A child's sense of well-being, and their ability to relate well to others, is profoundly influenced by their sense of attachment to their parent. Attachment has important implications not just for parents, but for educators too, since attachment issues play a large role in a child's readiness to learn and to function well in a daycare or classroom setting, and are at the root of many discipline issues in the classroom.

In an interview recorded on video in a discussion with staff from the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada, renowned Vancouver-based developmental psychologist Dr. Gordon Neufeld explained the importance of healthy attachment in children, and what can happen in the classroom when that attachment goes awry.

Listen along as Dr. Gordon Neufeld explains:

what attachment is
how attachment impacts a child's readiness for school
how less-than-ideal attachment can lead a child to bully others

The following content was originally published at Imfcanada.org:

What is attachment?

Parents may hear psychologists talk about "attachment," but what does that mean? Attachment is the longing for human togetherness. We seek emotional closeness, intimacy, love, to belong, to matter. Dr. Gordon Neufeld explains:


Why is attachment between parents and children so important?

Parenting and teaching seem tougher these days. We've never had more tools, books and experts, but none of it counts. What counts is whether a child is attached to the adults responsible for them. If they are, they're more receptive, teachable, and easier to take care of. Dr. Gordon Neufeld explains:

Is your child showing healthy attachment?

Children seek out a sense of connection, closeness, belonging, significance. If they don't find this at home, they look for it elsewhere. They become preoccupied with the pursuit of proximity, but it's not fulfilling, so there is no rest. Dr. Gordon Neufeld explains:

What does unhealthy attachment look like?

Warning signs parents can look for:

  1. The child loses their sense of connection to the family when physically apart.
  2. A child preoccupied with contact and closeness - clutching, clinging, pursuing it always
  3. A child attached to the wrong individuals - those not responsible for them - and it gets in the way of their bond with you
  4. A child insecure in their attachment to you - showing a lack of trust and closeness

Dr. Neufeld on child development

Are children better socialized in daycare?

Many parents believe their children will be better socialized by going to daycare, preschool or full-day kindergarten. But according to Dr. Neufeld, these children become more social for the wrong reasons.


At what age should a child start school?

Dr. Neufeld points to "three indicators of developmental readiness that would totally transform our understanding of when to send a child to school."

Why the push for "early learning" in public policy?

Dr. Neufeld explains that new trends in education have swept out solid research on child development.

Dr. Neufeld on bullying

Why do some kids bully?

According to Dr. Neufeld, when a child feels vulnerable, they become hardened to their own feelings. Once that happens, the natural instinct they have to take care of others gets warped – into a desire to dominate them.

Can a bully be reformed?

If a bully spends enough time with an adult who genuinely cares about them – who is caring but also firm – their heart will begin to soften. When that happens, the bully can even become fiercely protective of other kids.

Do parents know if their child is a bully?

Bullies can hide their bad behavior from adults. But there are two signs to watch out for:

  1. Do they always have to take charge and have the last word?
  2. Do they flee from hard feelings? (They "don’t care" about anything.)

What should schools do about bullying?

We have to bring children back into orbit around the adults who care for them. Kids should also have some responsibility for younger children. This creates a natural hierarchy, so that kids don’t substitute their own peer hierarchy.

© 2013 Institute of Marriage and Family Canada. All rights reserved. Reproduced with permission from content originally published at Imfcanada.org.

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