall Profile is robust (I really don’t think it is – e.g. an indicator of attachment issues is being helpful to younger children. If the gains made are based on the Boxall Profile, which is not necessarily robust, then it’s not really of much use.

        In addition, I think given the sheer number of nurture groups 5 is not representative, neither does there seem to be any independent or longitudinal studies despite the fact that nurture groups have been around since the 1960s.

        I asked because I find it disturbing that a previous school introduced a nurture group – I actually integrated children from those nurture groups into mainstream classes and the backlash from parents over the course of the two years was such that it no longer ran the way it did when first implemented. The main issue being that far from improving behaviour, it contained it and there was no real improvement in behaviour in the class. The only thing that worked was consistent boundaries, etc as you outlined. I think the fact that not all schools are monitored and negative results are not highlighted or taken into account makes me very weary. The Nurture Groups Network is not exactly neutral!!


        • “researchers who are positive about nurture groups finding positive results”

          Yes, a perennial issue in education research! I’m not au fait with this area I’m afraid – but I am aware that there are some researchers with broad concerns about nurture groups (e.g.

          I suppose my concern might centre about two things: 1) whether this represents another example of soft-psychotherapy creeping into schools, hitch-hiking on an often misunderstood area of developmental psychology. In my opinion, teachers should not be encouraged to make attributions about a child’s attachment with their parent based on behaviour they see in the classroom – that’s something which should be left to specialists in child psychiatry. 2) whether these interventions risk students from impoverished backgrounds losing out on opportunities for learning and succeeding within school.

          On the other hand – where students are at risk of permanent exclusion from school, some sort of intervention may be their best chance of getting an education. For example, an Ofsted review of nurture groups in 2011 ( suggested:

          “The best schools visited aimed from the outset to ensure that pupils made progress with their literacy, numeracy and other academic skills, so that they did not fall behind while they were in the nurture group.”

          Liked by 1 person

          • teachwell says:

            It is interesting that the summary states: “No school had evaluated thoroughly the progress of the former nurture group
            pupils as a separate cohort in order to analyse the long-term impact of this
            intensive intervention. However, all could provide case studies that showed
            considerable success. ” There is a lot of positive bias and vagueness in that report – there’s a lot of ‘in the best cases’ but that what about not the best cases? Also how is it that some of the schools did not have the data on those pupils in subsequent years? It’s not like it’s difficult. They knew who they were and to not track them is telling as far as I am concerned.

            I know how difficult it was to integrate those children back and the reason why parents stopped giving consent after the first two years is precisely due to this experience. The children did much better in a maintstream class. There was one exception – a child with ADHD but her behaviour in the nurture group had been awful as well. I know this is anecdotal but my concern is how many nurture groups are there and how many reflect my experience rather than the ones highlighted in that report? Given the nature of the intervention, it seems to me that those involved are far too closely aligned to it to state if it is going wrong. Independent oversight is needed. In addition, it costs a lot of money for schools to set up a nurture group. If it really is unsuccessful they are not going to want to highlight it.


            • “No school had evaluated thoroughly the progress of the former nurture group
              pupils as a separate cohort in order to analyse the long-term impact of this
              intensive intervention”

              I agree this is a concern – I think it would be wise for any school running such interventions to monitor these things. Hopefully we’ll start to see more robust evaluation coming through in the future – it may be very successful for some students, but totally ineffective for others.


              • teachwell says:

                True and also it would be interesting to see what materials are being used for training as I get the feeling that nurture groups are being operated very differently in different locations and possibly different in purpose too.

                Liked by 1 person

  2. I would like to be able to agree with you – that schools should be managing behaviour better anyway regardless of the ‘condition’. However I know that is not the case in many schools. Our inflexible system with it’s shame based sanction policies only makes it harder for children with AD to settle to learn. You only have to read any of the forums where adoptive parents are to know the immense struggles we have with school related issues and staff members not understanding the triggers to our children’s behaviour and then insisting on using a ‘one size fits all’ approach when children do not start from the same point.

