Chapter 2: Optimum Development and Academic Readiness



Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind.

“Pooh!” he whispered.

“Yes, Piglet?”

“Nothing,” said Piglet, taking Pooh’s paw. “I just wanted to be sure of you.”

―A.A. Milne, The House at Pooh Corner



Desired Outcomes

This chapter and the accompanying recommended readings and activities are designed to assist educators to:

  • Revisit and deepen conceptual skills regarding the ultimate goal of human growth and development, utilizing theoretical constructs embedded within trauma-informed practice
  • Deepen perceptual skills by applying foundational trauma-informed theoretical constructs in the identification and assessment of your own developmental functioning

Key Concepts

This chapter focuses on identifying optimum environments crucial to nurturing resilient students able to meet the academic and social demands of the school environment. It includes the following key concepts foundational to trauma-informed competencies:

  • Erik Erikson’s theory of Human Growth and Development and its articulation of the challenges and goal of healthy development
  • Attachment theory as a guide to how students become equipped to meet developmental challenges via Good-Enough Parenting and the Connection-Break-Repair process
  • Attachment behaviors as both attunement and mentoring by a community of care, not just parents
  • The role of secure attachment relationships in the formation of integrated neural networks key to managing stress and anxiety, precursors to academic and social-behavioral achievement
  • Daniel Siegel’s Domains of Neural Integration as a method of assessing areas of strength and growth for both the educator and student

Chapter Overview

It is easy to surmise that Trauma-Informed School Practices (TISP) arose in light of our increased awareness of how unmitigated stress and trauma undermine a child’s capacity to be successful in meeting the academic and social demands of school. And, as you might expect, we will spend a significant amount of time unpacking how a child’s inability to be successful in school unfolds when overwhelmed by stress and trauma. But in order for us to understand this breakdown process, we will revisit conceptual elements of healthy or optimum development, what it looks like, and what it requires. We need to recapture a vision of the very goal of development and the human and social contexts in which it occurs. In this chapter we set the stage for a deeper understanding of the effects of unmitigated stress and trauma by first revisiting key developmental constructs informed by advances in neuroscience, anchoring trauma-informed practices.

Figure 2.1: Erik Erikson: (Original) Developmental Model Overview

Crises are aspects of being human we need to learn to hold as both/and. The crisis connected to a stage reflects its critical period, the time in which the challenge is perhaps first experienced or most foundational, even though we encounter each challenge, strength, and vulnerability in multiple iterations throughout the lifespan.
Goal: Achieve an integrated balance with (at least a slight) favor toward the positive end.

Descriptors reflect Erikson’s (1987) wording, further defined by A. Berardi, (2000), GCEP 510: Human Growth & Development, Graduate School of Counseling, George Fox University. Portland, OR.

  • Stage (Life Cycle) Infancy Age (Relative) 0-12 months
  • Crisis (Challenge) Trust v. Mistrust
  • Outcome: Ego Quality (A Strength) Hope: Enduring belief despite dark urges and rages (fear). I can trust despite risk.
  • Outcome: Core Pathology (A Vulnerability) Withdrawal: Social and emotional detachment.

  • Stage (Life Cycle) Toddler Age (Relative) 1-3 years
  • Crisis (Challenge) Autonomy v. Shame and Doubt
  • Outcome: Ego Quality (A Strength) Will: Increased judgement and decision in drive application despite shame and doubt. Engage rather than avoid.
  • Outcome: Core Pathology (A Vulnerability) Compulsion: Any behavior we repeat on impulse or to resist impulse to distract against shame & doubt.

  • Stage (Life Cycle) Early Childhood Age (Relative) 3-6 years
  • Crisis (Challenge) Initiative v. Guilt
  • Outcome: Ego Quality (A Strength) Purpose: Courage to envision and pursue goals despite guilt, fear, self-sabotage impulses.
  • Outcome: Core Pathology (A Vulnerability) Inhibition: Psychological restraint (i.e., ignoring, denying) against freedom of thought, expression, activity.

  • Stage (Life Cycle) School Age Age (Relative) 6-12 years
  • Crisis (Challenge) Industry v. Inferiority
  • Outcome: Ego Quality (A Strength) Competence: Free use of skill and intellect unimpaired by infantile inferiority (deep sense of inferiority, fear of judgement, failure).
  • Outcome: Core Pathology (A Vulnerability) Inertia: Paralysis of action, thought; prevents work; lack of confidence that it is OK to succeed or fail.

  • Stage (Life Cycle) Adolescent Age (Relative) 12-18 years
  • Crisis (Challenge) Identity v. Role Confusion
  • Outcome: Ego Quality (A Strength) Fidelity: Sustain loyalties (trustworthiness) freely given despite inevitable value system contradictions. Community is not about sameness.
  • Outcome: Core Pathology (A Vulnerability) Isolation: Lack of connections; withdraw.

  • Stage (Life Cycle) Young Adult Age (Relative) 18-34 years
  • Crisis (Challenge) Intimacy v. Isolation
  • Outcome: Ego Quality (A Strength) Love: Mutual devotion subduing antagonisms of divided function. “I love you even though you are SO different than me.”
  • Outcome: Core Pathology (A Vulnerability) Exclusivity: Elitist shutting out of others we do not accept or who do not conform to our standards.

  • Stage (Life Cycle) Maturity Age (Relative) 35-55 years
  • Crisis (Challenge) Generativity v. Self-Absorption
  • Outcome: Ego Quality (A Strength) Care: Widening concern for what generated by love, necessity, or accident.
  • Outcome: Core Pathology (A Vulnerability) Rejectivity: Unwilling to include certain others in one’s generative concern.

  • Stage (Life Cycle) Old Age Age (Relative) 55 years and older
  • Crisis (Challenge) Integrity v. Despair and Disgust
  • Outcome: Ego Quality (A Strength) Wisdom: Detached (it’s not about me and what I want), active concern (care) in face of death (temporality of all things).
  • Outcome: Core Pathology (A Vulnerability) Indifference: No care; withdraw and inertia. Bitterness: Scorn for self and other.

Figure 2.1

The Goal of Development: Revisiting Erik Erikson’s Vision

Each year I (Anna) invite a new group of graduate students to revisit the “age and stage” developmental theorist, Erik Erikson (1964, 1987) and his psychosocial theory of human development. I start by explaining that his theory is not about ages and stages. It is about what he envisioned was the goal of human development, summed up in a series of propositions.

Human growth and development is an identity formation process:

  • That occurs within a complex web of relationships;
  • Through various processes of adapting to the demands of the environment;
  • With the goal of reaching maturity characterized by love, wisdom, and fidelity;
  • Leading to insight and responsibility.

His “ages and stages” (summarized in Figure 2.1) are less about what may or may not happen at a particular age, but about a series of internal and interpersonal challenges we encounter over and over again throughout life. For example, as newborns, our most significant challenge is our need to be loved and to trust in the goodness of self, other, and the world—and this issue is not resolved in infancy. Rather, it is our first iteration of what is to be a lifetime of repeated encounters with this dynamic. These repeat encounters give us the opportunity to strengthen earlier gains (our positive neural networks) needed to overcome and tame the negative neural networks endemic to all of us as part of being human. But repeat encounters also can undermine fragile, new internal strengths, further solidifying negative neural networks that impair our ability to meet additional life challenges as we move across the lifespan.

