A child needs to make a secure attachment with the main significant adult or adults in its life from a very early stage, and then have consistent and warm relationships, from there onwards throughout childhood for emotional and psychological good health.

Most babies are able to make this attachment and most parents able to bond with their babies from the moment they are born. Some are not. On the strength and reliability, consistency and warmth of these bonds, much else depends for that child’s emotional health and wellbeing, for many years after infancy, possibly for life. The secure child will develop an internal model of themselves as lovable and of others as reliable and trustworthy - a crucial basis for self-esteem and resilience.

Social work and psychological theory and practice over many years have shown that where children have not been able to develop a secure attachment with significant adults in their life - a ‘secure base’- and do not gain such security later through caring relationships which address early harm, they can behave in ways that confuse, wrong foot, hurt and frustrate those who live, learn and work with them. Those witnessing or experiencing these swings between reasonable and unreasonable, mild and furious, open and withdrawn, may not know what this child has lived through, seeing only what results and being mystified. Such shifting behaviours may stretch across a child’s family, friends, schoolmates, teachers and other adults.

In most classrooms, in most schools, there are children for whom this vital secure attachment did not develop, and the attachment pattern which developed was insecure or even a ‘disorganised’ one: the parent’s response to the child has been inconsistent, neglectful, unskilled, manipulative, cruel or simply absent. Some of those children will now be living in care, but not all of them are, and we should not blindly equate the two states of being. Research shows that where children have not had the kind of responsive parenting they need at a very early stage, their brains are likely not to be wired, or their emotions and self-regulation tuned, as yours or mine are. It’s that important an issue.

'Why is this child, so sunny yesterday and on most days, so well behaved and learning so well, now alienating everybody today, letting nobody in to find out what the trouble is? Why can we seem to do nothing right? What must we do to avoid the breaking point?'

People are left asking big questions, and doubting that this child needs love, patience, space, time and attention, rather than short sharp or severe discipline.

Why is this child, so sunny yesterday and on most days, so well behaved and learning so well, now alienating everybody today, letting nobody in to find out what the trouble is? Why can we seem to do nothing right? What must we do to avoid the breaking point?

If you understand the theory behind this phenomenon; if you learn that the nature of their attachment pattern is an important factor at the core of the problems you are dealing with in some children; if you can focus your practice on assuring them you are not going to let them down no matter what, and that you will support them without blaming yourself or the child; if your school has structures and practices in place to help and support you and the child alike, given that some days will be hard for both of you; and if together you work with the family or the carers and professionals who are also trying to help and support the child - then you and your school may well succeed where others fail.

Every teacher, and every school, should be so aware and so practising, because it is the duty of the public body to adapt to the child, not the other way round.

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