All relationships are important for attachment security

Our approach to life, roles, and relatedness (engagement) is influenced by many factors. Chief among these is the relationships we have with significant others, especially during our developing years. It sounds trite to observe, but our relationships play a key role in our engagement.

The relationships we form toward significant people in our life, and upon whom we depend for care and protection, are our attachments. Our most active period of developing attachments is during childhood, when we form attachments to our parents/caregivers, and also to relatives, siblings, and other significant adults who have continuity and consistency in our life and provide some level of care and protection.

Our attachments to significant others vary, depending on our experience of care and protection from them. Some attachments are secure, meaning that we can confidently explore our world and take on challenges, secure in the knowledge that we have someone we can turn to when we need them; someone who will help us to feel better quickly so we can brave the world again. Other attachments are insecure, leaving us unsure about our access to the support we need to take on the world with confidence after it challenges us in some way. Other attachments are particularly problematic (disordered), as the person we rely on for care and protection is also a source of fear and distress. This type of attachment (also known as Disorganised) is rare and typically only occurs where there has been abuse and/or neglect.

Although some of these attachments are more influential than others (typically referred to a primary attachments), it is widely considered that our overall attachment style is influenced by our experience of relationships with all of the people towards whom we have developed an attachment. That is, if we think of attachment as a spectrum that ranges from disorder to security (see below), where each of us sits on the the spectrum is influenced to a greater or lesser degree by our collective attachment relationships.

In consideration of this, we see the positive influence of secure primary attachments and the disruptive (and, at times, destructive) influence of disordered ones. This is brought into further focus when we consider the relationship between where we sit on this spectrum and the the beliefs that form about ourselves, others and our world that develop from our experiences of attachment and influence our approach to life, roles, and relatedness:

Adapted from: Pearce, C (2016) A Short Introduction to Attachment and Attachment Disorder (Second Edition). London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers

All attachments are significant. All influence our approach to life, roles and relatedness. This is particularly important in child welfare and related endeavours where the focus is facilitating recovery from a tough start to life and traumatic relationships, including through the promotion of attachment security. Where the opportunity exists to do so, we need to support repair in disordered attachments and strengthen new attachments through high quality family contact and therapeutic child care. It is in the child’s best interests that all attachments are strengthened when attachment security is the goal.

Food for thought:

No matter that you consider the child in your care already has a secure attachment to you, where that child has had disruptive attachment experiences you will need to do more to compensate for the impact of those disordered attachments.

Where possible, our focus must be on repairing attachments that have gone awry. Where this is not possible, all other significant adults in the life of the child will need to do more to support attachment security.

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Aboriginal Kinship Care

Dear followers of this blog. Just a quick update to let you know that I am collaborating with InComPro Aboriginal Association, Bookyana Cultural and Community Services, and Uniting Care Wesley Bowden (UCWB) in delivering culturally-sensitive, trauma-informed and -responsive support to Aboriginal Kinship Carers in South Australia – Martinthi.

In the language of the original inhabitants of the Adelaide region, Martinthi means ‘to embrace/to clasp/to hold’ and reflects the importance of connection and community amongst Aboriginal peoples.

To find out more about Martinthi, including about accessing support for kinship carers of Aboriginal children placed by the Department for Child Protection, contact 84482881.

To find out more about Secure Start’s endeavours in support of kinship care, visit the website here.

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Five strategies for addressing issues with compliance in children

Children who present with issues with compliance are often anxious. Noncompliance is a strategy they use to feel as though they can influence what happens to them and feel safe. Any measure to address issues with compliance needs to recognise this and balance it with the need to support feelings of safety and potency (that is, feeling able to influence their world) for the child.

Noncompliance with requests and directions often arises when children experience adults as being inattentive, unresponsive, and/or out of control. Ultimately, children appropriately depend on adults and feel most safe when adults are attentive, responsive, and in control.

What follows are some gentle strategies that, when used in combination, help to restore adult authority and influence (which children need) while also supporting the child or young person’s feelings of safety and potency. That is, they address the reason for the behaviour, as well as the behaviour.

1. Use ‘controlled choices’

Also referred to as ‘forced choices’, this involves offering the child options that are determined by the adult. The child may be offered the choice of one shirt or another, or between brushing their teeth or their hair first, or between holding the left hand or the right hand before crossing the road. The most important thing here is that the child feels as though they have some say, which meets their need to feel in control and able to influence what happens to them. Nevertheless, adult authority and influence is reinforced as the adult determines what the options are. No choice is too trivial, though the adult must always be happy with whatever the child chooses.

2. Teach a new skill

Children often love to learn a new activity or skill in line with their needs and/or interests. When an adult supports this by teaching them a new activity or interest, the child is motivated to attend to and comply with adult directions. It is intended that the experience of complying is non-threatening, and that the child relinquishes control with no associated negative outcome that threatens their sense of safety and wellbeing. Examples of activities to teach the child include cooking, gardening, craftwork, or board and card games.