In other words, developmental crises, and the resulting core strengths and pathologies (as Erikson called them) are universal developmental themes we need to struggle with over and over again if we are to become mature adults. At each step in the process, the developing child needs a community of caring adults who understand the importance of these iterations and provide the optimum environment in which the child can engage in these challenges (Erikson, 1987).

While we can identify adjustments we’d make to Erikson’s original stage formulations in regards to timing, gender awareness, and tasks related to today’s environmental demands (Gilligan, 1982; Kraus, 2009), here, what we are most interested in are the developmental concepts informing Erikson’s model. Specifically:

  1. Growth occurs within a relational polarity between self and other.

    We are faced with predictable external (relational, environmental) challenges that often correspond with an internal challenge we are primed to take on. For example, let’s recall our first challenge after birth: the need to bond with a caretaker, creating or flushing predictable internal challenges, such as “I need to be loved, but am I lovable?” The external world is placing demands on the infant, and the infant is internally ready and primed to interact. When there is a mismatch (school places academic and social demands on the student, but the student is not able to engage), internal psychological struggles for the student, and between the student and the external environment, are guaranteed.

  2. Growth occurs in dialogue with two inner competing polarities.

    Continuing our example of the infant’s first challenge to engage with the world, each crisis is cognitively, emotionally, and viscerally evident within the child’s body, signaling the need to respond. Having no words and merely tracking his experience through physical and emotional sensations, the child is placed at a particular type of inner crossroads: “Do I trust despite my inner doubts [the birth of a positive neural network about one’s worth)], or should I withdraw, as the crushing shame of rejection is too overwhelming [the birth of a negative neural network about one’s worth and the goodness of others]?” Erikson (1964) uses the term crisis to describe these central challenges of a particular stage. Successful resolution between these two opposing neural networks requires a both/and integration whereby the positive neural network is stronger than the negative neural network, and so helps to provide a reassuring counterbalance and mediating effect.

    In this example of Erikson’s first-stage in which we are challenged with the inner polarity of trust versus mistrust, if the child could put words to the challenge’s emerging resolution, it might sound like this: “People, and life in general, are not always trustworthy, but I can trust that most times others are trustworthy. And I can trust that I can survive encounters with others’ untrustworthiness or my own doubts and fears. I am driven to do this because there is something about loving and being loved that makes life worth living, giving me hope to engage and move forward.” As we will see in future chapters, when a child cannot integrate these neural networks, the negative networks lead to cognitive, affective, and behavioral dysregulation, often most evident in classroom settings.

  3. Growth requires repeating challenges over and over.

    Remember the movie Groundhog Day (Ramis, et al., 2002)? The main character repeated the same day for years on end, constantly re-encountering the same challenges, but qualitatively changing with each iteration. Even when he developed mastery in something, he kept being challenged by the deep layers of internal beliefs and meaning he was making along the way. The movie ends with him choosing to actually stay in that very town to settle down and build some roots.

    While the internal strengths and vulnerabilities we develop responding to an earlier crisis are then used as skill sets (encoded as neural networks) to meet future challenges, we are never “done” with those earlier challenges. These challenges are lifelong themes we encounter over and over. Each successive encounter pushes us deeper, giving us the opportunity to further strengthen earlier positive neural networks or undermine our growth by nurturing negative neural networks. On any given day, each one of your students is not merely encountering the challenges of Industry versus Inferiority, but having re-encounters with earlier challenges regarding their safety, worth, and ability to meet the demands of those around them. Educators are the ones who see the child’s negative and positive neural networks in action, while also being the ones called to empathically attune and mentor them through whatever developmental demand is preventing them from making academic and social skill gains.

  4. Neural networks influence our psychosocial functioning.

    Our internal negative and positive neural networks shaped by our interactions with self and other form the basis for internal schemas related to our worth, the goodness of others, and life in general. We will further explore the formation and influence of neural networks below. But a hint of what is to come: When children cannot function in the school environment, they are telling us that negative neural networks are pulling their strings, that they have not had the chance or ability to nurture the positive neural networks needed to counterbalance a bunch of confusing, discomforting, negative thoughts, feelings, and sensations that rattle around inside their body and mind. And each time a child is dysregulated, they are revisiting a place where they are re-encountering a developmental challenge. They need a redo—and tag, you’re it; they need you to be the grounded attachment figure that walks them through it via attunement and mentoring. When children cannot function in the school environment, they are telling us that negative neural networks are pulling their strings, that they have not had the chance or ability to nurture the positive neural networks needed to counterbalance a bunch of confusing, discomforting, negative thoughts, feelings, and sensations that rattle around inside their body and mind. And each time a child is dysregulated, they are revisiting a place where they are re-encountering a developmental challenge. They need a redo—and tag, you’re it; they need you to be the grounded attachment figure that walks them through it via attunement and mentoring.

  5. Development takes a village.

    And finally, Erikson reminds us that our growth and development is intimately connected to the broader culture, and its embrace of relational values that support and sustain health (Erikson, 1987). Look at his description of an adult—one who is committed to love, care, and generativity in a manner that is not exclusive. A child’s growth is not solely dependent upon the relational style of the parent; it is embedded in a deeper matrix of relational influences extending beyond kinship relationships. And a significant part of that community is school.

    Likewise, schools are embedded in a reciprocating relationship with the broader culture. Educators need communities—parents, lawmakers, the general public—to believe in and support the education of the next generation as part of their commitment to be generative. Educators need to know that they are valued as professionals, and need to be supported as such through adequate funding for wages and supplies. In Chapter 4 we will revisit this topic again, as educator stress is not just about trying to find effective responses with students who are unable to manage the demands of the school environment: you are facing a variety of cultural messages, overt and covert, signaling a lack of trust in your expertise and community commitment to the public education process. This adds to your stress, activating your own neural networks in response.

Attachment and the Creation of Integrated Neural Networks

Erikson’s theory articulates a vision of the substance and process of becoming a mature adult, a wisdom-making process embedded within relationships with ourselves, with others, and within a broader cultural environment committed to relational principles necessary to support healthy development across the lifespan. Attachment theory (Bowlby, 1969, 1988) gives us specific guidance on what these relational behaviors look like, and how these behaviors create integrated neural networks necessary for healthy development.

Neural Networks: Deeply Held Beliefs Influencing Behavior

We’ve been using the concept of neural networks to elaborate on Erikson’s contributions to understanding the process of development, but what do we mean? Cognitive developmental theorist Jean Piaget (1952) was instrumental in helping us describe how we develop the capacity to interact with our environment through the development and summoning of schemas, neurological storehouses of scripts for responding to the world born from repeated encounters. Erikson helps us understand the psychosocial content of these neural networks that are in constant play as our students respond to the academic and social challenges of the school environment. Advancements in neurobiology verify and provide us with a deeper understanding of the actual physical construction of these neural networks; it is not merely hypothetical, as now we have empirical proof regarding how the brain wires together and grows (Cozolino, 2014; Porges, 2011; Porges & Furman, 2011; Siegel, 2012).

