Attachment, behaviour problems and interventions
Attachment, behaviour problems and interventions

Attachment, behaviour problems and interventions

Hutchings, Judy, Margiad Williams, and Patti Leijten. “Attachment, Behavior Problems and Interventions.” (2023)

Attachment theory has been a popular way to help understand why some children behave in ways parents find difficult to manage, whilst behavioural theory has been criticized as being over simplistic by focusing on externalising behaviours, rather than internal processes. When we look at intervention or treatment options, however, we find that there is a large amount of empirical evidence that supports behavioural management strategies, where as there are fewer evidenced interventions that specifically support attachment difficulties, particularly for school age children and older, which is when many of the challenges associated with disrupted attachment can appear.

This peer reviewed paper explores the background and underpinning theory of both attachment and behavioural theories and looks in more depth at some of the similarities and crossovers between the two approaches. There is often a relationship between children with attachment issues and behavioural challenges, with associated school difficulties and underachievement in education. This is particularly the case where studies have looked at children within the care system. Attachment difficulties arise for a number of reasons, including where a primary carer experiences depression, premature birth, disability, sleep or feeding difficulties or persistent crying. Disruption to the early attachment relationship is a common pre-cursor to behaviour parents and teachers find challenging, whereas challenging behaviour is often the result of ineffective and/or inconsistent parenting strategies that can arise for any number of reasons during early childhood.

The solution is to both address discipline, safety and attachment security, however the key may lie in correctly identifying the cause of the difficulty. Children show emotional distress through behaviour and difficult behaviours relating to attachment needs may look the same as behaviour learned in the parent-child parenting relationship, yet require a slightly different response. Programmes or interventions able to improve attachment relationships as well as provide parents with effective strategies for difficult behaviour, could be a welcome way forward. However, research has tended to asses either behavioural or attachment outcomes for interventions, not both. The few studies that have looked at both have indicated that teaching effective parenting strategies is an effective way to both address difficult behaviours and improve parent-child attachment relationships and this would be worthy of further research.

the full article can be read here: Frontiers | Attachment, behavior problems and interventions (

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