Attachment and trauma

All children enter school with a variety of differing experiences. Some come from stable home environments, where they have built strong relationships with their main caregivers and others may not.

Where early experiences have been chaotic or hostile and have not met the child’s developmental needs it is likely that the child may display an unhealthy or disorganised attachment style. This may be due to a range of factors including physical or psychological illness, drug or alcohol dependency, mental health issues, highly aggressive behaviour or exposure to domestic violence.

Where a child has suffered trauma, whether as an isolated event or over a prolonged period, it is likely that this has caused neurological responses. In response to trauma, the brain releases stress hormones which cause major areas of the brain to close down affecting rational thought, feelings, reflectivity, empathy and memory. This may be perceived in the classroom as poor behaviour.

In some cases it can, like attachment, affect the development of the brain. The extent to which the child responds to the trauma will depend on the type of trauma, the age of the child (stage of brain development) and the attachments the child has in their life.

A majority of the behaviours these children display will make those around them feel disorientated and uncomfortable, both children and adults. For professionals this can make us feel de-skilled and affect the way we respond to the child. For their peers it might be confusing and lead them to give up on the pursuit of that friendship. This can result in the child not making sustainable relationships and in turn lead to more feelings of desperation and isolation as they grow into adulthood.