3. Don’t ask; say!

Some children pay very close attention to the way we speak to them, including the language we use and tone of voice. When we ask them to do something some children think we are offering them a choice. Rather, gently, but firmly, say what you require the child to do in a manner that projects an expectation of compliance. This strategy, though it may not always result in compliance, helps reduce the child’s perception of being unfairly treated when, having been asked to do something and exercising their perceived choice to say no, the adult insists they comply anyway.

4. Help them be compliant

When you direct a child to do something, help them to be compliant. Do part of the task. The intent here is for the child to experience the adult as accessible, supportive, and safe when compliance is expected.

5. Catch them in the act

This is potentially the most helpful strategy of all. What I mean here is to observe the child and what they are doing, and gently direct them to do the very same activity. This is intended to help them get used to following directions, with nothing bad happening, and support a perception of adults being in control whilst avoiding challenging their own sense of choice. Again, nothing is too trivial to direct the child over. The only caveat is that it must be an activity that the adult is fine for the child to be engaging in. After a while, you may also be able to anticipate the child’s next move and direct them to do this too.

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Theory of Accessibility to Needs Provision

Below is a statement that reflects the third ‘A’ in the Triple-A Model – Accessibility (to needs provision). It captures my thoughts and my response when I am talking to caregivers about their experience of the behaviour of a child who is recovering from a tough start to life. Embedded in this response is the notion that children do not do anything for no reason. If we can hold on to this idea, we might then ask ourselves what is going on for the child? This is the first step in the process of making and maintaining a relational connection with the child that, ultimately, represents our best chance of being a positive regulating influence over their approach to life and relationships. Often, the behaviour of the child who is recovering from a tough start to life reflects their preoccupation with a need that was met inconsistently during the developmental period, and their endeavour to reassure themselves about access to needs provision. Responding to the need facilitates for the child the experience that their need is understood and important, that it matters, that they matter, and they can rely on you for needs provision. This is a relief for the child, thereby supporting lower arousal and reduced vulnerability to anxiety and additional behaviours of concern associated with activation of the fight-flight-freeze response. It supports functional learning about access to needs provision a reciprocal connection from the child.

The statement goes like this:

Children are not preoccupied with physical, emotional, and relational needs that were met consistently during the (early) developmental period. They are preoccupied with needs that were met inconsistently. Their behaviour, in turn, reflects their preoccupation. To address preoccupied behaviour, we must first meet the need that gave rise to the preoccupation. 

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Child Psychotherapy: An update about my approach

I am frequently asked about my approach to psychotherapy with children and young people. In this blog I reproduce an explanation for parents and caregivers that appears on the Secure Start website.

Psychology is a broad term that covers the science of human emotions, behaviours, learning, and development.

Psychotherapy involves the application of psychological theories and methods to the solution of psychological issues.

There are diverse psychological theories and methods that are available to psychotherapists. In usual circumstances, these theories and methods are drawn from scientific enquiry into psychology, and associated practice endeavours.

Secure Start Principal Clinical Psychologist, Colby Pearce, draws heavily from psychological theories relating to child development, learning, and central nervous system functioning in understanding and developing solutions to common issues children and young people who engage with him present with. The main theories he draws on are:

  • Attachment Theory;
  • Learning Theory; and
  • The psychobiology of fear-based behaviour activation systems (‘Anxiety Theory’).

These theories are encapsulated in the Triple-A Model[i], of which Colby is the author and which is a central element in his writing, programs, and approach to psychotherapy:

The Triple-A Model represents psychological factors that explain outcomes for children and young people, in terms of their development, wellbeing, and approach to life and relationships. In A Short Introduction to Attachment and Attachment Disorder (2nd Ed.)[ii] Colby explains how outcomes on these factors, and the interaction between them, are heavily influenced by the care children and young people receive during the developmental period, where care can be represented as:

  • Consistency;
  • Accessibility;
  • Responsiveness;
  • Emotional Connectedness; or
  • CARE, for short.

In his practice with children and families, Colby’s focus is enriching the CARE children and young people experience; in the home, at school, and in the consulting room. Colby implements methods to enrich experienced CARE in the consulting room and offers practical information and strategies for enriching CARE in the home and education settings. We all respond best to consistency, and outcomes for psychological endeavour with children and young people are heavily influenced by achieving consistency in experienced CARE across settings.

