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Clinical Psychologist

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1 Clinical Psychologist
A taste of attachment Dr Jenny Suthers Clinical Psychologist Golden Grove, SA Hello everyone. I’m Jenny Suthers and attachment is the passion of my professional life. I have a background in Child Protection but work now in private practice. And, as Mark mentioned, a family of tricky kids – who are now increasingly lovely young men! Today we have 20 minutes to cover a topic that could realistically be covered over many many days. A topic that has taken me years to get my head around. So, I’m only going to try to give you a taste of attachment. There will be few details, but once I get you started, the internet is full of good resources. But a word of warning … It is also full of pop-psychology, so if it sounds too good to be true, too radical to be possible, then it is, and you should find another website. <Click>


3 Attachment is about relationships
It starts with the parent-child relationship. It spreads to all other relationships. Secure attachment has great benefits. Insecure attachment has many negative associations.


5 Babies aren’t born attached
Attachment is described as the special bond that develops between a child and their primary caregiver (in the first instance, usually their mother). It is different from “bonding”, which is the feelings a parent has for their child. Attachment goes the other way. Child to parent. Babies aren’t born “attached”, attachment develops over the first 18 months of life. Children can eventually go on to form multiple attachments. So they can have attachment relationships with Mums, Dads, Nonna, teachers, SSOs, and soccer coaches. So no matter what your work is with a child – as parent, teacher, SSO, mentor – attachment relationships are possible.


7 Parents influence their child’s attachment
Strong positive attachment relationships are built when a parent is: present – that is, physically present with their child available – that is, physically and emotionally available to their child responsive – in that they pick up on their child’s physical and emotional needs, and respond with love and care So attachment is about being physically present, noticing the physical and emotional needs of the child, and then doing something about it with love and care. Such a parent provides a secure base and a safe haven for their child. More about that soon.


9 Securely attached children, view: the world as safe
adults as consistent and reliable themselves as lovable Why do we even care? When all goes well, the child develops a secure attachment to their parent. Securely attached children learn a positive world view. They view … And they view future relationships as enjoyable and rewarding.


11 Insecurely attached children, view: the world as unsafe
adults as inconsistent and unreliable themselves as unlovable When it doesn’t go well, the child develops an insecure attachment to their parent. And the extent of this insecurity sits on a continuum, on a spectrum, from a little bit insecure to very insecure. Insecurely attached children learn a negative world view. They view … And they view future relationships as pointless, doomed to failure, threatening, or dangerous.

12  1988 Cooper, Hoffman, Marvin, & Powell –
The Circle of Security is a way of explaining what the attachment relationship looks like when it is going well … Imagine an 18 monther going to a Playgroup for the first time. At first he sits on her mother’s lap and just watches. Then he might notice the toys and point them out to Mum. With Mum’s encouragement, the child sits between Mum’s feet and plays with some toys. After a while, Mum will encourage him to venture away a bit, to find new toys and to explore the room. At some point, the imaginary elastic between Mum and child gets too stretched, or there is a sudden noise and he becomes fearful. He rushes back to Mum, has a hug, settles down, and then returns to exploring. Mum acts as a secure base for him to explore the world. She also acts as a safe haven when the world gets too scary. This pattern – explore and then be comforted – happens over and over, 1000s and 1000s of times. Gradually, the child learns that he is competent, that Mum is reliable and safe, and the world can be managed. They become the truly secure child.  1988 Cooper, Hoffman, Marvin, & Powell –

13 Carer clings tight  world is not safe, child is not capable
Problems with the top of the Circle Carer clings tight  world is not safe, child is not capable “Let me do it for you – let me speak for you” “I’m the only one who understands you” “I will organise everything and you just come along” So where does it go wrong? Let’s start with the top of the Circle. Instead of the parent being a secure base and allowing the child to explore the world, the adult clings on tight. This sends the message that the world is not safe, and the child is not capable. It might sound like …

14 with the bottom of the Circle
Problems with the bottom of the Circle Carer dismisses child’s need for comfort  carer isn’t safe, child must rely on themselves “Don’t bother me now, I’m busy” “You need to learn this for yourself” “Suck it up, princess” It can also go wrong on the bottom of the Circle. The adult does not act as a safe haven for the child to return to when they are distressed, but instead they dismiss the child’s need for comfort. This sends the message that the adult isn’t safe and reliable, and that the child must rely on themselves. It might sound like …


16 with an attachment mindset, is an attitude, not a technique
Working with children, with an attachment mindset, is an attitude, not a technique Working with children, with an attachment mindset, is an attitude, not a technique. I can’t teach you how to do it, but I can give you some pointers. An attachment attitude is playful, accepting, curious, and empathic. It’s like a dance that the adult and child do together. This dance: Consists of eye contact, smiles, touching, tone of voice, gestures, and movement It occurs with humour, gentle teasing, empathy, and surprise It is contained in songs, repetitive activities and movements, sharing messy activities, quiet comments and discussions, interest, and curiosity.

