Attachment Theory in Childcare Setting

Understanding attachment theory in childcare can help childcare workers to assist the growth and development of all children in their care.

What is attachment theory and how does it relate to childcare?

Attachment theory relates to the parent-child relationship and how attachment will affect the child’s development. Simply put, the baby needs to develop a relationship with the parent to develop in a healthy way.

Attachment theory in childcare becomes really important particularly when a child has not developed the ability to trust his carers to respond to and care for his/her needs. A familiarity with attachment theory will allow the carer to work out what is the best action to take to help the child grow and develop.

Understanding attachment theory

Attachment Theory was initially proposed by psychiatrist John Bolby who believed that attachment begins at birth and how attachment is made will  have a huge  impact upon the child’s adult life

Defining attachment

The principle idea of infant attachment theory is that children are much more likely to establish a sense of security when mothers are available and responsive to their needs. The child grows to understand that she is dependable. This dependability creates a secure platform from which the child can explore its surroundings.

Why is an attachment so important?

Children who develop secure attachments to their primary caregivers are able to rely upon their caregivers to give them support and encouragement to explore their environment. It has been observed that children with secure attachments have better outcomes socially, emotionally, in an educational sense, and mental health than those children who don’t. Furthermore, the attachment relations formed in the first years of childhood are believed to have a major influence on later social relationships.

Patterns of attachment

Four main attachment styles or patterns of attachment have been identified by researchers, These attachment theory stages are:

  • Secure Attachment.- Children in this group are capable of separating from the parent despite being upset and respond positively when the parent returns. When scared or challenged they are likely to seek comfort from the parent. Parents of this group respond promptly to their child’s needs and can be generally classified as being more responsive than parents of children who are insecurely attached. Research suggests that this group of children display greater signs of empathy than other groups as they proceed into later childhood stages..

When compared to children with ambivalent or avoidant attachment styles, this group of children has been found to be less aggressive, less disruptive, and more mature.

  • .Ambivalent Attachment types can be identified as displaying a deep suspicion of strangers and becoming much stressed when separated from the parent. When reunited with parents, the child often continues to feel unsafe on occasions; children in this group may be aggressive towards parents. In the later stages of childhood, children may appear to be over dependent and may even be described as clingy
  • Avoidant Attachment types tend to avoid parents. This can be most evident after the parent has been absent for a prolonged period. Typically these children display no preference between parents and total strangers.
  • Disorganized-insecure attachment types display a mixed range of behaviours including avoidance and resistance. This mixture of behaviours results in them often being described as displaying dazed behavior.

Applying Attachment Theory in the daycare setting

As attachment theory in early childhood education is considered critical in a child’s development, its principles can be applied to great effect in a daycare setting.

One of the best techniques to use in relation to the principles and concepts of attachment theory is the practice known as emotion coaching.

Emotion coaching focuses on helping children to develop an awareness of their emotions and helping them to manage feelings especially when “misbehaving”’ A skilled emotion coach is able to create an atmosphere of positive learning while having the confidence to defuse volatile emotional situations when misbehavior can present challenges.

Emotion coaching is not so much about traditional coaching, rather it involves supporting children to learn about and regulate their behaviour and emotions. The concepts of rewarding good behaviour and punishing bad behaviour are not part of the emotional coaching model.

Emotion coaching entails

  • Teaching children about “in the moment” emotions
  • Sharing ways to deal with emotional highs and lows;
  • While never accepting negative behaviour being able to empathise with and accept negative and unpleasant emotions as natural responses to situations.
  • Recognising challenging behavior as an opportunity to teach acceptable behaviour responses.
  • Building trust and respect with children.

Emotion coaching involves five steps that any influential adult can put into place when working with children. The five steps are:

  1. Tune in: Take note of not only the child’s emotions but your own as well. It is important that you ensure that you are in a calm space before engaging with the child. If you aren’t calm, take five minutes to get back to your equilibrium.
  2. Connect: See the situation as a chance for you to hone your coaching skills, and an opportunity for the child to learn. It is important that you objectively state what emotions you believe that the child is going through. This practice will help them to connect their emotions to their behavior;
  3. Accept and Listen: Take time to put yourself in the child’s shoes. Try to relate the current situation to one that you may have experienced in your own life.
  4. Reflect: After the initial discussion, review what the child said or did, stating only what you witnessed and understand about the situation. Carefully think about what happened and why.
  5. Conclude with Problem Solving/Choices/Setting Limits: If at all possible, it is good to end the coaching session by helping the child to problem-solve and discuss the appropriateness of various choices.

Attachment theory cannot be relied upon to explain every aspect of a personality; however, it does give a solid framework to understand how children develop. It also provides some groundwork in gaining a greater understanding of you.