In the consulting room, Colby’s focus is on delivering a high ‘dose’ of CARE. The relationship between Colby and the children and young people is the medium through which CARE is delivered, as well as the methods used during psychotherapy sessions. It is Colby’s intent for children and young people to consistently experience him as a fun and friendly adult who facilitates positive beliefs about themselves, others, and their world (Attachment), who supports their wellbeing (Arousal), and who promotes functional learning about how adults can be relied upon for needs provision (Accessibility). In turn, this endeavour is extended to the home and education settings through the implementation of Colby’s therapeutic programs; notably the Triple-A Model of Therapeutic Care, and the CARE Curriculum. This helps extend of the dose of CARE delivered in psychotherapy sessions.

Relational connection is a powerful source of feelings of wellbeing and supports a positive approach to life and relationships among children and young people. Being relationship-focused, in Colby’s approach to psychotherapy there is a primary emphasis on supporting experiences of relational connection for children and young people. This means that there is not always a set agenda of topics to be discussed but, rather, Colby is ‘led’ by the experience and interests of the child or young person. It is not so much what is discussed during consultations that is important, but how it is discussed, and what is the child or young person’s experience of the discussion. This is where CARE comes into it. Consistently, Colby will endeavour to support experiences that he is present and engaged, physically, emotionally, and cognitively, that he understands the experience of the child or young person, and that he can be relied upon to address certain needs. Similarly, activities supported or introduced by Colby are a vehicle by which Colby facilitates positive experiences of CARE, in the pursuit of positive beliefs about self, others, and the world, optimal arousal for performance in life and wellbeing, and functional learning about accessibility to needs provision.

In short, in Colby’s approach to psychotherapy there is an emphasis on the ‘process’ by which relational connection and the delivery of CARE is achieved. This differs to other approaches to psychotherapy, where there is a focus on teaching thinking skills or behaviours that address specific psychological issues. In Colby’s experience, the implementation of these ‘skills’ beyond the consulting room is heavily dependent on the internal motivation children and young people have to better their circumstances. Where this is lacking, Colby’s approach nurtures the motivation to apply skills and strategies that address specific psychological issues. In this sense, Colby’s approach is foundational, or developmental. It fills in the gaps for children and young people who, for one reason of another, have experienced some challenges and are in need of a little extra CARE.


[i] Pearce, C.M. (2010). An Integration of Theory, Science and Reflective Clinical Practice in the Care and Management of Attachment-Disordered Children – A Triple A Approach. Educational and Child Psychology (Special Issue on Attachment), 27 (3): 73-86

[ii] Pearce, C. A Short Introduction to Attachment and Attachment Disorder (2nd Ed.). London. Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2016

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An allegory about attachment theory

‪A Tale of Three Mice: An Attachment Story continues to attract attention among other writers looking for a short allegory introducing Attachment Theory. This week from a publisher of a book about child development. I updated the story in the Second Edition of A Short Introduction to Attachment and Attachment Disorder, but the original remains as popular as ever!

Read more here: https://colbypearce.net/2012/06/17/a-tale-of-three-mice-an-attachment-story/

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A time of reflection and redirection

It has been more than a month since my last post. This has been a period of significant reflection about career direction and what is both professionally and personally important to me. This period of reflection has been prompted by personal and world events and supported by highly valued engagement with colleagues.

My career has cast me in a number of roles. I have been an applied researcher in child and adolescent mental health, a clinical psychologist, teacher, trainer, and author. I have worked in public, private and higher education sectors. I have worked in Australia, the United Kingdom, and Ireland. I have held (and hold) statutory appointments, and have worked continuously in highly scrutinized environments across the last twenty-five years.

For the past few years I have focused on developing and implementing evidence-informed, therapeutic caregiving programs in foster- and kinship care. An especial highlight has been the implementation of the Triple-A Model of Therapeutic Care in the TUSLA Fostering Service in Donegal, Ireland, and the training of 12 local trainers.

In the past two years much of my time and energy has been devoted to developing and implementing a model of care and practice in statutory kinship care in South Australia – the Kinship CARE Curriculum. This has necessitated me maintaining a much smaller caseload of psychotherapy clients, among whom the largest proportion is children and young people who are recovering from a tough start to life.

As my career has developed I have gone through role transitions before, where I have moved away from endeavours that have been personally and professionally rewarding. This includes moving away from roles in the provision of psychological assessment in child protection and family law, and developing clinical psychologists through supervision and training clinics. I have done so with some some sense of loss, but my biggest feeling of loss has been in relation to the provision of psychotherapy services.

So, in the past month I have moved back into this role and appreciated the support I have received in doing so. I will continue to deliver some training, including in Statutory Kinship Care with Australian Aboriginal Children. I will also be training local service providers in the delivery of trauma-informed, psychotherapy services to children and young people recovering from a tough start to life. This latter role is particularly exciting for me as it will facilitate my return to writing about psychotherapy.

