September 6, 2017

5 Things Your Child’s Teacher Needs to Know About Attachment

Securely attached children are more confident and efficient learners because their minds are free from the primary task of attaching and able to focus on absorbing new concepts. Securely attached children are also better able to stay regulated in spite of the daily challenges they will encounter in a learning environment. Teachers can contribute to attachment security in several ways.  

1. Attachment is measured in terms of how secure the trust relationship is between a parent and a child. Secure attachment is the goal for all parent-child relationships. When a child is adopted, particularly in later stages of development, attachment security can take many years to establish. When children are separating from their parent to attend school, every effort must be made to prioritize attachment security over all other aspects of development.

Practical Applications:

  • Ask parents about where they are in the process of creating attachment security with their child.
  • Discuss with parents what they think will be the challenges of maintaining a sense of security for their children while he or she is separated from them during the school day.
  • Learn about how a child’s behaviors may indicate the need for a relational experience with their primary attachment figure.

2. A child who has experienced attachment disruption,  meaning they have lost one or more attachment figures, often find it easier to take direction, feel positively towards and enjoy the company of adults other than their parents. While this might feel good for the adults who are being engaged by the child it is important to know that forming close relationships with these children is NOT helpful in promoting secure attachment with their parents.

Practical Applications:

  • Articulate a child’s need for an experience of connection. Determine if that need can wait until school is finished or if the child’s parent should be called.
  • Set clear boundaries about what needs are met by a teacher and what needs are met by parents.
  • Communicate with parents when you observe an increase in the child’s efforts to have you meet their emotional needs.

3. Attachment between a parent and child can be reinforced even when a separation occurs, such as attending school. Teachers can verbally remind students of their parent’s interest, care and availability when the child is in distress.

Practical Applications

  • Children can keep a photo of their parents with them at school or a reminder item.
  • You can articulate for the child of what their parent would say to them if they were present such as ‘You’re safe’ or ‘I’m coming back for you’ or ‘I’m proud of you.’
  • Teachers can remind children that their parents are available in whatever ways have been predetermined collaboratively between parents and teachers.

4. Attachment security will shift and change depending on the time of year, current life events and developmental growth spurts.  This may result in behavioural differences and different levels of dependence a child might have on their parent. It is important to be responsive and flexible to these fluctuations without pathologizing them or assuming manipulative intent.

Practical Applications:

  • Report new behaviors to the child’s parent right away without labelling or ascribing intent.
  • Brainstorm about the relational or security need behind the behaviour.
  • In communication with the child, acknowledge behaviour and corresponding need as well as how you are going to meet the need when they are at school.

​5. Children who are building attachment security benefit when all the growups around them to prioritize this by ensuring they have access to parental soothing whenever possible. Sending children for a ‘break’ with mom or dad or sending them home for the day should not be seen as a consequence but rather the identification of a significant mental health need.

Practical Applications:

  • Work collaboratively with the child’s parent how to develop a measuring system that determines when the child’s distress is too much for school.
  • Experiment with providing a short interval for the child to reconnect with the parent and then return to the classroom.
  • Recognize that most kids will need to ‘test’ the concept of a parent being responsive to their needs at school. Once the initial tests are out of the way it will be easier for the child to settle into school based routines.​

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