    I don’t think training is necessarily for school staff to diagnose but to be aware – to understand the messages our children receive, how their brains are wired differently and that they need to feel calm and safe in order to learn. I have delivered many training sessions in schools on this exact topic and it has been a revelation to many. It is a big deal. There are hundreds of children up and down our country struggling with school, dealing with incredible levels of anxiety due to a system that hinders vulnerable children instead of helping them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think all kids need to feel calm and safe in order to learn, but I’m not convinced encouraging an amateur psychoanalysis of a student’s attachment to their parent is a helpful starting point (as you appear to agree). A good behaviour management policy should work towards all students being able to make progress in learning – and SEND provision needs to help provide specific strategies (e.g. ‘Time In’ rather than ‘Time Out’) where an Ed Psych or child psychiatrist recommends it.

      I’m not defending ‘zero tolerance’ here – merely pointing out that recent enthusiasm for attachment theory is somewhat unwarranted. I’m sure lots of psychology is new territory for many teachers – but we know how these things can over-reach when applied in schools. So – I don’t think teachers should be too enthusiastic in trying to apply attachment theory to classroom practice. That’s not the same as saying it’s irrelevant!


  3. suecowley says:

    Attachment theory is important in the early years, because in the birth to five period it is vital that children form secure attachments with practitioners as they may be in a setting for many hours each week. It has lead to the development of the key person approach, which I think is a very appropriate and sensible response to the theory.


    • Yes, I’m happy, given that infants tend to develop attachment relationships with their early childhood teachers (unlike older students), to concede that in the context of early years provision, relationship quality is likely a central feature of early childhood programmes. Therefore, I would expect (hope) some training in attachment theory forms the background for most EY teacher training. However, even here, I think *too much enthusiasm* for attachment theory isn’t necessarily helpful.

      For example, Degotardi and Pearson (2009) proposes that practitioners, policy makers, and researchers need to adopt a wider, more dynamic approach to relationships that includes, but extends beyond, that afforded by attachment theory alone.

      They make the point that through its emphasis on the formation of a strong ‘parental’ bond, attachment theory has been argued to advance an image of the EY teacher as a ‘mother-substitute’. While this notion may encourage early years teachers to respond sensitively to children’s physical and emotional needs, there are those who are concerned that it blurs the distinct roles of parents and early childhood practitioners, A teacher is not the child’s parent, and we should not expect teachers to feel, react, and behave as parents do.

      They also argue that the role of an early childhood teacher shouldn’t overly focus on the security-focused features of attachment relationships:

      “It is also important to recognise that the roles and motivations of the early childhood teacher extend beyond the security-focused features that epitomise attachment relationships. Sensitivity is just one aspect of professional practice. Early childhood teachers scaffold, mediate, co-play, guide, socialise, and model, and their goals include the facilitation of socialisation, thinking, communicating, and learning dispositions, as well as the provision of relationship security (Arthur et al, 2007). Although contemporary attachment literature readily acknowledges that attachment theory only considers one of many components that make up a relationship (Main, 1999), within the early childhood context it is essential that the current focus on emotional security does not result in a neglect of how relationships influence and are influenced by these other important practitioner roles.”

      So = you’re right that attachment theory is much more relevant to EY teachers (compared to secondary school for example) – but I still think there’s an argument for teachers (of all stages) not to get too excited about attachment theory (as the title of the blog says).


  4. I think this flags a useful debate on how aware teachers need to be about attachment issues.

    The advice given is similar to ASD but there maybe subtle differences beginning to emerge which highlight different approaches may or may not work for ASD/Attachment.
    The Coventry grid can be useful however as you say this should really be dealt with via SEN team and Ed Psych.
    I think it’s little disengenuous to suggest it’s a new fad and not to worry about it. Knowledge is always good especially if there is a child at risk from exclusion (often looked after in cases of attachment) . Engaging with SENCO on how to help a specific child may be the difference between a PRU and mainstream placement.

