The following documentary follows two British parents and their efforts in creating a better bond with their daughter Georgina, who had been classified as having special educational needs due to her ‘bad behaviour’. It is a powerful and real example where parents realize their expression of affection towards their child is necessary in order for her to become a functioning adult.

Set the video at the following timestamp 4:06 pause the video when the timestamp reads 7:00 and answer the following questions:

  1.  Why does Warrick not feel a need to observe Georgina before advising the parents?
  2. What are the differences between Warrick’s perspective and the parents’ initial perspective?
  3. Why would Warrick warn the parents about ‘finding out about yourself’?
  4. In your belief, do children ever misbehave without reason? Explain your answer.

Four styles of attachment: attitudes, beliefs and behaviour

In the world of modern day psychology and sociology patterns of behaviour within interpersonal relationships relating to affection are known as styles of attachment. Mary Ainsworth initially identified three classifications of attachment styles: secure, anxious-ambivalent and anxious-avoidant. Upon consultation these were expanded upon by her collegue Mary Main in 1990, who added the fourth classification, disorganized attachment (Greenberg, M. T., Cicchetti, D., & Cummings, E. M.,1993).

Secure: A secure attachment style is developed through attentive and reliable caregiving in early childhood. Children are able to trust their caregivers. They have witnessed that their caregivers are attuned to their specific emotional and physical needs and that it is the norm these needs get fulfilled.

A secure attachment style is characterized by an individual’s confidence and ease in forming and functioning within social relations. In the ‘Strange Situation’ experiment the average toddler with secure attachment will look to their caregiver for validation when exploring, display distress when separated from their caregiver and will respond by calming down and being able to focus on their surroundings and re-engage in play once reunited with their caregiver. Informally this style of attachment is known as signifying the development of healthy relationships in early childhood.

NOTE: This does necessarily not mean that every relationship of a person with a secure attachment style is healthy or without impact. This also does not mean that this person does not have insecurities or a difficult relationship with their caregivers later on in life. Additionally, it may be so that a child is securely attached to one caregiver and not well attached to another.

Anxious-ambivalent: An anxious-ambivalent attachment style is developed as a response to unpredictable experiences in early childhood care-taking. Children learn that they cannot always depend on a response or adequate response from their caregiver and they do not internalize proper emotion-regulation strategies. They tend to seek consolation through heightened emotional signaling (George, C., 2014).

An anxious-ambivalent attachment style is characterized by generally anxious and distrusting attitudes. In the ‘Strange Situation’ experiment (Ainsworth & Bell, 1970), the average toddler with an insecure-ambivalent attachment style is wary of strangers even under supervision of their caregiver. The child shows severe distress when separated from their caregiver but does not display the typical positive response when reunited. It may take them a longer to calm down and regain the ability to play and explore their environment.

Anxious-avoidant: An anxious-avoidant attachment style is developed as a response to unpredictable experiences early childhood care-taking. Children learn that they cannot always depend on an adequate response from their caregiver and they do not internalize proper emotion-regulation strategies. They seek to de-escalate tension through avoidance (George, C., 2014).

Anxious-avoidant attachment styles are characterized by anxious and passive attitudes. In the ‘Strange Situation’ experiment (Ainsworth & Bell, 1970), the average toddler with an insecure-avoidant attachment style shows little interest in their environment. They seem apathetic and do not show the typical responses of distress and calming down upon separation and reunion with their caretakers. It was theorized that the lack of displayed emotional range is an early-childhood dissociative strategy or functions to mask distress. (Sroufe, L. A., & Waters, E. (1977).

Disorganized attachment styles are developed through a lack of reliability and inconsistencies in early childhood care-giving. It is hypothesized that these children had to deal with a ‘mixed bag’ of reliability where either care-giving or the environmental circumstances were too unpredictable for a child to recognize any kind of pattern. This style is associated with repeated high levels of fear and stress and consequently also with early childhood trauma or abuse.