Our memory banks—both positive and negative neural networks—contain neural encodings of our earliest experiences stored through implicit memory processes, a skill of our right frontal cortex that is able to encode memory through feelings and sensations (Schore, 2017; Siegel, 2012). For example, hearing soothing voices and feeling gentle, protective touch, we felt loved and safe. Hearing arguments and loud jarring voices, or feeling rushed physical touch and anxiety that is easily conveyed during moments of eye contact (or lack thereof), are just a few ways that we felt vulnerable and scared. These preverbal memories are stored in our implicit memory.

As our use of language grows, so does our brain’s capacity to store experiences in explicit memory, a function of our left frontal cortex. Memory neural integration between left and right hemispheres, and between positive and negative neural networks, occurs when our caretakers attune and mentor us through various life experiences, helping us make sense of our experiences, and affirming that we can find our way through the challenge. In the absence of this type of relational fidelity, our memories remain fragmented, compartmentalized, and dysregulated.

Of specific focus here is the role of consistent, emotionally attuned, and mentoring responses by caretakers in building positive neural networks that mitigate or tame the influence of competing negative neural networks through the neural integration process (Commodari, 2013; Porges, 2011; Siegel, 2012). Erikson already tips us off that in the realm of making sense of self and other in all matters related to the bio-psycho-social anxieties of life, we have competing networks—negative and positive. Negative networks are born from uncertainty, fear, or pain, leading us to doubt self, others, and/or the goodness of life. Just glance down Erikson’s list of core pathologies to view some of the most common negative neural networks influencing dysregulated student behavior: “The world is not safe and I am not lovable, I have no choice but to withdraw”; “I have no real sense of will and just react compulsively”; “I dare not set goals and will remain inhibited with fear”; “I am not competent, so don’t bother trying”; and the list goes on. Negative networks can include some element of truth, as people are not always lovable, capable, trustworthy, etc., and they function to inspire self-protection. But as Erikson’s use of the term core pathology hints, our negative neural networks backfire, morph into lies, and impair our ability to grow and thrive when left unmitigated.

Positive neural networks are born from consistent, emotionally attuned love, care, and mentoring responses throughout a child’s formative years, leading to an inner confidence that we can figure it out despite the experience of fear and anxiety. This is congruent with what Erikson identified as the optimum goal of each developmental challenge: that as a result of the relational fidelity of the caretaker, the developing child would be able to summon internal strengths despite the nagging voice of those pesky negative internal neural networks (Erikson, 1987).

As we will uncover in our review of attachment theory, negative implicit memories left unmitigated feed a continued lack of integration between explicit and implicit neural networks. This lack of hemispheric integration places the child in an unavoidable position of dysregulation. Lack of hemispheric neural integration allows reactionary implicit neural networks to run the show, as we react to physical and emotional cues in the here and now in an effort to protect ourselves, with little explicit memory and associated schemas to help us differentiate the myths and exceptions of our negative neural networks. We lead, in conscious and unconscious ways, with the belief that we are stupid or worthless, that people are not trustworthy—whatever the negative network is being activated at the time. We then respond with a variety of fairly predictable defensives, whether through withdrawal or attack (Arntz, Chasse, & Vicente, 2005; Bowlby, 1976, 1980; Carrion & Wong, 2012; Kinniburgh, Blaustein, Spinazzola, & van der Kolk, 2005; Perry, 2009; Schore, 2003).

In group settings, our neural networks seek out and resonate with others carrying similar scripts, forming a “groupthink” process, commonly seen in classrooms. Sometimes this contagion effect reveals the linking of positive neural networks, displayed in group care, empathy, kindness, and generosity. Many times, negative neural networks link, leading to group chaos or violence. Regardless, the behavioral issues plaguing students and teachers are revealing unintegrated neural networks: students’—and at times the teacher’s—negative neural networks are signaling the need for attunement and mentoring.

Hollywood’s Depiction of Neural Networks

Movies and novels are replete with themes regarding the formation of negative neural networks that then shape the character’s responses to life challenges. For example, in Finding Nemo (Stanton et al., 2003), we meet a dad who was always a bit of a worrywart and adverse to taking risks. The catastrophe that struck his family only served to strengthen those inner negative neural networks. The movie depicts how engagement with each life challenge invites us to rework those internal scripts, which he does quite nicely.

A fun place to see the building of neural networks more overtly named and illustrated is in the movie Inside Out (Docter et al., 2015). Likewise, an animated sequence in the documentary What The Bleep Do We Know (Arntz et al., 2005) also explains how negative neural networks develop and operate.

You may have seen all three of the movies we’ve briefly mentioned here, in addition to other movies we will mention along the way. We think that you may be rewatching many of your all-time favorites, but with deeper conceptual language to describe what is being portrayed. Enjoy!

Attachment Theory and Its Influence on Academic and Social Functioning

Herd of elephants
[Image: Herd of Elephants | Unsplash]

A primary theoretical construct informing TI practice is attachment theory, a developmental model describing the role of interpersonal connectedness in the formation of integrated neurological functioning, leading to the capacity to effectively manage life’s anxieties so that the developing person can engage in the various tasks or demands presented by the environment (Bowlby, 1988; Bowlby & Golding, 2007; Karen, 1990; Siegel, 2012). Here, we are addressing how the child’s attachment relationships are key to enabling them to academically engage and emotionally and behaviorally self-regulate (Geddes, 2006; Massachusetts Advocates for Children, 2013; Masten & Obradovic, 2006; Morton, 2018).

Over the past 20 years, elements of attachment theory have experienced a resurgence of interest as advancements in neurobiology have provided empirical evidence of the physiological impact of relationships. First, we can see physiological evidence that secure, emotionally attuned, and trustworthy relationships do build neurostructures advancing brain functioning required for psychosocial growth. Likewise, insecure, emotionally misattuned and inconsistent relational fidelity undermine the formation of neurostructures required for cognitive functioning and self-regulation, leading to added challenges throughout the lifespan (Cozolino, 2014; Siegel, 2012; van der Kolk, 2014).