    I agree with you about attachment disorder however; this term should never be used except for the rare cases when a psychiatrist has diagnosed it.
    We all have attachment issues in varying degrees that’s why we’re all on twitter!
    We had a recent discussion on attachment and Bowlby at our school and mindful how attachment can = blame parents. Back in the 80s IT was called ‘refrigerator parenting’.


    • “The Coventry grid can be useful however as you say this should really be dealt with via SEN team and Ed Psych. …
      “Engaging with SENCO on how to help a specific child may be the difference between a PRU and mainstream placement.”

      Yes – I’d certainly agree time might be better spent working with a SEND coordinator to help implement advice, strategies etc which have come from an Ed Psych or Child Psychiatrist.I don’t think there’s much disagreement to be honest. I’m not saying attachment theory (AT) is irrelevant to teachers, indeed I’ve written a blog outlining some of the main ideas involved and included links to further reading.

      “I think it’s little disengenuous to suggest it’s a new fad and not to worry about it.”

      I don’t think it’s disingenuous (I assume you mean that as misleading rather than dishonest?) to suggest some caution about the application of AT or express concern that AT could become something of a psychological ‘fad’ within school CPD.

      The application of AT, especially in secondary schools, is extremely limited. Even in EY education there’s an argument that enthusiasm for AT may go too far (see my reply to Sue above).

      I’m also concerned that in some instances teachers are being encouraged to interpret problematic behaviour as indicative of an ‘insecure’ or ‘disordered’ attachment – something teachers shouldn’t be trying to ‘diagnose’. There are also cases where teachers are then given ‘strategies’ (the evidence-base for which is very unclear) as to how to adapt their teaching or approach to behaviour to accommodate these ‘attachment problems’. Again, it’s very hard to see how that advice could have merit – even if the advice was any good – given teachers simply won’t know the ‘attachment type’ of the students in their classes.

      There’s also clearly risk of teachers making attributions about the ‘quality of parenting’ of children who behave poorly in lessons – the sort of parent blaming you were concerned about in your school’s recent discussion on attachment and Bowlby.


      • Not dishonest no just naively pretending you don’t understand what all the fuss is about – as your article clearly suggests you are well informed. But I think it would have been fairer to admit how much we are learning about attachment and how there is confusion (possibly even misdiagnosis) with ASD – this is important staff to know if dealing with a child with attachment and/or ASD – the strategies known to work are subtly different


        • I’m not ‘pretending’ towards anything, naively or not. There appears to be a growing interest in this branch of psychology – which has been around since the 1950s but seems to have been recently ‘rediscovered’ by teachers – and I’ve cautioned that although attachment theory is a fairly accepted psychological theory that its applications to teaching need to be handled with a bit of caution (and in some instances scepticism).

          With respect to autistic spectrum disorders, it’s true that some diagnoses of RAD may have been conflated with that condition. The DSM 5 specifically states that RAD should only be given as a diagnosis where the criteria are not met for autism spectrum disorder.

          Indeed, perhaps this furthers my point? Too much ‘excitement’ about attachment theory may have led to individuals who are ASD being wrongly diagnosed as having RAD. Part of the problem, perhaps, is the lure of a rare diagnosis – as RAD is a relatively uncommon disorder. Yes, obviously it’s important that a teacher is given strategies appropriate to the right SEND condition. However, in the diagnosis of RAD, surely that is principally an issue for child psychiatry and rather than something that teachers need specific training on.


          • Again, the Coventry Grid is a useful starting point but with advice from SEND. I would argue this is the same for all learning difficulties though – attachment no different. All schools should be identifying need and putting strategies in place. An awareness of the need is always preferable to a ‘don’t know what the fuss is about’ approach.


            • Yes, but I assume it would be a Child Psychiatrist (or at the very least an Ed Psych or Clinical psychologist) using the Coventry Grid as a diagnostic tool, not a teacher? I’d be quite worried if it were being used by non-specialists to ‘diagnose’ ASD or attachment disorder.

