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Dr. Dan Siegels 4 S's of attachment - How they can help us in the classroom

By Sally Boardman

Published 31 October 2019 10.08 AM


Research shows that children benefit from multiple healthy attachments. And those they form with educators, who shape our next generation by leading their learning and development, are crucially important.


We know that the quality of teacher–child relationships has a considerable impact on academic successes, as well as cognitive, affective and emotional growth and also influences children's social adjustment in school, especially in the primary school years (Hamre & Pianta, 2006; Martin et al., 2007; Berlin et al., 2008).


We also know that relational integration (the honouring of differences between people and then their compassionate linkages) fosters the development of neural integration, which is associated with wellbeing. And that this is developed through healthy attachment relationships.


What are the 4 S's of attachment?

In Dr. Dan Siegel's 4 S's of attachment, security is the key. A secure attachment makes it more likely that a child will be flexible, insightful, vital and resilient.


In order to build this, Dr. Siegel takes us through the other 3 S's: being seen, soothed and safe:


Seen — this refers not just to seeing with the eyes.  It means perceiving deeply and empathically. It relates to looking to the inner experience of the child that is underlying their behaviour. When we do this, we’re more likely to help a child develop security than if we simply respond only to the behaviour. When someone tunes into us in a way that makes us feel seen, there’s a sense of connection. We feel empathised with and we are soothed by a knowing that they understand what we are experiencing. This connection then leads to problem solving and taking action.


Soothed helping children deal with difficult emotions and situations.


The final S is safe - For secure attachment, a child needs to feel protected, and safe within the relationship from actions and responses that frighten or hurt them.


The 3 S's then, of being seen, soothed and safe, help us raise children with the fourth S, secure attachment, which helps them develop an internalised sense of wellbeing.


How we can use this in the classroom or at home

So how does this apply in the classroom? How can we use this information to facilitate optimal student-teacher relationships conducive for academic, social and emotional success?


The good news is that the answers aren’t complex.


And its mutually beneficial: when you build and achieve attachment-appropriate relationships based on these elements, not only does your classroom benefit, but so too does your own mental and physical health and happiness. In many ways, no matter how much intellectual study and theoretical knowledge we have, at the end of the day its presence that gifts us these skills. Giving security is the gift that keeps giving. Whilst we give to the next generation, presence empowers us. It enables an inner resilience.


Not only do we reap all the health benefits we know are gained from increasing our skills in being present, we’re also giving ourselves a pandoras box of goodness. At a deeper level.


When we are present with another, we become conscious of those things that could trip us up if we weren’t conscious of them. Whenever we aren't present and consciously aware, we are operating from subconscious programmes that are based on our beliefs, attitudes and perceptions formed from our own experiences of the world. On these occasions, we meet the thing in front of us having already perceived and judged it based on our own experiences. We don’t see the person or situation for what it truly is.


Most of the time we operate like this, particularly when we are very busy, under stress or managing many things at one time, as we often are in classrooms. But when we practise being truly present, we gain awareness. Awareness of whats going on not just externally, but also internally, and between the two. We slow down enough to witness our own perceptions and judgements instead of being caught up in them and acting from them. This empowers us as we have more options available to us. We are now fully in control of the choices we’d like to make. How we’d like to be, how we’d like to behave, how we’d like to respond, which relationships we’d like to build, whether we need to see more objectively, or sooth more appropriately.


It’s an ongoing journey to learn to be more present in life, but as a teacher or parent, as a leader of the next generation of leaders, we’re gifted ample opportunity to practise these skills!

Realising that our presence is really the key to bringing these 4 S’s into the front of an experience with a child helps us to capitalise on the opportunity we have to help shape these young minds for the future.


About the author

Sally Boardman initially worked as a psychologist before discovering the power of helping people understand how to use their brain and bodies to create true lasting change and transformation. She completed her MPhil in Psychology in the UK and originally worked is a rehabilitation psychologist when she came to Australia in 2001. She has extensive presentation skills and experience which she has gained through her career as a trainer, coach and facilitator. She has previous experience delivering PD to educators as well as within many other sectors. 

She is a TEDx speaker and currently serves on the Leadership team for Dr Joe Dispenza where she assists with weeklong trainings of up to 2000 participants. Sally is passionate about helping the leaders of our next generation of leaders to thrive, and sustaining the mental health and well-being of our children and educational leaders.


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