They are mirrored in Erikson’s developmental model, but in a nutshell, attachment theory’s primary premises are quite simple (Bowlby, 1969):

  • We all experience anxiety. Life is hard and will present us with numerous expected and unexpected challenges (stressors), some more annoying than hard, and others downright scary, traumatic, and unfair.
  • To manage this anxiety, we need consistent attachment during our first 18 years of life. All children need what developmental theorists call “good-enough parenting” (as explained below) from adults who consistently see, value, care for, and mentor them throughout the first 18 years of life (Karen, 1990; Winnicott, 1990). When we are loved (being seen and mentored) by a caring community, our innate ability to grow and thrive unfolds.
    • In the absence of good-enough care, brain development stalls, negative neurological networks (for example, “Life is always unfair” or “I am not lovable”) take hold and dominate, and positive neurological networks (such as “Life is good on most days” or “I am deeply loved”) fail to take hold. This lack of neural integration sets off a cascade of developmental consequences unique to each person and their circumstances.
  • If we get good-enough attachment, we are better able to handle life’s anxieties. When we have consistent attunement and mentoring, we build the internal neurostructures required to emotionally and cognitively meet the both-and of life’s challenges without being overwhelmed by anxiety. We develop confidence in our abilities to do life, what is often referred to recently as “grit” (Duckworth, 2016). Through firsthand experience, we know we are loved—we have worth, even though we, and the persons who love us, are not perfect. We learn we can reach out for help as needed, even as we are learning how to use our internal and external resources to meet day-to-day expectations.
    • Attachment theorists call this confidence. It takes confidence in the goodness of self, others, and the world despite the imperfections and the bad. It takes confidence in our own ability to figure it out even though we may often get it wrong. It takes confidence to reach out for help, knowing those persons may or may not be able to respond as we ideally desire.
    • And this confidence (built by consistent love and care) is what enables us to manage anxiety, whether it is the minor anxiety of managing day-to-day tasks or surges of anxiety that accompany larger stressors and traumatic events.
    • In the absence of good-enough attachment, we do not have the neurostructures to emotionally and cognitively self-regulate and learn. We know through firsthand experience to doubt our worth and the trustworthiness of others. We lack the confidence in ourselves to meet the daily challenges of life, leading to inhibited action, self-doubt, and oversensitivity to criticism. We lack confidence in others truly caring about us, and become overly sensitive to any perceived or actual slight. We do not feel safe in the world; we do not feel safe in our own skin. We learn all sorts of ways to protect ourselves, such as curbing or muting our will or drive to be loved, to be creative, to set desired goals as protection against personal failure, rejection, and shame. We cannot manage the anxiety of day-to-day demands, let alone major stressful or adverse events.
    • The cumulative effect of these negative neural networks dominating our psychosocial and cognitive functioning over the course of the lifespan manifest in all sorts of challenges observed in the classroom, as we will examine in Chapter 4.
    • In adulthood, these challenges are most apparent in struggles in our intimate, close relationships, or adult living skills related to self-care and social responsibilities such as economic sustainability and honoring social contracts (i.e., laws).

Good-Enough Parenting as Attunement and Mentoring

Figures 2.2 through 2.4 provide an outline summary of the foundational elements of attachment theory, including John Bowlby’s original hypothesis, as well as the work of Mary Ainsworth and Mary Main, who worked with Bowlby to flesh out basic styles of what secure and insecure attachment from parents look like and their effects on children. In summary, Bowlby described securely attached parents as caretakers who were able to offer care in just the right dose—in style and consistency—according to the current needs and biological wiring of the child, helping the child create internal working models (neural networks or schemas) of the world based on the internalization of that care (Bowlby, 1969, 1976, 1980). In other words, not all children need love and care expressed in the same manner. Good-enough parents, a term coined by Winnicott (1990), are able to bend and flex according to the needs of their child in the process of offering consistent emotional attunement and mentoring. And no parent is perfect—nor should they be. But the limits of the parents must not exceed the tipping point required of that child to internalize that they are loved and cared about, and can safely trust and rest into that attachment relationship despite its imperfections; that’s good-enough.

Attachment Theory Overview

Figure 2.2: John Bowlby (1988): Attachment Theory Propositions, Function, and Attachment Behavior Definition

Bowlby’s Hypothesis

Attachment Theory

Attachment Behaviors

3 Propositions:

2 General Functions

Definition & Duration

When we are confident that an attachment figure is available when needed, we will be less prone to intense or chronic fear than if we do not have this confidence.

A way of conceptualizing the propensity of humans to make strong affectional bonds to particular others. 

Definition: Any behavior resulting in attaining or retaining proximity to another person. Includes smiling, crying, anger, flirting, direct or indirect requests for help or attention.

Confidence in availability (or lack thereof) builds slowly during childhood. These expectations tend to persist throughout life.

A way of interpreting emotional and personality disturbances resulting from unwilling separation and loss.

Duration: Attachment behavior most evident in childhood but remains from cradle to grave.

The expectations of availability and responsiveness of attachment figures developed during childhood are fairly accurate representations of experiences we have had.

Figure 2.2

Figure 2.3: John Bowlby (1988): Six Patterns of Attachment Behaviors

Bowlby asserts that the more a parent displays the positive traits in the following six patterns, the more likely the child will securely attach. The more a parent displays the negative attributes of these six patterns, the more likely the child will not securely attach.

Pattern #

Positive Attachment Behavior

Negative Attachment Behavior



Embracing of child’s attachment needs regardless of child’s age.


Unresponsive to attachment needs and child’s signals; disparaging, rejecting.



Consistent presence; consistency; trustworthy.


Significant absence due to illness, adoption, foster care, travel, or death.


Absence of Threats

Mentors, does not shame; no emotional games, threats, or hurtful messages.

Threats (and Harm)

Emotional control of child; threats to not love, withhold support; includes violence.



Able to manage own life struggles without scaring or ignoring child.


Parent threatens to leave or harm self to guilt child or manipulate spouse.


Absence of Guilt

Takes appropriate responsibility; resists urge to control or punish child via guilt.


Induce via claim that child is responsible for problems, illness, divorce, financial struggle.


Non-Inversion (Parent is the parent)

Parent maintains role as adult mentor. Appropriate generational hierarchy and role expectations.

Inversion (Child pressured to care for parent)

Role reversal; parentification or uses child as a friend, confidant; child forced to meet attachment need of parent.

Figure 2.3

Figure 2.4: Child and Adult Attachment Styles

Mary Ainsworth (2015) observed four distinct attachment patterns children display in relationship to their primary attachment figures. Mary Main (Hamilton, 2000; Main, Kaplan, & Cassidy, 1985) observed four distinct adult attachment patterns that parents display towards their children. Together, they discovered a correlation between the way a child attached and the style of attachment that the child’s parents provided that child. An adult attachment style does not always “produce” the corresponding child attachment style, but they discovered that a significant correlation does exist. Use the Child Attachment Styles to identify traits in yourself as a child; use the Adult Attachment Styles to identify traits in yourself as an adult, whether bonding with another adult or as a parent caring for a child.

Ainsworth’s Child Attachment Styles

Main’s Adult Attachment Styles

Style 1: Secure

  • Child: Engaged, curious, responsive; easily seeks connection and at ease when on own; reacts congruent with situation, for example, happy when parent arrives, sad when leaves.
  • Parent: Responsive; attentive; attuned.

Style 1: Autonomous

    • Family Recall: Can recall the good and bad; not overwhelmed or cut off; integrates past and present.
  • Receptive to attachment needs of children, close others; strong anxiety management and emotional self-regulation abilities.

Style 2: Anxious Avoidant

  • Child: Looks mature, detached; doesn’t seek comfort; adapts to blank, angry, rejecting, distracted parent.
  • Parent: Nonresponsive to cues; may disparage attachment-seeking behaviors.