              “An awareness of the need is always preferable to a ‘don’t know what the fuss is about’ approach.”

              I’ve said repeatedly that attachment theory isn’t irrelevant, but I think that awareness needs to include the limitations of the applicability of psychological theory to the classroom – as an uncritical approach may lead to such theories being misapplied.


  5. bocks1 says:

    Having worked in EBD (EBSD/BESD/SEMH – take your pick!) PRU’s and mainstream for over 30 years I can say with some certainty that diagnosis is horribly dangerous in so many ways and fraught with assumptions, but knowledge (research based preferably!) is always damn helpful. I therefore agree with mainstreansen:

    “Knowledge is always good especially if there is a child at risk from exclusion (often looked after in cases of attachment) . Engaging with SENCO on how to help a specific child may be the difference between a PRU and mainstream placement.”

    Your subsequent dialogue is also useful but misses the opportunity to point out that referral to a PRU is not a bad thing in itself, but may be the beginning of the solution? As an ex-headteacher of a particularly good one, I am somewhat biased but, despite what has been said by Charlie Taylor, PRU’s are pretty effective in addressing attachment through clever use of nurturing principles (including Nurture Groups). And, whilst taking the point made by teachwell:

    “But there is an issue in the underlying philosophy surely which is to create dependence in order to enable independence”

    This defines a poorly delivered approach. The strategy behind good nurture is to begin with dependancy to build trust, positive relationships and a sense of belonging, it should then encourage and foster independence, positive self reflection and ambition. Simple Maslow stuff really and, to be fair to Marjorie Boxall et al, the theory is interpreted by professionals and, in that process, gets a bit muddled sometimes. I have seen some outstanding examples both in mainstream and PRU particularly but I have also seen some over-dependancy biased examples which, in time, can reinforce inappropriate behaviours. A solution focussed approach (see BRIEF) is really helpful in special and PRU where reintegration can be very carefully supported. Whereas, in mainstream, a little and often approach (tightly controlled) followed by swift return to all lessons generally works well.

    My own “findings” (not research-based) over the years can be distilled quite simply. Firstly, the vast majority of challenging behaviour exhibited in mainstream settings is manageable using the behaviour advice you offer. I would add that relationships are key (and a little obvious so, sorry if it sounds patronising) but we are never going to be friends with kids – so don’t try. Who would have a teacher as a friend anyway? If in any doubt watch Rita Pierson’s TED talk: – akin to the “Pygmalion Effect” (Rosenthal-Jacobsen) theory.

    Further behaviour bits which are really straightforward would include (from my experience of impact) anything by Bill Rogers; Pivotal Education; the irrepressible Jason Banbala (if he’s still doing the rounds); Eddie McNamara and, more recently, the so-called behaviour “guru” @tombennett71 – all have terrific pedigree. I would also respectfully suggest that mainstream schools have much to gain from establishing better links to PRU’s and/or SEMH schools – particularly those with embedded restorative practices in order to enhance their culture. RP fosters respect, responsibility, reparation and reintegration to excellent effect and avoids the “one size fits all” or “inflexible system with it’s shame based sanction policies”.

    Overall, I find the blog is clear, unbiased and very helpful, in highlighting the main types of attachment and the major differences between them and RAD. I use the same sources and a couple more in training on “attachment” to specialist teachers in mainstream, PRU’s and special settings. Interestingly, I also advise similar caution in the attempt to link behaviour to attachment but rather observe the evidence (maybe Boxall Profile but it could be equally Pam Levins helpful “Cycles of Development” on TA). Keeping things simple in terms of behaviour support and avoiding “amateur psychoanalysis” is really helpful advice. Nice one evidenceintopractice!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Mitch Bayliss says:

    Teachers need to be attachment and trauma informed, and in particular understand how to support children with insecure attachment who engage in concerning behaviour. Positive Behaviour Support approaches to children with concerning behaviour need to consider attachment functions alongside the usual behavioural functions. While many of the recommendations listed at the end of this blog are appropriate to all children, in my limited experience, children engaging in behaviour that has an underlying attachment function do not respond well to the usual behavioural and other consequence or discipline focused responses to their behaviour. All too often such responses become part of an escalation cycle that eventually results in a child’s exclusion from education.


