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Use the Wall

Attachment and Emotions

For ease of use Attachment and Emotions have been seperated

Please note:
Attachment and Emotions are interlinked with both 'Identity and Self-Esteem' and 'Getting on with others'. Difficulties in one area might be indicative of the need to address one or more of the other areas.


Just as a house needs strong foundations and to be built carefully, layer upon layer, ‘The Wall’ demonstrates how each stage of a pupil’s emotional development relies heavily upon the extent to which the child successfully visited the previous stage. And as with a house, the foundation of this wall – the ‘Being’ stage - is critical. The tasks during this stage centre around the baby learning to trust the adults around him and beginning to form attachments to them. The needs to trust and attach to others continue through the ‘Doing’ stage and on into the (‘Thinking’ stage (18mths and 3yrs). During this latter stage he will start to separate from key adults. This, understandably, creates some anxiety for him but, where such separations are carefully supported, he will move through this process, separating without losing his own sense of identity and security. From this secure base, he will be in a strong position to move onto a variety of other aspects of learning.

 A child with a secure base is:

  • more likely to be able to form healthy friendships and relationships. Developing empathy and other attributes and skills connected with getting on with others will be easier. Conversely, a child who is particularly insecure will find moving away from egocentric thinking and behaviour a far greater challenge;
  • better able to trust others, believing that they want him to be around and will take care of him. Again, the converse it true - an insecure base is likely to lead to behaviours designed to test others - 'Do you love me?' 'Will you reject me?'/'What could I do to have you reject me?'
  • better able to form a separate identity, increasingly developing his own ideas and values;
  • more confident in exploring the world and developing his cognitive skills. Emotional security and cognitive development are strongly interlinked. One only has to think of a young child who won't leave his mother's side and go and play and explore to see how poor attachment can hinder cognitive development. 

Attachment styles
Different writers describe them slightly differently. The following might be helpful:

  • Secure - the child has a positive view of himself and others; there is give and take in his relationships
  • Preoccupied - child's self-view is negative but is positive towards others - leading to feelings of unworthiness and possibly a strong desire to please others to gain their approval; possibly also clingy behaviour
  • Dismissive - the child has a positive view of himself and a negative view of others. He might be confident in his own abilIties but reluctant to let others into his inner world, believing this to be too dangerous emotionally
  • Fearful - the child's view of both himself and other is negative. He believes he has nothing to offer. He also lacks a belief in his ability to keep himself safe from untrustworthy people and therefore keeps others at a distance to ensure they can't hurt him.

Questions to consider in considering attachment-based issues:

  • What is the main attachment style of the pupil in relation to a) other adults b) peers?
  • Are the styles different depending on who the pupil is interacting with?
  • What exceptions are there - ie when does the child appear to be more trusting - to whatever degree?

If your judgement is that the youngster's difficulties around attachment and/or emotions warrant additional input, please ensure that you make the necessary referral to other professionals eg school counsellor, CAMHS.

Similarly, if concerns are being raised about possible child protection issues, these too need to be referred accordingly.

Behaviours  - some examples Possible developmental tasks Affirmations Some strategies

Excessive demands for attention




To call for care

To accept nurture

To learn to get needs met

To bond emotionally; trust caring adults and self/ To continue to form secure attachments with parents and/or care-givers

To accept touch

To decide to live; to be

To signal needs; to trust others and self

To get help in times of distress

To express anger and other feelings

To develop internal controls
What you need is important to us

We want you to be here and want to care for you

We're glad you're here

You belong here

You can feel all of your feelings

We are glad you are you

You can know what you need and ask for help

It's Ok for you to be angry, and we won't let you hurt yourself or others

All of your feelings are OK here

You can think for yourself and get help instead of staying in distress

See also 'Identity and Self-esteem' - and specifically suggestions for developing a sense of value

Asking for help cards:
Green - I can do this
Orange - 'I'm trying but not sure' Red - Help please
'All about me' book

Meet and greet

Finding out about pupil's interests/hobbies

Allocation of TA with specific remit - eg to help pupil to settle to task, then move away and work with other pupils, being aware of when pupil might need help/encouragement

Adult attention that is time-framed - be with pupil for stated amount of time, then move away (again for a stated amount of time); return when agreed.

Giving responsibility eg book monitor




We all experience a range of emotions. Being able to name them, identify when they are being experienced and knowing how to then express them appropriately are essential skills. Again, there are many suggestions within the SEAL and SEAD resources.

A word about anger:
Pupils who struggle with managing their feelings can quite often be identified as needing 'anger management'. Whilst learning to manage anger is indeed an important skill, the focus on anger can often detract from the underlying emotions that influence aggressive behaviours, and in particular sadness. A key learning point for some youngsters is to know that it's ok to be sad. Boys in particular can pick up the message that being sad is not ok - but, in a strange way, being angry is more acceptable. Be mindful therefore if the anger, whilst real, is masking sadness. Similarly, throwing a book around or other angry outburst might be more comfortable than saying 'I don't understand this work', with the threat this brings to the pupil's sense of worth and competency.

Behaviours - some examples Possible developmental tasks Affirmations Some strategies
Uncontrolled outbursts




Pre-occupation with death
To signal needs; to trust others and self

To get help in times of distress

To express anger and other feelings

To develop internal controls
It's Ok for you to be angry, and we won't let you hurt yourself or others

All of your feelings are OK here

You can think before you say 'Yes' or 'No'

Class/group discussions about feelings - eg character in story

Naming feelings - photocards (eg from the Primary SEAL resource)

'Feelings snap' - cards with facial expressions on

Mimicking faces portraying different emotions

Scaling - 1-10 - 10 = eg the happiest you could ever be, 1 is the complete opposite. Could do this as a barometer.

'Time out' - carefully contracted as to when eg the card can be used, ensuring that all relevant staff are aware of it and agree to its use

Drama based activities exploring feelings

Fiction - talking about characters, their feelings etc

'Draw on your emotions' (Margot Sutherland, from Incentives Plus amongst others)) - has a wide range of worksheet based activities to promote discussion and self-awareness

Photo pack of facial expressions - Primary SEAL

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