Style 2: Dismissive

  • Family Recall: Resists recall or idealizes family despite the bad.
  • Detached, avoid emotional depth; love and intimacy difficult; may view others’ emotional needs as weak or childish.

Style 3: Anxious Ambivalent

  • Child: Clingy; inhibited; anxious.
  • Parent: Their varying needs dominate; come here-go away.

Style 3: Preoccupied

  • Family Recall: Preoccupied by past, family pain.
  • Emotional regulation difficult; may often feel anger, despair, worthlessness; like a victim; anxiety; overwhelmed.

Style 4: Disorganized/Chaotic

  • Will co-occur with Style 2 or 3.
  • Child: Will act unpredictable, indiscriminate, reactive.
  • Parent: Will act unpredictable, indiscriminate, reactive.

Style 4: Disorganized

  • Will co-occur with Style 2 or 3.
  • Family of Origin: Abusive, inconsistent; vacillate between overly intrusive and absent; addictions; violence; mental illness.
  • Current relationships replicate early trauma.

Figure 2.4


Other attachment-focused theorists have added to our understanding of what “good-enough” means—and again, it is not about perfection or protecting children from all relational stress or disappointment. In fact, it requires (a reasonable dose of) the exact opposite. Return to Erikson’s notes again (Figure 2.1 above). As we discussed, notice how all of life is about developing internal strengths despite challenge, despite the imperfections of self and others, despite our own internal fears, hangups, and insecurities.

Our attachment relationships with children are all about helping emerging adults deal with the reality that life is hard and unfair from a foundation of relational safety—knowing that they are loved, they matter, and they have the internal resources (neural networks affirming worth and competence) and external resources (the community) to do this thing called life. Our attachment relationships with children are all about helping emerging adults deal with the reality that life is hard and unfair from a foundation of relational safety—knowing that they are loved, they matter, and they have the internal resources (neural networks affirming worth and competence) and external resources (the community) to do this thing called life. The growing child encounters this challenge on a daily basis from the moment they are born. Life didn’t play fair when their skull was nearly crushed during birth, or they were hit with the full force of gravity, cold, and air entering their lungs for the first time. Life was scary and unpredictable whenever their stomach hurt or they were pricked with a needle or got a fever. And don’t even get a toddler started on how unfair life is that they cannot control nearly anything despite the fact that they can now walk and talk!

These are expected “breaks” or “misses,” as theorists call them, that are part of being alive, and must be encountered. Often, such events are no one’s fault: it is just life being life. And they are necessary opportunities for offering the child attachment-based attuned and mentoring responses (verbal or non-verbal) that say, “I know it hurts,” or “I know it’s unfair, but I’m here with you and together we will see this through,” or “You’ve got this thing; let me know if you need my help, as I’m right here with you.”

For differing reasons, a parent should not be able to prevent every physical or emotional discomfort of a child on a daily basis. But the good-enough parent who is aware of the slight—the relationship “miss,” the “break” in the attunement process—cycles back to acknowledge the child’s experience and offers a situation-appropriate response. This process of “break and repair” is what builds trust; it is the hallmark of good-enough parenting. The parent is not expected to repair all breaks—that is unrealistic. But good-enough parents and strong attachment-based care protects children from unnecessary, hurtful breaks where they can, and provide consistent enough repairs at a “good-enough” frequency, appropriate for that situation. This ability to prevent unnecessary and hurtful breaks past a tipping point in frequency and intensity, and to attune and mentor, comes from parents whose own neural integration is such that they can stand in a de-centered place; they can put their own needs and reactions aside, see the developmental needs of the child, and then respond accordingly. They are securely attached adults.

When the parent (or teacher) says, “I know I hurt your feelings. I’m sorry. I was angry and I took it out on you,” or “I know you are angry with me, but no, you can’t have or do x, y, or z,” a multitude of good processes are co-occurring. First, the child receives affirmation that they are seen and cared about by the adult. Second, they experience the adult’s ability to own their faults or limitations, if that was the case. This is reflecting the adult’s confidence that they can tolerate not being perfect. Instead, they can focus on doing it better the next time (when they are the ones who caused an unnecessary or hurtful “break”), while empathically hanging out with the child’s experience as the child summons the confidence to muddle through the “break” on the way to “repair.” Meanwhile, when the child has been hurt (whether by parental accident or reactivity, or by appropriate limit-setting), and the parent circles back to repair the actual or perceived “break,” the child learns that their thoughts, feelings, wants, and needs are important, even though it may not mean they can or should necessarily get what they want.

The confidence resulting from good-enough attachment is not arrogance or naive optimism. It is a sense of faith in yourself, an ability to tolerate being wrong without that meaning you are a total failure and unworthy human being. It also reflects the ability to tolerate the inevitable limits and failings of those around us without minimizing their failings or totally disregarding them because of it. It allows us to take an honest inventory of ourselves and others. It gives us the ability to say, “That was wrong and it hurt; now, how can we repair this?”

This alludes to the developmental concept of whole, integrated relating, often referred to as “splitting versus whole-object” relating (Berardi, 2015; Mahler, Pine, & Bergman, 1973; Rubens, 1996; Winnicott, 1990). Developmental theorists surmise that you and I work through cognitive stages where we see the world as either/or, right/wrong, good/bad, when in fact life is all of that and more. I have good parts and not-so-good parts to my way of being in the world. Those I love are the same. Good-enough attachment helps me experience the good and the bad in myself and the ones I love, and ride the wave—the hard work—of relationship. When I am not able to hold those two in tension, it may prevent me from admitting I am wrong, or another person is wrong. It may make me unable to  repair the break when I am wrong, or lead me to refuse repair by others who have wronged me. It may lead me to ignore or make excuses for others who have hurt me, or to overly ruminate about every wrong committed against me, whether the other person takes appropriate ownership or not. Discernment regarding how to honor my boundaries or those of others becomes distorted and confused. This will be important for us to revisit when we talk about trauma-informed discipline policies as embodying this “both-and.”

Good-enough attachment creates a foundation for us to tolerate ambiguity, imperfection, and uncertainty in self, others, and the world around us while we risk embarking on new relational, intellectual, and physical challenges. Good-enough attachment creates a foundation for us to tolerate ambiguity, imperfection, and uncertainty in self, others, and the world around us while we risk embarking on new relational, intellectual, and physical challenges. This directly relates to the key challenges of Erikson’s Industry and Inferiority stage that dominates a child’s school years. Understanding the lack of good-enough attachment, and the resulting undeveloped and unintegrated neural structures, helps us understand children who display little frustration tolerance, low anger thresholds, and fear of failure that locks them into oppressive self-imposed pursuit of perfection or leads them to give up before even trying. It helps us understand students who lead with indifference, disrespect, and outright violence. The consequences of chronic misattunement are real and profound, and will be illustrated more in Chapter 4.