    • I’m afraid I disagree with your view, to an extent. Teachers are not in a position to make any judgement about the quality of a child’s attachment with their parents, nor know with any validity whether a child’s behaviour is caused by an insecure attachment.

      Perhaps this is not what you intended to imply, but classroom management is quickly undermined where students are not held to the same basic standard of expected behaviour (and bear in mind something like ten children in a class of 30 will have an insecure attachment!). Of course teachers should use a range of strategies to encourage appropriate classroom behaviour and communicate these with compassion and empathy, but I disagree that children with an insecure attachment cannot respond to clear expectations and simple routines.

      Lastly. insecure attachment isn’t ‘abnormal psychology’ – 30-35% of children will have an insecure attachment. Given a third of children aren’t excluded from schools, your claim that insecure attachment leads to a spiral of escalation which eventually results in exclusion perhaps exaggerates the extent of the problem.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Meghan A Jendusa says:

        There is a difference between passing judgement on parents and being aware of different attachment styles. Teachers, at least in the United States, are not taught a myriad of things about students’ social and emotional development and their relationship to cognitive development, learning processes, and behavior. Unfortunately, there are parts of society where, yes 30-35% of the children are excluded from education due issues that arise in the classroom stemming from trauma, bias, and insecure attachment. We have pockets of highly concentrated poverty, violence, and neglect and they are racially and geographically segregated from the rest of functional society. Children from these neighborhoods all attend public schools together, and these students are all at higher risk for being victims of trauma and abuse. Instead of suggesting that educators shouldn’t learn about attachment theory and other areas of child development because they could become hyper-vigilant is ridiculous. It is because of ill informed educators that were not taught these things that our country over diagnoses every type of behavioral issue as ADHD. It’s why educators push to families to get their kids diagnose with a severe a disorder as they can in order to get them on medication because they aren’t equipped to deal with the behavioral challenges so many kids have in these highly concentrated pockets of inequality. It is unfair and irresponsible to suggest that educators not be given this knowledge, not because they should be making diagnosis, but because they fact of the matter is, they are the adults who will spend more waking hours with these children than anyone else.


  7. Your blog post is well informed and on the whole I agree that the role of teachers is not to diagnose attachment types – but that does not mean attachment theory is irrelevant in the classroom, just that the teacher’s role is not to diagnose, but to provide a secure, safe environment for all children so those with attachment insecurity can flourish alongside those with attachment security – training teachers on the importance of attunement, mindedness etc can only improve this.

    However, I was confused by the the claim you made from the the Fearon meta-analysis that socio-economic status accounted for significant variance in problem behaviour, as this not what they found. In fact what they found was the only thing that significantly mediated the relationship between early insecurity and externalising problems/ social competence was whether the parent or child had been diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder, or if the child had been exposed to drugs/alcohol pre-natally. “Socioeconomic status did not significantly moderate any of the meta-analytic associations [10-12], providing little support for a diathesis–stress model in which the effect of insecurity is strongest in economically deprived populations.”

    They key conclusion from the Fearon study was – early attachments have enduring significance for socioemotional development regardless of temperament, but not enough is known about mediating risk factors and further research needs to explore whether multiple risk factors do increase the risk of low social competence or increased externalising/ internalising problems.


  8. I have just realised I was looking at the 2016 meta-analysis and not the 2010 one, you are correct the 2010 paper does mention in the discussion section that Bradley and Corwyn (2002) found SES explains high proportion of variance in behaviour problems, although this wasn’t a finding of the meta-analysis as it was concerned with SES as a moderator, which it found had no effect on the association between attachment and externalising problems. My bad for not reading closely enough.

    Liked by 1 person

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