Attachment Disorders Part Two: Teaching teachers

Wednesday, 26 December 2007
Unattached children display startling and bizarre behavior and seem to lack conscience for their actions. They are guided only by what they want at the moment. They have no regard for how their behavior impacts another human being.

Coping with the behavior of an unattached child in the classroom is one of the most demanding challenges teachers face. Unattached children are manipulative and self-centered. They have extreme self-control difficulties. However, they attempt to control everyone around them.

Discipline techniques may seem awkward to teachers who have never experienced the controlling behavior of a severely unattached child. Love and praise are simply not sufficient for these children. Unattached children learn trust only when they begin to give up control.

The following tips for teachers are a collection of ideas from parents, teachers, and experienced professionals in the field:

1. Establish Eye Contact
Unattached children roll their eyes around in their sockets or look across the shoulder to avoid eye contact. insist that the child maintain normal eye contact during conversation. Be aware that unattached children will attempt to control the situation by initiating a "staring match." However, their eye contact is excellent when they are very angry or when they are manipulating someone.

2. Establish Who Is Boss
When a child tries to manipulate, remind him in a calm, firm, controlled voice that you are the boss. Then ask the child, "Who is the Boss?" Reinforce the child’s confirmation that the teacher is boss with a statement such as, "That’s right. I’ll be a good boss and a fair boss, but I am the boss."

3. Recognize The Child’s Subtle Attempts To Control
Unattached children often deliberately omit parts of an assignment, letters, words, sentences, problem numbers, or their names. When instructed to sit down, they often choose an indirect path to their seats, meandering around the room before sitting. When assigned a certain number of repetitive exercises, they may choose to do a few more, or less, than requested. Acknowledge the number completed, and ask the child to begin again, until he produces the exact number of activities requested. This may require the child to repeat the activity several times.

4. Win All Control Battles
Structure all of the child’s choices so that the teacher remains in control. For example, if you want the child to take his coat outside on a cold day, ask him/her, "Do you want to wear your coat or carry it?"

5. Recognize Good And Poor Decisions
Since these children have great difficulty with cause and effect relationships, everything they do should be related back to their ability to make decisions. Recognize good decisions as if you expected this behavior all along with a comment such as, "I see you made a good decision to finish your math." Recognize poor decisions with a similar suitable statement such as, "I see you chose to have incomplete work today. You may finish it at recess. Better luck next time."

6. Allow The Child To Accept Responsibility
Look for creative ways to allow the child to experience the natural consequences of his actions.

7. Be Consistent
Do not allow the child any slack. Confront each misbehavior and support each good behavior.

8. Remain Calm
A child who manages to upset the teacher is in control of the situation. Model and verbalize desired behavior.

9. Document Interactions And Observations Of The Child
It is not uncommon for unattached children to inflict injury upon themselves and claim abuse. They can easily assume the role of an abused child and manipulate outsiders to rescue them. Good documentation is necessary to help the educator remain objective if the child accuses parents or classmates of abuse. It may also prove helpful if the child accuses the teacher of abuse.

10. Request Help
Asking for help does not indicate that the teacher’s skills are weak. Supportive administrators, and utilization of available resources, are invaluable especially for teachers of unattached children.

Educators must be willing to realize that some children should not remain in a regular classroom setting. In their book, High Risk: Children Without A Conscience, Dr. Ken Magi and Carole A. McKelvey say, "No teacher should be asked to work with severely unattached children who are so out of control that they are a danger to themselves and others. These children need to be referred for therapy."

"Many professionals who work with children are still not aware of attachment disorders," says Kathy Miller, former president of The Attachment Network. When Miller teaches educators about attachment disorders in staff development workshops, she stresses that children who are referred for therapy must be sent to professionals who are knowledgeable about correct treatment of the disorder. "Traditional therapy is not successful with these children," she says.
Edit Note:
Part one of this series is titled "The enemy within" and part three, “Dear Mom”

This series was originally published in 1997 by Tulsa Today and is the most referenced work in our archive frequently republished with permission worldwide.  While the local Attachment Network is no longer active, parents seeking help are encouraged to contact the Tulsa Developmental Pediatrics and Center for Family Psychology.

About the Author:
Linda Ann Smith earned her Bachelor of Arts in Education degree in 1972, and Master of Education degree in 1980, from Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, Oklahoma.

Smith served as consultant for the Oklahoma Writing Project (affiliated with the National Writing Project), as education consultant for The Attachment Network, and on the Broken Arrow Public Schools Writing Cadre. Her other educational memberships include Delta Kappa Gamma, and Phi Delta Kappa, Broken Arrow Education Association, Oklahoma Education Association, and National Education Association. In 1996, Smith received training in the Talents Unlimited program and Six Analytical Writing Traits model.

In her spare time Smith is a dreamer, a freelance artist, and an Internet chat room enthusiast. She has a soft heart for Vietnam Veterans, Native Americans, and people who have a pulse. Her hobbies include interior decorating, raising herbs, and collecting dust.

Last Updated ( Friday, 28 December 2007 )