But most comforting is the realization that in imperfection, we truly learn what love, acceptance, and trust mean when we circle back and repair the places where we broke trustworthiness. Among attachment-focused mental health practitioners, we use a metaphor borrowed from how steel rods are fabricated: Through a process of melding together (attachment), breaking apart (break or miss), and then melding together again (repair), the fibers holding it together become stronger. So it is with relationships: We build bonds of deeper love and trust as we inevitably cycle from processes of deep, resonant connection to moments of relational “misses” or “breaks” and then back to “repairing” those breaks, returning to a state of attunement.

Another element to consider is our need and ability to form strong relational bonds with more than one or two caretakers. We’ve learned a lot about what makes today’s students so vulnerable, and it is not merely because of parental struggle. Many systems-based therapists and sociologists believe it is because families in general are more challenged and isolated, and hence more vulnerable, than at any time throughout history. While it is beyond the scope of this text to elaborate on these issues, suffice it to say that parents need our empathy and support even while we are acutely aware that much student stress is originating in the home. There are reasons why parents are dysregulated, and they are in need of a trauma-informed approach as well. We will address this further in Chapter 11.

We can’t merely wish or demand that parents become the attachment figures their children need. When our students come to school with marginal abilities to learn and self-regulate, we can’t just expect them to pull it together and get with the program. We are looking at an entire society suffering the effects of disconnection and dysregulation.

To avoid sending us down the hole of depression and hopelessness here and again in Chapter 4 (how dysregulation impacts schools), there is actually some good news and the reason for a Chapter 4 and 5 (best practices in response) preview: Attachment theory and empirical evidence gleaned from neurobiology illustrate that when we provide our students with attunement and mentoring—when we offer our students good-enough attachment—we can help them repair neurostructures battered by unmitigated stress and trauma. We can help them repair developmental injuries that are preventing academic and social-behavioral success at school. It takes a school community village, and it can be done.

States of Neural Integration

Above we described how development is all about attachment figures attuning to our experience and needs, and mentoring us in response to the demands these experiences and needs are signaling. This attachment process builds neural networks promoting what Daniel Siegel (2012) describes as integrated neural functioning. When we display certain character strengths or relational abilities, we are displaying various types of neural integration. When we embark on a goal to develop certain habits or skills, we are building new neural networks requiring or leading to deeper levels of neural integration.

Siegel has identified nine states of neural integration we can use in two ways. First, Siegel gives us insight and language to describe our current functioning and experience from the viewpoint of our brain—the actual neurological processes being activated by or responding to the day-to-day demands of being alive. And second, Siegel gives us concrete ways to pinpoint places where we might want to grow, strengthen, or rework various neurostructures as we tend to our own developmental journey (Siegel, 2012; Siegel & Bryson, 2012).

We’ve summarized Siegel’s domains of neural integration in the charts listed below (Figure 2.5). In the Developmental Journal Worksheets listed in Appendix A, we will invite you to use the descriptors found on the charts as a reference for assessing your own strengths and growth areas. In Section II, you will be able to cycle back to this chart as you identify attachment-focused classroom activities designed to strengthen your students’ integrated neural functioning.

Figure 2.5: Daniel Siegel’s Domains of Neural Integration (Siegel, 2012, Ch. 14; 2007)

The following definitions use many direct quotes from Siegel’s articulation of each domain (Siegel, 2007, 2012). The remaining descriptions and examples are from Berardi, A. (2013). GCEP 510: Human Growth & Development, Graduate School of Counseling, George Fox University, Portland, OR. Develop your own examples with and for your students.

Goal of Neural Integration: Mindfulness

Engaged, self-aware self-attunement allowing a more receptive, integrated state to engage with self and others in life-affirming resonance. Being “one’s own best friend” allows full and receptive relationships with others. Crucial to neural integration and caring, compassionate, stable, and effective communities.

A Way to Engage with Siegel’s Nine Neural Networks:

Mindfulness, rather than disconnection and dysregulation, reflects integrated neural network functioning. It’s a state of health we strengthen through attunement and mentoring over time as we grow in wisdom. (Can you hear Erikson?) We will use this chart in future sections to identify ways to strengthen student neural networks. Here is a way you can engage now to inspire insight, empathy, and further growth:

  1. Use each network to identify strengths and positive neural networks to celebrate and nurture.
  2. Use each network to identify thoughts, feelings, sensations, or behaviors you may have when stressed.
  3. Design attunement and mentoring exercises to strengthen specific domains.
  4. For further reading, refer to Siegel and Bryson’s Whole Brain Child (2012).


Integrated Example

Unintegrated Example

School-Focused Strategy

Consciousness: A Few Good Men: “You can’t handle the truth.”

“Hub of mind” receptive to all. Feel sensations fully, tolerate nature of experience and transform memory’s nature. Widening “window of tolerance” for knowing about past events. Can “bear witness to one’s own pain and remain present as recollection is integrated into broader sense of life.”

Ice Age I: Manny the Mammoth eventually integrates memory of his wife and child.

Man in the Moon: Death of teen loved by two sisters took a while to metabolize by the rejected sister.

  • Activities to tell life stories of self and other.
  • Literature, art, music, drama as neural integration.
  • Catch moments to ask child about life. Listen-Reflect-Capture Meaning to child.

Vertical: Acronym HALT: Hungry-Angry-Lonely-Tired.

“Head to toe circuit integration”; conscious awareness of “input from body as travels up spinal cord, bloodstream into brainstem, limbic system, and cortex to form vertically integrated circuit.” Listen to bodily cues before act. Body states shape affect, reasoning, and decisions.

Coaching kids in sports, music (mind-body awareness).


Stranger Danger—trust your gut.

Insurance commercial: “Characters in horror movies make bad choices.” They ignore sensations, putting them in danger.

  • Focus: diaphragm breaths; notice sensations, thoughts, feelings, needs.
  • Use story characters to observe mind-body responses.
  • Before a test use fear management exercise.

Horizontal: Sheldon vs. Penny.

Connect left hemisphere (linear, logic, linguistic, literal thinking) with right (holistic, imagery-based, nonverbal, emotional/social processing) to strengthen middle prefrontal function. Coping style can create imbalance. Source of triggers. Self-reflection on coping style and develop underused attention and reflection modes to heal. Right side develops first; most problems stem from here. Self-awareness, empathy, learning, and relationships require hemisphere integration. Feeling, sensing, and language allow mutual flow and regulation between hemispheres.

Ice Age I: The sloth was very connected: able to “see” the meaning of Manny’s deeper struggle, namely avoidance and cautiousness due to past memories.

Sheldon – Big Bang: His analytic attitude and failure to track the emotional experience of self and others often hurt and insulted others. 

  • Awareness Wheel: Pick an event; help child identify thoughts, feelings, sensations, wants, needs, hopes. Ponder actions after taking this info into account.
  • Identify a topic and preferred method of expression—verbal, written, artistic. Use this first. Then invite child to express the same using a less comfortable method. Group kids together in mixed-style groups to share.

Memory: Source of horizontal struggle: Lack of implicit and explicit memory integration.

Implicit memories assembled into layers of explicit memory: Implicit puzzle pieces of memory in form of perceptions, feelings, bodily sensations, behavioral impulses are woven together with our mental models to produce new clusters of explicit factual and episodic memory. Unintegrated, implicit memories are confused with new here-and-now experiences. If integrated, explicit memory knows what’s coming from past; can answer “Why did that trigger me so much?”

