Supporting children with insecure attachment in school: the teacher-child relationship as a protective factor against the development of behavioural difficulties in middle childhood

Assignment type: Thesis
Author: Beth Turner
Submitted: June 2016


Internalising and externalising difficulties in childhood have been linked with negative outcomes in later life including criminal behaviour and mental health difficulties. Individuals who have insecure attachments to caregivers are at a heightened risk of developing such behaviours. A systematic literature search was conducted to investigate whether the teacher-child relationship could protect children with insecure attachments from developing into behaviour difficulties. A total of eleven studies were reviewed and nine indicate that the teacher-child relationship can protect students if they are at risk due to negative caregiving experiences or insecure attachments to caregivers. The methodological difficulties of multi-informant reports and low risk samples were explored. Evidence for a protective effect in early childhood was found in two studies however future research should explore whether this impact persists into middle childhood and adolescence and obtain the child’s perception of relationship quality. Thus the current empirical study investigated whether this protection continues into middle childhood. Participants included 163children (aged 7-12) and their teachers (N=41). Children completed measures of attachment security with a primary caregiver and relationship quality with their teacher. Teachers also reported on relationship quality and rated the children’s internalising and externalising behaviours in school. Results indicate that there is a significant correlation between attachment security and externalising behaviours but not internalising. There is also a significant correlation between teacher-child relationship quality and attachment security. Teacher perception of conflict is the biggest predictor of behavioural difficulties. There was no evidence that the teacher-child relationship moderates the relationship between attachment security and behaviour difficulties in middle childhood. Implications for educational psychology and future research are discussed.

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