A disorganized attachment style is characterized by hardships in self-identification and varying attitudes and levels of confidence towards unfamiliar situations and people. In the ‘Strange Situation’ experiment (Ainsworth & Bell, 1970), the average toddler with a disorganized style of attachment displayed various and inconsistent attitudes to their caregiver prior to separation. During separation they responded by displaying behaviours ranging anywhere from avoidance to resistant (Solomon, J., & George, C., 1999).

It is estimated that at least one-third of children have an insecure attachment with at least one caregiver, which can affect school performance and behaviour (Bergin & Bergin, 2009).

Adult styles of attachment
There have been many efforts to extend the attachment styles as identified by Mary Ainsworth and Mary Main into behavioural patterns that correspond to adult attachment. Most notable and integrated into modern psychology being the four styles model as proposed by Bartholomew and Horowitz (1991). They are: secure, anxious-preoccupied, dismissive-avoidant, and fearful-avoidant. Here the adult secure attachment style corresponds to the childhood secure attachment style. The childhood anxious-ambivalent style corresponds to adult anxious-preoccupied style.

The following information was structured in a table in order to provide greater clarity between the adult attachment categories linked to their childhood counterparts. The information displayed has been paraphrased from two studies. Amy van Buren & Eileen L. Cooley (2002) published research regarding self-identification statements that provided qualitative data in analyzing the dispositions of adults with various attachment styles. Supplementing this is are the findings as reported by Suzanne Brenda Pielage (2006), which built upon empirical review and research to propose behavioural characteristics matching the adult styles of attachments.

Adult style of attachment Associated characteristics
Secure Adults with a secure attachment style are able to independently reflect on behaviour in relationships, assess their emotional state, and seek out comfort from their social network. They generally do not fear or avoid complicated emotions and are not preoccupied by them.
Anxious-preoccupied An anxious-preoccupied attachment style is characterized as having a negative view of self and a positive view of others. Behavioural patterns correspond to seeking high levels of intimacy and high levels of validation of intimacy. There is a tendency of engaging in co-dependant behaviour that feeds this need for validation. They see others as a valid authority on judging interpersonal relationships but do not extend this to themselves. They often attribute rejection to be caused by their actions of being.
Dismissive-avoidant A dismissive-avoidant attachment style style is characterized as having a positive view of self and a negative view of others. Behavioural patterns correspond to a familiarity and preference for being alone and handling important issues independently. Many individuals with a dismissive-avoidant attachment style describe themselves as invulnerable to interpersonal conflict and deny needing close relationships. Individuals with this attachment style are found to generally defensive of their feelings and respond to rejection through creating distance between themselves and the person or situation expressing rejection.
Fearful-avoidant A fearful-avoidant attachment style is characterized as having an unstable view of self and others. (Shared by ‘disorganized’.) Individuals identified as having a fearful-avoidant attachment style experience seeking attachment but are fearful and less pro-active in doing so. They view the self as an unreliable authority when judging interpersonal relationships. They respond to rejection through both internalizing their actions and being to be the cause and creating distance between themselves and the person or situation expressing rejection.
Disorganized Alike the fearful-avoidant style, adults with identified as having a ‘disorganized’ attachment style experience fluctuating attitudes regarding their sense of self and how the preceive the general ‘other’. Their coping and approach to relationships may vary depending on unknown variables. It has been noted that they experience a fear of intimacy whilst simultaneously wanting to belong, similar to the avoidant attachment stlyes. There is no generalized response to rejection.

Third Culture Kids

There is reason to believe that some groups of children might have a predisposition to developing attachment related issues. Third culture kids (often abbreviated as TCK’s) can be considered such a group. The term ‘third culture kids’, coined by Ruth Useem and John Useem in 1967, describes children that spend a significant part of their formative years in a country and culture different from their parents’ home country and culture. Since the term was coined there have been countless publications about third culture kids and their unique life-experiences including the particular hardships they can face. Increased experiences of separation seem to be the main contributor to TCK’s vulnerability to attachment difficulties, the following section will try to illustrate this with examples from research, expat community blogs and TCK’s themselves.

