American Association of Christian Counselors
American Association of Christian Counselors

Back to School: Attachment Theory in the Classroom

by: Ted Stein, M.S., LPC, NCC, BCPCC, AFC

For the past two decades, much research has been done on the student-teacher relationship. Attachment theory proposes that that a child develops a hierarchy of caregivers and that it is the caregivers role to perform the necessary tasks of becoming a haven of safety from which a child’ explores and a base of security to which a child returns. A close and supportive relationship between teacher and student would assume that a teacher performing this role would allow a student to focus on the tasks at hand — peer interaction, academic performance, and interaction with other adults; however, few studies have been able to examine this directly. One study by Ahnert and colleagues (2012) has provided clear and substantial evidence that a teacher who provides a haven of safety and base of security directly influences a child’s ability to regulate stress in a classroom setting.

The challenge that is currently being faced by researchers is finding interventions that are effective. Reflection based interventions (teacher reflects on their behaviors, feelings, intentions, and thoughts) have been promising, but inconclusive. Interpersonal Skills interventions (skills for communicating and interacting with others) have also been promising, but inconclusive. Hughes (2012, p. 322) suggest that “teachers’ goals and teaching philosophy, teaching self efficacy, and self awareness of their own emotional states and capacity to use this awareness to regulate one’s behavior likely affect their responsiveness to different interventions.”

As I sent my daughter off to school this morning to begin third grade, she was so excited and a bit anxious about school. She set her alarm, got herself dressed and groomed. She came into the bedroom excitedly pronouncing her feats with a big smile on her face and the enthusiasm of a child on Christmas morning. It was delightful! We had breakfast together and played as has been our school morning rituals since kindergarten. When it was time to go, we took all the pictures we could until she gave the proverbial ,”UGH” and then it was off to school!

This year, she has her first male teacher. There is also a boy in her class that pulled her hair once two years ago that makes her anxious as well. Truthfully, I found myself a bit anxious wondering if this male teacher will provide the haven of safety and base of security that I know her previous teachers were able to provide. Certainly, I am gender stereotyping, but I am a worried protective father sending his daughter into the world. This week, my prayers have been filled with themes of protection and safety for her!!

What I take comfort in at these times, are God’s promises He has made to us:

Psalms 84:11 states “The Lord God is like a sun and shield; the Lord gives us kindness and honor. He does not hold back anything good from those whose lives are innocent.”

Isaiah 43:2 states “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you. When you cross rivers, you will not drown. When you walk through fire, you will not be burned, nor will the flames hurt you.”

Psalm 61:3 states “You have been my protection, like a strong tower against my enemies.”

What is most comforting, is that my daughter knows Jesus at her age. All the promises He has made He has graciously offered to her as well. I take refuge in knowing He is watching over her when I cannot, he is protecting her when I cannot, and through the power of the Holy Spirit, He is supporting her when I cannot and comforting her when I cannot. I believe in Him and His word. I trust Him. I pray to Him. Praise the Lord, God our Savior, who helps us every day (Psalm 68:19).

If you are interested in learning more about Attachment Theory, don’t miss Dr. Tim Clinton and Dr. Gary Sibcy’s pre-conference session and track workshops at the AACC National Conference. Click here for more information or to register!


Ted Stein has 18 years experience as a psychotherapist. He founded Stein Counseling in 2001. Ted has a strong Christian faith and unwavering commitment to glorify God in all things. His expertise has been sought in media regarding attachment, parent capacity, delinquents, parenting issues, abuse and neglect, custody, and marriage issues.

 

References:
Ahnert, L., Harwardt-Heinecke, E., Kappler, G., Eckstein-Madry, T., & Milatx, A. (2012). Student-teacher relationships and classroom climate in first grade: How do they related to students’ stress regulation? Attachment & Human Development, 14, 249-263.

Hughes, J.N. (2012). Teacher-student relationships and school adjustment: progress and remaining challenges. Attachment and Human Development, 14, 319 — 327.

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