Disney’s The Kid: Through encounter with that embarrassing kid, implicit memories made explicit, allowing adult to empathically connect with hurt self.

Disney’s The Kid: Adult built a defensive persona against feeling shamed and inadequate as a child. Had no mercy or empathy for that part of himself.

Use conflict resolution to reflect on why event was triggering, not as an excuse, but to stop reactions and take ownership:

  • Respond with reassuring structure, not punishment. Help decode later.
  • Then reflect on thoughts, feelings, sensations.
  • Adult knows implicit memories expressed via code; talking it through helps make more explicit.


Integrated Example

Unintegrated Example

School-Focused Strategy

State: Game: Survivor: Competing needs and values create conflict.

We have different and conflicting mind states: one part vs. other. “Mind states are clusters of transient but potent neural firing patterns.” Accept and integrate states of self, not idealized sense of how to be.

Cider House Rules: Homer saw many-sided states within self and other.

TV characters: Often one dimensional to entertain, but not functional.

  • Collage to identify many sides: angry, caring, sad, fearful, adventurous, accepting, intolerant.
  • Stories to normalize change; see humans as complex.

Narrative: Book: Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore.

Weaving together our life stories via integrated self-observing. Narrative coherence: Our story makes sense in a deep, full way; no rationalizing or minimizing. Narrative integration: Remember to deepen understanding and acceptance as painful memories more fully tolerated and then resolved. “Our life story is not all of who we are.”

Ice Age I: Tiger: More than a selfish member in a toxic clan. Who is he if he chooses to not be like them? How can he resolve regret for betraying friends?

Spiderman as a child: Seeing self as irredeemable impacts thoughts, feelings, actions, perceptions. Split: good/bad; either/or; self/other; think/feel. 

  • Explore thoughts, feelings, perceptions before, during, after event to increase insight and empathy as precursor to reworking distortions.
  • Use shared narratives of school as a team—community to help each other navigate life.
  • Accentuate stories of those who learn from mistakes and hardships.

Interpersonal: Romance stories: Can’t fully trust or live without you.

Survival requires secure relationships: interdependent; attuned. Aided by neural integration and key to well-being.

Finding Nemo: Nemo made friends with a variety of creatures.

Finding Nemo: Dentist’s child likely struggled with friends.

  • Teach skills for making friends.
  • Teach conflict resolution as process that deepens friendship (connect–break–repair).

Temporal: Movie: My Girl: Fear of death stopped her.

Living with awareness of the transience of time. Must integrate uncertainty, impermanence, and death. Change is constant; all things end. A “prefrontal existential issue for us all”; our brain gives us the “opportunity and burden to sense the future”. We can be fully in the moment, yet aware that it’s temporary. If we become preoccupied with it or ignore it, it hijacks life. Goal: face reality with equanimity; note and welcome mindfully, not withdraw.

Fall of Freddy the Leaf: Loss is common child theme.

  • Shocks us.
  • Hurts and disorients.
  • Comfort as flounder.
  • Live as do neural integration.
  • Goal: both/and.

Forest Gump: Breakup with Jenny stopped him for a while via running. After her death, he was able to grieve yet stay present and engaged, evidenced through his parenting.

Kids face change, uncertainty, and loss daily.

  • Validate it; put words to the experience, content, emotion, meaning.
  • Mirror “other side” when you see an experience of joy, safety, beauty, stability, fun.

Train staff to examine temporal domain issues to increase neural integration so they can meet students as they do the same.

Transpirational: Stephen Hawking’s physical limits opened up “ipseity.”

“Breathes life across all domains.” Inspires interconnectivity, service to others. We’re part of something beyond self, dissolving “optical delusion of separateness”—Einstein. Allows ipseity moments: see “bare self beneath adaptation, thought layers, rules and mental models of personal identity that shape our life.” We’re part of and influenced by what preceded us, and part of and influence what comes after.

Songs: “Let it Go”; “Happy”; Anti-bully campaign: Can see/feel it in shared events. 

Erikson: Generativity: Posterity and Greater Whole Mindset

Online bullying: Mean comments made in response to the suffering of others.

Erikson: Self-Absorption: Here and Now, Self-Clan Mindset

  • Fundraisers for a group or person in need.
  • Encouragement letters students write to those hurting or forgotten.
  • Adopt a social cause.
  • Anthem song rituals.
  • Reflective narratives of shared events to put words to the meaning and solidify the experience in memory.

Figure 2.5

Case Example: Developmental Theory Application

The following fictional case example provides a backdrop to the application of the concepts discussed in this chapter. In many ways, Charlotte has a lot in common with all of us, in that life has dealt her unfair traumatic events. Some of those events represent the limits of her adult caretakers, while others are no one’s fault—it’s just life being terribly unfair. This example illustrates that a trauma-informed approach starts with the understanding that life is hard and unfair for all of us in various ways, and that wrapping ourselves around each other is what builds strong and resilient minds and bodies capable of meeting various developmental challenges throughout the lifespan. TISP is inviting schools to more intentionally embrace their role as part of a growing child’s attachment network not only to promote academic and social-emotional success in school, but to increase the child’s capacity to grow and thrive in the face of adversity throughout the course of their life.

The Case of Charlotte

Charlotte is a 10-year-old fourth-grade student of African American descent, residing in a culturally diverse large city in the upper Midwest United States. When she was seven, her parents divorced, and when she was nine, her mother died of cancer. She currently resides with her father and his parents.

Charlotte’s academic record reveals that her performance has fluctuated: at times she easily displayed mastery/high proficiency, but during certain grading periods in first and third grade she barely met benchmark standards in many subject areas. She has never displayed socially disruptive behaviors, but has displayed socially avoidant traits in seasons co-occurring with her decreased academic functioning. At the most recent parent-teacher conference, Charlotte’s father was informed that his daughter was being bullied by a group of girls and she appeared more quiet and withdrawn of late.

Charlotte’s Relational Networks

Let’s imagine that Charlotte’s parents were able to provide good-enough parenting in substance, consistency, and time: They understood their role as parents, investing in the emotional and physical well-being of their child, attuning to her and mentoring her on a daily basis so someday Charlotte could launch and embark on her own life course. Their relational stance toward Charlotte communicated genuine love, interest, and celebration in her day-to-day life encounters, communicating a sense of wise knowing, and emotional and physical availability. They did not ignore her, withhold connection, or shame or minimize Charlotte for her needs, as might a parent with what attachment theorists call a dismissive attachment style (Ainsworth, Blehar, Waters, & Wall, 2015; Karen, 1990). Nor did they manipulate Charlotte to boost their own self-worth, or soothe their own fears, loneliness, and insecurities congruent with what is often called a preoccupied attachment style (Ainsworth, et al, 2015; Karen, 1990). Charlotte knew that her parents were honest with her and available for help, whether the assistance needed was cognitive processing, emotional attunement, or physical support. She was not left to drown in managing life challenges beyond her ability, nor protected from the hard work of learning how to manage age-appropriate expectations. This relational stance on the part of her mom and dad may have influenced their ability to maintain a united parenting partnership, attuning to their child’s distress as they divorced and settled into new routines.