It should be disclaimed that not all TCK’s recognize themselves in the experiences highlighted in this part of the chapter and the narrative that was built is in no way meant to represent or speak for all

TCK’s. Pollock & Van Reken describe the complexity of trying to synthesize the benefits and challenges of TCK’s into a single picture with a beautiful analogy:

The often paradoxical benefits and challenges of the TCK Profile are sometimes described as being like opposite sides of the same coin, but in reality they are more like the contrasting colored strands of thread woven together into a tapestry. As each strand crosses with a contrasting or complementary color, a picture begins to emerge, but no one strand alone tells the full story. (Pollock & Van Reken 2009, p. 87)

Increased separation: The long-term effects of these multiple separations on relationships with parents, siblings, friends and future relationships can be quite powerful. “The cycle of frequent good-byes inherent in a highly mobile lifestyle can lead TCKs and ATCKs to develop patterns of self-protection against the further pain of separations that may affect relationships throughout their lives.” (Pollock & Van Reken, 2009, p.131).


In addition to having moved to another country for work, many TCK parents also spend a large amount of time away from home. A reason for this is that many TCK parents have representational roles in their occupation like diplomats and embassy officials. Other high-stake jobs are also prevalent in TCK parents, for example military officials and business executives. It is common for families to hire additional staff such as au pairs or nannies to aid the parents in child care, or staff to meet other needs the family might have such as guards, gardeners, drivers and tutors. These people can grow into attachment figures for TCK’s and while strong bonds are often developed, in many cases they are not lasting as the parents move their family to another destination or return to their home-country.

Family therapist, Simen (2018), authored the book ‘Emotional Resilience and the Expat Child’ in which she outlines practical tips and storytelling techniques designed to grow the emotional vocabulary and overall emotional intelligence of expat children. In a monthly news publication written for expats Simen shared some insights from her book. She listed ways parents can support their children to help them thrive after relocation.

Attachment Aware Schools (AAS)

Educational theory is forever in motion and produces ideas and innovations that continue to reach teachers and all other educational professionals seeking to improve their practice. From this interaction and overlap between researchers and practitioners many movements are born, the fairly new concept of Attachment Aware Schools, henceforth AAS, makes a great example. Even though attachment theory itself has been around and was built upon for years, ways of concretely incorporating it into everyday educational practice were still missing from the picture until recent years where multiple frameworks to achieve this were created. (Rose, 2019;Kelly, Watt & Giddens, 2020)

As with most innovations to educational practice, change did not happen overnight. The ideas on attachment aware practice need to be continually supported by new findings and rooted for by those who believe in the impact they could make to the field and therefore the lives of children. The following section elaborates on the way researchers have urged for attachment aware practice and how this led to the conceptualization of Attachment Aware Schools.

Before some details of the frameworks are elaborated upon, there is a need to define what is meant specifically when talking about AAS:

When looking at the scope of publications relating to the concept of Attachment Aware Schools it becomes clear that the majority of these publications originate from The United Kingdom. As the quote above illustrates the ambiguous use of the name AAS can get rather confusing when trying to distinguish methods from one another. The growing use of the term is further elaborated on by Kelly, Watt & Giddens:

There is a growing use of the term ‘attachment awareness’ in schools, both nationally and internationally, and this approach to practice in schools is growing in scope and scale. ‘Attachment awareness’ is a term which is used to describe an approach which is founded on understanding attachment theory and using this knowledge to shape pedagogy and practice. (Kelly, Watt & Giddens, p.2)

Take a look through this  brochure  on Derbyshire’s AAS programme. Pages 6-20 include a compendium of participating schools and the action research question they formulated and pursued.

  1. Which attachment related research question/project description do you find most interesting?
  2. Describe why you think so in your own way. You can make a mind-map, write a short statement, or discuss your thoughts with a peer.




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Inclusive Perspectives in Primary Education Copyright © 2021 by room305 and Inclusive Education Class 2020-2021 is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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