Parents and caregivers of children with disordered attachment know how challenging life can get. Neglect, trauma, abuse and other experiences that disrupt the attachment relationship with primary caregivers early in life, profoundly impact their development and their ability to trust, make connections or regulate their emotions and behaviors. With love, commitment and patience you can develop strategies at home that are healing and can create positive change.
But what happens when your child goes to school?
The classroom setting can present a whole new set of challenges. When a child with an attachment disorder walks into a classroom, they do not intrinsically trust the adults in the room. Their internal working model tells them that the classroom is not a safe place. They tend to be in a constant state of fight, flight or freeze. They likely lack self-esteem and developmentally, have not learned to regulate their emotions and behaviors.
Because of their history and limitations, children with attachment issues can present as disruptive, destructive, controlling or attention-seeking. They may be withdrawn rejecting or clingy.
Meanwhile, schools are generally equipped to teach the “average” child and teachers often don’t know how to respond. As a result, their behaviors cause upheaval in the classroom and negative outcomes for the attachment compromised child:
- When teachers don’t know the context, the behaviors of a child with attachment issues may be seen as acting out and lead to them being labeled as troublemakers, especially when their teachers lack experience or aren’t familiar with attachment and trauma-informed teaching.
- Children with attachment issues may have significant social difficulties. They typically have trouble making connections with their peers and forming friendships.
- Their lack of self-regulation alienates classmates. They frequently experience teasing, bullying and other damaging interactions that reconfirm their negative core beliefs.
- These students typically lag behind both developmentally and academically and are frequently misdiagnosed with a learning disorder. When they are in the classroom, their emotions and behaviors tend to interfere with learning and can make it difficult for both their teachers and classmates to focus on schoolwork.
However, school can become a positive environment for children with attachment disorders. Educators are dedicated professionals and over the last decade, many of them have committed to providing trauma-informed care and social-emotional learning.
When parents are involved with the school, partner with teachers and make sure they understand the child’s academic, social and emotional challenges, educators can help turn things around for the student. When children feel cared for and supported and learn better ways of expressing themselves, they can succeed.
They can grow to trust the adults and the school can become a safe space for them under the following conditions:
- They have a sense of belonging – They participate and feel like a valuable member of the community
- They feel accomplished – Their efforts are validated.
- They have role models – They develop a connection to at least one caring adult who they trust and can go to at school.
- They develop self-confidence – Their teachers encourage them to believe they can be successful.
- They are empowered – Educators convey the message that students are responsible for their decisions and give them a voice in the learning environments.
- Creativity is supported – Teachers encourage students to question, explore and be inquisitive.
- A sense of adventure is encouraged – The school lets children know that it is okay to try and fail.
- School is fun – Teachers provide children with interesting and exciting learning experiences.