When Charlotte’s mother became ill and the family absorbed her impending death, let’s imagine that Charlotte’s extended kinship network—her relatives, family friends, and faith community—wrapped themselves around Charlotte and her parents as best they knew how. Charlotte would have experienced caring others inviting her to talk as she wanted, being available to answer her questions, or just providing a shoulder to cry on or a place to escape into something fun. She would have seen her mom and dad struggling, especially her mom as she dealt with pain, fear, and anguish at having to say goodbye to her life and to her baby girl. Her mom would have modeled that it is OK to grieve. She likely would have learned how her community made sense of suffering, the temporality of life, and what death ultimately means. These constructs would have been directly and indirectly communicated as Charlotte watched and listened to the adults around her, giving her small anchors for making sense of what was happening—one of the keys to coping, as we will explore in greater detail in Chapter 3.

Summary Observations

Good-enough parenting does not mean 100% protection from parental failings or missteps, or stressors and traumas that bombard a family through no fault of its own. Charlotte has experienced two significant and overwhelming traumas—her parents’ divorce, and the illness and death of her mother. These are devastating adverse events that have the potential to undermine the foundation a growing child needs to survive and thrive.

What this imaginary case illustrates is a child who may be highly resilient due to consistent attachment relationships she’s experienced over the course of her young life, promoting integrated neural networks capable of helping her through seasons of hardship and trauma. Her academic struggles and her social withdrawal would be logical and expected, as would additional signs of distress.

But risk and danger lurk: Charlotte needs more than just attunement and mentoring from her kinship network. She needs to be firmly embedded in a community of care. School is a vital part of that community. Charlotte needs us to see the fear, confusion, and pain that is hijacking her life on a daily basis for a season, and will resurface every now and then as each age and stage forces her to make sense, yet again, of the traumas years prior.

Our imaginary Charlotte does live within a caring community of extended kinship networks. She has attentive and caring relatives who walked with her through her parents’ divorce and her mother’s death. They will be mothering forces in her life as she continues to grow. But Charlotte is still vulnerable. Like a new shoot sprouting from the ground when it is still too cold to survive, she comes to school each day raw and vulnerable on the inside, needing school to continue the support she is receiving at home. She needs attunement and mentoring from the adults charged with her care throughout the school day, throughout the education process. In other words, educators need to be good-enough attachment figures not just because of the length of time Charlotte spends at school each day, but because her learning process also occurs within the context of relationship (Palmer, 1993).

Right now, Charlotte is showing signs of distress. Her grades are lower once again, her tendency to withdraw is back, and this, in part, may be making her a more susceptible target for bullying. Attunement and mentoring will help us stop the bullying—for both Charlotte’s and the other students’ well-being. Attunement and mentoring-based school practices, as we will outline in later chapters, will also reinforce the emotional support Charlotte is receiving at home. This increases her chances of metabolizing these losses in a way that leaves her more resilient rather than developmentally undermined in a way that tumbles and intensifies as she develops.

What happens when school does not attune to the Charlottes of the world, but merely becomes a place where demands are placed on them in a sea of chaotic, overstimulating, noise and volatile energy? And what about students who do not receive good-enough attunement and mentoring at home, with the safety nets of safe and available extended kinship networks? Sadly, this is the reality for many students as we will explore in Chapters 3 and 4. These questions are what inspires TISP, grounded in the knowledge and skills of attunement and mentoring—good attachment—as basic to cognitive and social-emotional growth for all students.



Introduction to the Developmental Journal

As we discussed in our text’s Preface, one of the best ways to encounter trauma-informed conceptual elements, in this case developmental theories, is to apply their principles to our own life. In so doing, we get a visceral feel for the theory and begin the process of engaging in Person of the Educator work. Also, by encountering our own fears, griefs, and regrets along the way, we are better able to strengthen our own neural networks, our own internal secure attachment schemas, allowing us to put aside our own immediate needs (de-center self) in order to be good attachment figures to those in our care—in this case, our students.

And finally, choosing to love, choosing to mentor or invest in the growth and development of another person will activate us. It is hard work. Some of our reactions are related directly to what is occurring in the moment. But at other times, our response is fueled by dysregulated neural networks connected to our own internal attachment histories encoded in what we call attachment schemas. Engaging in Person of the Educator work helps us more easily identify how our own attachment schemas are informing our responses, and where those responses are helpful or detrimental in our current day-to-day functioning as educators, friends, and family members.

In Appendix A you will find a set of worksheets detailing a three-part amended Developmental Journal commonly assigned to Anna’s students who are preparing for work as mental health professionals. The first part, Worksheet A-1, invites you to describe your parents’ relational style. Using attachment theory style prototypes, it is meant to help you describe broad characteristics of how your caretakers were able to attune and mentor you during your first 18 years of life. Next, in Worksheet A-2, you are invited to explore your encounters with the developmental challenges identified by Erikson. He views these challenges as meeting up with us now and then across the lifespan, and you will look at ways you first encountered these challenges and subsequent encounters thereafter. The goal is to begin activating your implicit and explicit memory in preparation for Worksheet A-3, the final exercise, in which you will ponder and describe your various neural networks. The goal is to increase your confidence that you can assess various developmental strengths and challenges as part of the process of embracing healing and growth, as a lifelong normal and expected job of being alive, of being human, of being a responsible adult.

So, while these worksheets are intended to help you metabolize the content we presented in this chapter (as we will cycle back to these concepts as we discuss TISP classroom- and school-based practice methods), they are also inviting you to personally grow. Therefore, take your time completing each element. And be prepared to find yourself wanting to talk it over with peers or even a counselor. I (Anna) work through these worksheets on a yearly basis when I invite my students to do the same. I can recall times when I was overwhelmed with anger or sadness—all good stuff. Luckily, I am embedded in a profession that helps us see that talking over these deep issues with another caring person is not only appropriate when we are struggling, but perhaps most productive when we are simply committed to our own insight in order to function more responsibly in the world—what Erikson believed was the ultimate purpose and goal of therapy; insight leading to responsibility (Erikson, 1964).

A Look Forward

In this chapter, we detailed basic elements of healthy growth and development. We started by naming the givens—that life is full of challenge and hardship, and if we are to grow strong and resilient, we need consistent attunement and mentoring throughout the lifespan, but most crucially during the first 18 years of life.

This revisiting of the basics sets the stage to help us understand what unfolds when a developing person is overrun by stressors, either because the child’s relational environment cannot provide good-enough attachment, or because the stressors are too many and/or too severe. In Chapter 3 we will apply additional trauma-informed conceptual elements to identify what happens when a child is not growing up in a secure-enough relational environment, preventing foundational support for the development of integrated neural functioning. In Chapter 4, we will zoom in on what dysregulated neural functioning looks like in the classroom—how it displays in students, educators, and the larger community as it impacts school viability and functioning.

Resources for Further Reading


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