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Attachment

"Attachment is a fundamental part of human development" (Jeremy Holmes, John Bowlby and Attachment Theory)

Attachment is the emotional bond between an infant and their caregivers. Attachment style refers to the type of relationship that the child has with their caregivers and this has been shown to impact children later in life by affecting behavior, interpersonal relationships, etc.

 

Psychologists have outlined 4 distinct types of attachment:

  • Securely attached babies enthusiastically accept contact from their caregivers. They go to their caregivers for comfort when upset and prefer them over strangers. Babies use the caregiver as a secure base from which to explore the environment. Secure attachment is generally formed with any caregivers that are responsive to the children's needs


  • Insecure avoidant babies avoid their caregivers, especially after longer periods of separation. These children do not go to their parents for comfort, though they do not reject attention either. They tend to have no preference between their primary caregiver and a stranger.



  • Insecure resistant babies often cling to the caregiver and then resist them by fighting against the closeness, perhaps by kicking or pushing away. These children are extremely uncomfortable with strangers.

  • Disorganized babies do not show clear attachment behavior. To be classified as disorganized, babies must show strong patterns of avoidance and resistance to caregivers or display certain specified behaviors, such as extreme fearfulness around the caregiver.


 

How are attachment styles formed?

Attachment does not appear suddenly, but rather develops in stages, beginning with a baby's general preference for humans and then being developed through interactions with their caregivers.

Babies who are securely attached have caregivers who are aware of their signals and consistently meet their needs. In the first year of life, these caregivers frequently involve their infants in determining the onset and pace of engagement (Bigelow & others, 2010; Jin & others, 2012)
Insecure avoidance attachment forms when a caregiver is consistently unavailable or unresponsive to a children’s needs. These children tend to make fewer attempts for caregiver attention which compounds the effect. (van IJzendoorn & Bakermans-Kranenburg, 2019)
Caregivers of children with insecure resistant attachment tend to be preoccupied. They rarely meet children’s bids for attention outside of high stress situations (such as crying), even though the child continues to make requests for attention despite not receiving the desired attention. (van IJzendoorn & Bakermans-Kranenburg, 2019)
Theory suggests that inconsistent behavior by parents result in a disorganized attachment. Parents acting as both fearful and comforting characters may cause their children to develop this attachment style. (Main & Solomon)

Bowlby’s conceptualization of attachment


 

Does attachment style really matter?

There has been a vast number of studies investigating the relationship between attachment types and outcomes later in life.


Early secure attachment (at 12 and 18 months) has been associated with favorable emotional health, high self-esteem, and self-confidence, as well as socially competent interactions with classmates, instructors, camp counselors, and romantic partners during adolescence. (Sroufe, Coffino, & Carlson, 2010).
Those who had an insecure avoidant attachment as a child tend to be uncomfortable with close relationships with other people. Insecure avoidant attachment has been related to levels of depression and anxiety later in life. (Lee & Hankin, 2009).
Insecure resistant attachment styles can lead to high anxiety and fear of rejection in later relationships . Insecure resistant attachment has also been related to levels of depression and anxiety. (Lee & Hankin, 2009).
A different study found that disorganized attachment was more significantly associated with externalizing difficulties (such as violence and hostility) than were avoidant and resistive attachment styles. (Fearon & others, 2010).

Individual Differences in Attachment

Insecure Attachment and Parenting


 

Recognizing Students Who Experiencing from Insecure Attachment

Indicators of insecure attachment are, for example, children who exhibit low levels of trust might have attachment issues and could thus be more likely to behave negatively in school towards teachers. Furthermore, they might be more likely to try and deal with difficult problems by themselves and they are also more likely to end up making an “exaggerated call for help” (Bodner et al., 2019, p. 2; Young et al., 2017).


There are various cognitive developments that take place during middle childhood, and these developments tend to change the type of attachment relation between children and their guardians. It is during this time that common things such “academic failure, not being able to measure up with expectancies, social conflicts, or being rejected by peers” start to weigh on the minds of students (Bodner et al., 2019, p. 3).


If a student does not have a healthy attachment to their caregiver, they are far more likely to lash out and engage in other types of maladaptive behavior while they are in school. This is highly relevant in the context of this literature review as middle schools are rife with new types of pressures for students, and those who have poor attachments will very likely have to contend with attachment-based pressures and consequences. (Bodner et al., 2019)



 

How Educator can Support Students with Insecure Attachments

Educators can do their part to ensure that students are properly supported emotionally during the time that they are on school grounds. Ensuring that the classroom is a safe space is a primary task that educators can focus on. Reducing verbal insults and tension among students may aid in this task.


Malchiodi and Crenshaw highlight a few key strategies that are applicable to classroom settings. Utilizing the creative arts is an outlet that students may be receptive to as a method of dealing with the problematic behavior in a positive setting. Middle school-age students are considered a creative group of youth as they begin to develop their artistic talents in this developmental stage of life (Malchiodi and Crenshaw, n.p.).


Creative arts include a wide variety of types of projects that educators may choose to implement, ranging from performing theatrical skits to guiding a session of creating paintings. The method and implementation are up to educators to decide which medium is most suited to their classrooms. For example, an educator teaching literature may choose to ask students to recreate a scene from one of the pieces they study in the classroom. Additionally, a science teacher may opt to have students create and perform their own skits based on an elemental formation.


The choices for educators to implement different creative art styles is beneficial both for students with insecure attachments and for teachers. On one hand, educators may mold the creative art activity to suit their curriculum needs (Malchiodi and Crenshaw, n.p.). On the other hand, students may expect to interact with different types of projects as an outlet for their emotions, energy, and to sort through their personal experiences (Malchiodi and Crenshaw, n.p.).


At each stage, educators interactions with students are essential and meaningful to their social development as they guide not only their educational journey but equip them with the tools to succeed outside of the classroom. Educators are the pioneers of middle school student's pathway of learning especially when nurturing those who have been victims of abuse, neglect, or bullying. Educators interventions for students of all backgrounds have been proven to be fruitful; in managing students with insecure attachments, educators can be the key to unlocking a students true potential.


 

I’m worried that a child in my life may not have had secure attachment when they were younger. What do I do now?


While research suggests that our attachment styles can affect us for life, that is not to say that there is nothing we can do to work on our and other’s attachment later in life. In fact, there is a lot of scientific research dedicated to investigating effective ways to help mend the different attachment styles.


If therapy is an option, that is a great place to start for remedying an insecure attachment style, regardless of the type. Make sure that the therapist is familiar with attachment therapy and they are able to work with all kinds of attachment styles. Therapists will help their clients identify times in their childhood that relate to their present issues, reflect on the emotions that these experiences evoked, act as a model for emotional availability and give them tips for dealing with separation.


While working with a therapist is best, we acknowledge that therapy is not available for everyone. Thankfully, becoming aware of the problem, being able to identify what feelings are coming from a place of insecurity, and finding ways to overcome these negative thoughts can be done without the presence of a therapist. Below are resources for dealing with insecure attachment styles independently:



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