In terms of what this means for this blog, which has mostly focused on therapeutic (re)parenting, I am not sure yet. There will likely be a further period of reduced activity. I am considering starting a new blog dedicated to psychotherapy. You can find out more about my psychotherapy approach in the second edition of A Short Introduction to Attachment Disorder.

I want to thank my subscribers and regular visitors to this blog for their interest in, and support of, my work. I wish you all well and hope you have access to time and places for meaningful contemplation of what is important in your life, and the opportunity to pursue these things.

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Connected Classrooms that CARE: Supporting children recovering from a tough start to life in an era of COVID-19

In this, my third major release during this COVID-19 period, I have turned my mind to the support of children and young people who are recovering from a tough start to life at school.

Written for teachers and other education personnel who interact with these children in a care and management role, this 51-page resource is packed with information and reflections that support the development and implementation of a therapeutic CARE Plan and optimal functioning at school.


Drawn from the Triple-A Model of Therapeutic Care and the CARE Curriculum, this resource offers both what teachers and other education personnel need to know and do in support of maintaining a trauma-sensitive and responsive school and classroom, and consistency with therapeutic endeavours in the home.

The resource is available to download here. Alternatively, you can pay/donate via the button below. All money raised supports my capacity to continue to provide practical and user-friendly resources in support of children and young people’s recovery from a tough start to life.

Pay/donate what you want:

 

Colby Pearce is a Clinical Psychologist in Australia and author of A Short Introduction to Attachment and Attachment Disorder, and A Short Introduction to Promoting Resilience in Children. He is also the author of the Triple-A Model of Therapeutic Care, a comprehensive training program for general and relative foster carers which is in its fifth year of implementation in the TUSLA Fostering Service in Donegal Ireland. Further, Colby is the author of the CARE Curriculum, which was delivered as part of the Kinship CARE Project to statutory kinship carers in South Australia over the past two years.

See Also:

Video series with handbook
Howto guide with infographics
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Our own response to the pandemic reflects the experience of maltreated children

Uncertainty, including in relation to our health and the health of our loved ones, our access to basic needs, and what the future holds, is anxiety-evoking. It can leave us preoccupied with accessing basic needs and lead us to behave in ways that increase our chances of being able to achieve needs provision, and feel safe. Uncertainty, coupled with the media coverage of the pandemic, can leave us experiencing ourselves as inadequate, others as threatening and dangerous, and the world as unsafe.

The current uncertainty, and its psychological impacts on us, provides an insight into what life is like for children and young people who are recovering from a tough start to life.

Pearce, C (2020), Preserving Placements during a Pandemic. Secure Start Publications: Adelaide

Video series and handbook.

Click here for more , or on the image below.

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Preserving Placements during a Pandemic – Video Series with Handbook

I am very pleased to make this series of short videos available to foster and kinship carers, to assist them manage the impact of the current pandemic on the children and young people in their care, and themselves.

I am aware that all parents and caregivers are currently being deluged with information and advice about child-rearing. It is not my wish to further burden foster and kinship carers with such advice. Rather, I anticipate that foster and kinship carers will find this video series, and the accompanying handbook, reassuring and validating of their endeavours. It is my hope that the videos and handbook, and the content presented, will make life a little easier.

In the first video I briefly introduce the Triple-A Model and how it explains what is happening for children and young people, and ourselves. I go on to introduce the CARE Model, a framework for understanding what a therapeutic care environment looks like.

In the following videos I further explain why CARE is important and how it is able to be enriched by following a straightforward and practical method.

I finish up with a video about a straightforward approach to looking after ourselves that does not require extra time and money and is achievable in this time of restriction and confinement.

I do hope that foster and kinship carers find the videos helpful and practical, and I welcome feedback. To access the videos, simply click on the links below.

I would encourage you to also access the handbook that accompanies the video series. The handbook can be accessed via the “Buy Now” button below and is made available to individual purchasers. If you are a representative of an organisation who would like to access the handbook for the foster and/or kinship carers you service, please contact me to discuss.

 

Finally, though the video series and handbook are based on the Triple-A Model of Therapeutic Care and the CARE Curriculum, my two programs that have been implemented in general and relative foster care and statutory kinship care in Australia and Ireland, they are not intended to be a substitute for engagement with foster and kinship care support services, and professionals who work with foster and kinship carers. Rather, they are intended as a little extra practical guidance and, as such, I would encourage foster and kinship carers to continue to access existing supports during these difficult times.

Video 1/5: Preserving Placements during a Pandemic – Introduction (9:50)

Video 2/5: Preserving Placements during a Pandemic – Consistency & Accessibility (5:26)

Video 3/5: Preserving Placements during a Pandemic – Responsiveness (9:03)

Video 4/5: Preserving Placements during a Pandemic – Emotional Connectedness (6:09)

Video 5/5: Preserving Placements during a Pandemic – Self-Care (7:08)

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