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School-based Interventions for Attachment Disorders

written by: Sharon Dominica • edited by: Sarah Malburg • updated: 9/11/2012

Children with attachment disorders can be quite difficult to handle in the classroom. Here are some school-based interventions for attachment disorders that can be used by teachers.

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    Dealing with Attachment DIsorders

    An attachment disorder is a condition that occurs in children who have had negative experiences in early childhood. Under this condition, the child finds it difficult to trust people, and thus is not able to build healthy, loving relationships with the adults in their life. These children are often controlling and manipulative, because they attempt to control people and situations around them in order to be safe. Children with attachment disorders may also show violence, cruelty and other negative behaviors like lying, stealing and temper tantrums. They are very impulsive and lack self-control. They also have a poor self-image.

    Children with attachment disorders, along with their families, will need to undergo therapy so that they can heal and overcome their difficulties. In addition, the teacher may play a role in helping a child like this learn in the classroom.

    The main role of the teacher is to help the child feel safe in the classroom, while also remaining in control. The teacher aims at helping the child discover his or her strengths and learn positive behaviors. Here are some school-based interventions for attachment disorders that the teacher can use in the classroom in order to help these students learn.

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    Teach Concept of Choices

    Children with attachment disorders need to learn that they are responsible for the things that they do. They tend to make themselves feel that they are forced to do things and they cannot control their life. Thus, children need to be taught about good choices and bad choices. They need to be taught that in every situation they can make a good choice or a bad choice. When they make bad choices, there should be consequences. Children with these conditions need to be taught how to avoid these consequence by making good choices instead.

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    Maintaining Control

    Children with attachment disorders feel the need to control and manipulate adults around them. Adults who are consistent or those who use the same behavior modification techniques become predictable for these children. Teachers must make an effort to be unpredictable to the child and deal with similar situations in different ways. This makes it difficult for the child to predict the teacher’s reaction and be in control of the situation.

    Another way to maintain control is to have a businesslike relationship with the child in the class. If the child feels that the teacher is being overly caring, or helpful, they may feel threatened, and thus react by doing other things to gain control.

    One important factor that must be kept in mind while maintaining control is to control one’s emotions. Children with attachment disorders try to manipulate the emotions of the adults around them. They may try to hurt or anger the teacher in order to show that they can control them. The teacher must thus, in all situations, maintain control of their emotions. They must learn not to lose their temper or react in anger, for by doing so they will lose the battle.

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    Watch Nonverbal Behavior

    A teacher must remember never to trust the words of a child with an attachment disorder. The child may say many things to impress and manipulate or "trick" the teacher. Instead, the teacher must keep a close watch on the child’s nonverbal behavior. Often it is this nonverbal behavior (eyes, hands, gestures, facial expressions, etc.) that will show them what the child is really thinking or feeling.

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    Act as a Historian

    Children with attachment disorders tend to forget the good things that happened in the past when one bad thing happens to them in the present. Thus, the teacher may sometimes need to act as a historian and help the child to remember the good things of the past to keep things in perspective.

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    Structured Environment

    A structured environment and classroom schedule helps a child to feel safe, and thus will cooperate better with school and its demands. Prepare children for changes in the schedule in advance, such as field trips and special events, class parties or guest speakers.

    These are some school-based interventions for students with attachment disorders that teachers can use in the classroom. Most of all, remember that they are just children and are just trying to feel safe and secure, while fighting for themselves against a world that they perceive is attacking them.

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    Smith Lawrence, The Attachment Disordered Child in School,

    Murphy Jessica, Reactive Attachment Disorder: A Summary for Teachers, Oct 2002,

    Attachment Therapy, What Is Attachment Disorder?