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Unhappy young woman

Attachment and education

Through the attachment relationship children develop a number of emotional and cognitive skills that allow them to function in a group learning environment.

Without the regulatory skills that enable children to manage stress, impulse, rage and shame they will struggle in a classroom setting. If they have not begun to develop empathy or do not have the fundamental patterns of cognition such as cause and effect, progression of time and distinguishing fact from fantasy they may find formal learning very hard.

The report ‘Understanding why: Understanding attachment and how this can affect education with special reference to adopted children and young people and those looked after by local authorities’ provides a good introduction to the understanding the link between attachment, attachment difficulties and educational attainment.

It has a particular focus on children and young people who are adopted and those in the care of local authorities, but has key messages concerning all children who experience risk and vulnerability. There are some powerful messages about how we can begin to help children and young people and the risk of only focussing on problems and what children and young people can’t do.

Some quotes in the report from children and young people as to what has proved successful for them provides powerful testimony as to how we might help them to achieve more educationally.

Understand that I have strengths and sometimes you focus too much on what I can’t do rather than what I can do.

Help me to recognise my feelings. It helps if you name it and tell me how I am looking and may be feeling: ‘You’re looking happy, smiling and relaxed.’ ‘You’re looking puzzled and screwing your eyes up, is something worrying you?’ If I can talk about it I will, but respect my feelings if I can’t.

Sometimes I do feel angry and I don’t know why – please let me know that’s OK so long as I don’t hurt myself or others.

Make a plan with me to help me through the day or difficult times – it could be about what I like and what I need to avoid, or times of the day like getting up, meal times and bedtimes, or how to help me when I am upset or angry.

All contain powerful messages about how we can help children and young people experiencing vulnerability and risk improve their educational outcomes via a more informed approach to attachment.

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This article is from the free online course:

Caring for Vulnerable Children

University of Strathclyde

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