Friday, 20 January 2012

Attachment - relationships

I was lucky enough this week to have some training delivered by a psychologist (run more like a group therapy session!) on attachment this week. I have had previous training sessions on attachment but they were either overly detailed, too much about research and/or delivered knowledge that could not really be practically applied to the children I work with.

In a nutshell - (like I like it!)

The trainer started with the premise that every child is born with hard-wiring for survival. Obviously this makes a lot of sense in evolutionary terms. Therefore, whatever circumstance, family set-up, family behaviours etc a child is born into, they will adapt (and subsequently develop the hard-wiring) that will optimise their chances of survival. Getting a parent's attention is a crucial part of this survival so disorders to do with poor attachment are due to a child receiving, little, inconsistent and/or frightening attention from their parent/s. Strategies for getting these parents' attention will therefore be 'warped' and will result in extreme, unusual and difficult behaviours. For these children, their patterns often mean they get negative attention - but this is still better for them, of course, than no attention at all.

The psychologist then went on to list the four ways different attachments manifest in behaviour.

Secure (the 'healthy one'). When the parent of a young child with secure attachment leaves the room, the child exhibits some concern and then is pleased when the parent returns. I don't teach securely attached children!
Avoidant - this happens when parents have not responded to their child when s/he is distressed and in need of attention. This child will not notice when the parent leaves the room, would give any stranger in the room the same attention as his or her parent and not really respond significantly when the parent returned. The way a child like this would behave in my classroom is to mostly appear not to care above anything and then, suddenly explode. I get a lot of these!
Ambivalent - caused by a parent mostly not responding - but occasionally responding appropriately - to the child's distress. This child will be stressed when the parent leaves the room but also give the parent a hard time when he or she returns - 'how could you leave me?' A child like this tries numerous strategies to get attention (to try and hit on the one that gets the right response) and therefore this child's behaviour is all over the place - s/he might try banging the table for attention, might rip up work, might try verbal abuse etc
Disorganised - caused by abuse/bullying/fear/emotional chaos from parent, and therefore the behaviour of the child is really inconsistent, confused and all over the place). The behaviour from these children I would describe as full of fear and 'easily spooked!'

The difference between this session and others I have had is that this chap related attachment to everyone in the room. He asked us all to think about what we do to draw people in and form relationships and what we do to push people away. Just that simple question provoked a lot of discussion! The general consensus for pushing away was that we ignored the person. How British! But the ways people drew people in were quite varied including
- humour
- intense interest in the other
- show off (cleverness, capabilities etc)I think this might be counter-productive!)
- be nurturing and compliant
- be humble and compliant
- and some people clearly struggled with how they drew people in.

These lists highlighted our own hard-wiring from our own early childhood - as our attachment history effects how we behave in all relationships. It also highlighted that extremes in behaviour can cause some people to react badly (marmite people), whereas mediocrity makes a person more palatable to everyone.

Another part of the training seemed to be about highlighting the fact that what seemed completely normal to us (because it was embedded in our childhood) might seem extreme to another. I guess this was the therapeutic element - as it started to de-construct what you had held on to, maintained and even guarded as 'normal' so you might become more self aware and understand your own perspective might have been a tad warped and demonstrated how the resultant behaviours have affected your relationships.

Just more fodder for the dossier 'we are all, buttons and patterns!'


  1. Better than a Vegemite person?

  2. Do they have Marmite in Texas Eric?

  3. I suspect they have Marmite people there.

  4. Nice summing up - useful as a reminder, thanks, Chris

  5. Sounds like you had an interesting day of learning... Marmite person? Yeasty? That's a good thing!

  6. Now THAT is why I love visiting here! I always learn something new and interesting!

    Hmmm, lots of food for thought!

    C x


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