17 have the same attachment styles as the rest of the population
Children with ASD have the same attachment styles as the rest of the population So what about ASD kids? Children on the Spectrum frequently struggle with all these things. Working with them frequently feels like they are not interested in sharing their world with us. So it sounds like they will miss out on all the attachment interactions. However, research has found that children on the Spectrum form attachment relationships pretty much like the rest of the population. ~ 60% are securely attached ~ 35% are insecurely attached ~ 5% have had their attachment so disturbed by abuse or neglect that their attachment style is totally disorganised.

18 Split-screen still-face experiment

19 What effect would this have on the child,
What did you see? What effect would this have on the child, day after day? What did you see? What effect would this have on the child, day after day?


21 Children love to be understood
So, where do we start? We start with the knowledge that children, all children need to be understood. They LOVE to be understood. They need to know that you are interested in them, care for them, and understand them.

22 Deal with your own stuff Remain calm
For children to know this, we as adults need to remember that, when a child is involved, whatever the behaviour, the priority is never about us. If a child’s behaviour pushes our buttons, the issue is ours, and not the child’s ... If a child does something, and we feel anger, the issue is ours, and not the child’s ... Why is this SO important? In recent times, research has described special nerve cells (or neurones) in our brains, called mirror neurones. These mirror neurones cause us to mirror behaviours and emotions that we see in other people ... If you share a cup of coffee with someone, and that person leans forward and puts their elbows on the table, then there is a good chance you will too ... Mirror neurones! How can we use this with children? By remaining calm. Mirror neurones help explain how we can help a child become calm by staying calm ourselves.


24 Mirror neurones in action
can look like this Remember this picture? Mirror neurones, in action, can look like this. Totally in sync.

25 So, by remembering mirror neurones, if your child looked at you and saw any of these, what do you think their mirror response would look like?

26 Will the response be different, do you think, if they see you looking like this?

27 Hmm … interesting. Remember, we are the adults; and we get to choose!


29 Behaviour is communication
You will all have heard this; behaviour is communication. Your child is using behaviour to communicate something to you. If they aren’t using words, then there is a good chance that they can’t because they are too upset ... Or perhaps they tried words first, and they didn’t feel they were being heard. If we forget that behaviour is communication we may fall into the trap of seeing the behaviour as deliberate and intentional; and we will probably conclude that our child is being malicious. Understanding behaviour is not the same as excusing it. So, while hitting others is never acceptable, we can understand what caused the action.


31 Pay attention to your child and listen to what they tell you
Try your very best to understand your child. Learn about their strengths and things they find hard … Watch them closely to learn about them. Ask them about themselves … Ask about their dreams or their fantasies (even if you have heard them on this topic 1,000 times). Regularly notice (out loud) the colour of their hair or their eyes or their shirt or their new shoes; notice the shape of their ears; or how tall they are getting. Comment on their successes, even if, at times, the best you can say is “I really like the way you keep on breathing”.


33 Be empathic Be empathic … Empathy is not sympathy ... Sympathy is feeling sorry for someone. Empathy is trying to put yourself into the other person’s skin and feeling the emotions – the joy, the pain, the anger, the disappointment – that they feel. To be empathic, it helps to know lots about the other person and be curious about their life. Then you can try and think what the world must feel like from their point of view.


35 Teach new skills Relating in an attachment way doesn’t mean that you just enjoy the good moments and ignore the grotty bits. Every child, no matter what their skill or difficulty, needs to learn new skills to make them as independent as then can be. Remember me saying that behaviour is communication? Well, when we slip into thinking “he should be able to do that” and he keeps on doing it anyway; then he clearly can’t do what is required, and we need to teach him how. And of course we know, for many children, learning new skills consists of very small lessons repeated many, many, many of times. From an attachment point of view, teaching your child new skills means that you believe in them and in their ability to cope – that you will support them while they need help – and that you will then set them free.


37 Working from an attachment mindset
starts with you So what have we learned? Working with children using an attachment headset is an attitude, not a technique. This attitude consists of playfulness, acceptance, curiosity, and empathy. And also notice that all the suggestions about working with an attachment headset involve us, at the adults, doing something first


39 Attachment is about relationships Attachment impacts
on every future relationship An attachment approach to working with children is about relationships. From an attachment point of view, the adult acts as a secure base for the child to go out and experience the world, and a safe haven for them to return to when the world gets too scary. If you can manage that, then there is a good chance that your child will learn that a relationship with you is safe, and fun, and rewarding. And this can act as a model for future relationships.


41 I will use my words and my actions to tell you:
when you need me, I will be there for you nothing will take priority over you I will remove any threat from you if I can’t remove the threat, I will face it with you differences, misunderstandings, or conflicts will never threaten our relationship Finally, if I could summarise the attachment mindset, it would be like this … I, the adult, will use my words and my actions, to tell you, the child that …

42 Some Resources Today’s presentation is based, in part, on the work of:
Dan Hughes Dan Siegel Kent Hoffman (Circle of Security) Bruce Perry Arthur Becker-Weidman Some Resources Colby Pearce: “A Short Introduction to Attachment and Attachment Disorder” For teachers working with foster children: “Calmer Classrooms” from the Commission for Children and Young People (Victoria) Go to and type Calmer Classrooms into the search box Two more things

43 Budweiser Clydesdales – 2013 Super Bowl

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