Child Temperament and Attachment in the Classroom

Child Temperament and Attachment in the Classroom

Submitted by: Michelle J. Peterson

                                          From Chapter 6, Attachment and Personality 


Children have different types of personalities and temperaments. Each child is unique. Temperament refers to the nature of a person. Temperament is often brought to light by experiences, even in the earliest stages of life. Genetics do not necessarily predict temperament, “It includes the characteristic way that an individual responds emotionally to people and objects. (Culpepper. 2008).  The temperament of a child creates a foundational block that contributes to a child’s success in school, and in human interactions (social) aspects. In the classroom setting, the temperament of each student helps create the classroom makeup. The development of temperament has a psychological basis. Although temperament is not always easy to predict, but there are nine general characteristics to be aware of and plan for when determining a child’s temperament according to

  1. Activity level: The activity level of a child is an important factor to understand. Does the child require a unique pattern of activity to function properly?
  2. Rhythmicity and regularity: Does the child eat sleep, etc. on a regular schedule?
  3. Approach and withdrawal: How does the child respond to stimulus? Does the child make quick, bold decisions or in the child hesitant and more reserved?
  4. Adaptability: When there is changes in the child’s normal routine, does he/she struggle or adapt?
  5. Intensity: The energy level the child responds with (either positive or negative). Is the child’s response enthusiastic or lackluster?
  6. Mood: The pleasant or unpleasant attitude a child responds with. Are the child’s behaviors friendly or unfriendly?
  7. Attention span: Is the child able to concentrate or does he/she struggle to stay on a focused task during activities?
  8. Attentiveness: Is the child easily distracted by other surrounding stimuli?
  9. Sensory threshold: The amount of sensory input a child needs to remain focused. Does the child require calming, alerting or stabilizing activities to function at their best?

These questions can help guide your classroom planning for environment, lessons and even relationships with your students. It is important to consider each individual child when looking at these areas. Research has shown that children whose temperament matches the expectations of their teachers, are more likely to succeed. However, just because a child does not fit with one teacher’s temperament or expectations, does not mean that they will not be successful with another teacher.

Attachment is another important factor to predict a child’s success in the classroom. Attachment refers to one person’s bond to another. “It is not synonymous with dependency; instead, secure attachment liberates children to explore their world” (Bergin and Bergin, 2009). Students who struggle with an attachment problems often have a difficult time in the classroom, children who have formed strong attachments to their parents often are more secure in the school setting.

The structure of the relationship between students and teachers varies greatly. The structure of some schools provides too little opportunity for a relationship to develop” (Bergin and Bergin, 2012). When students feel secure with their relationship with their teachers, they are often more accepting of guidance and comfort in the classroom. Students who engage in avoidant or resistant relationships often have difficulty at school.

As an educator, there are things you can do to build students relationships with you and form a healthy attachment to aid in their success. Relationships are vital. To be effective, teachers must connect with and care for children with warmth, respect, and trust” (Bergin and Bergin, 2009).

According to Dr. Bruce Perry (2013), “In order to be capable of forming the wide array of healthy relationships required throughout life, a young child’s attachment capacities must mature. While the roots of attachment are related to the primary caregiving experiences in early childhood, full expression of attachment potential requires social and emotional interactions with non-caregivers. As children become older, they spend less time with parents and more time with peers and other adults. This time with peers and other adults provides many opportunities for continued emotional growth.” As the children mature, consistency and effort from the adults in their lives will aid in the healthy attachment process. Teachers can:

  1. Smile and make eye contact with your students. This allows them to see you willing and happy to interact with them individually.
  2. Spend quality time with the children. Make time to listen to each child.
  3. Teach appropriate social skills such as verbal language, body language and space.
  4. “Remember that there are many styles of forming and maintaining relationships-a shy child is not an unattached child. If you sense a child is having a hard time engaging others, help facilitate this by actively including her or pairing her with another child who has a matching temperament. (Dr. B. Perry, 2013).


Bergin, C. C., & Bergin, D. A. (2012). Child and adolescent development in your classroom. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Cengage Learning.

Bergin C.C. & Bergin, D.A. (2009). Attachment in the Classroom. Educ Psychol Rev (2009) 21:141–170 DOI 10.1007/s10648-009-9104-0

Culpepper, S.  (2008). The Temperament Trap: Recognizing and Accommodating Children’s

Personalities.  Retrieved from

How to Understand Your Child’s Temperament. (2013) Retrieved from

Perry. Dr. B. (2013). Attachment: The first Core Strength. Early Childhood today. Retrieved from

Discussion Questions:

  1. Reflecting over your practice, have you ever had a child that you were unable to match temperaments with?
  2. Have you struggled to communicate with parents who do not have a healthy attachment relationship with their child? If so, how did you respond?
  3. Are there specific practices you are using to help form healthy relationships with students? If so what are they?
  4. Has your temperament ever caused you to struggle as an educator? If so, how did you work through it?
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9 Responses to Child Temperament and Attachment in the Classroom

  1. Brooke says:

    Reflecting over your practice, have you ever had a child that you were unable to match temperaments with?

    I am having a troublesome time at the moment with a student in my 7th grade ELA class. At first I just thought this student was extremely shy. He seems a bit withdrawn from the rest of the students, prefers to sit alone and does not respond when called on. I know there are some pre-teens that are shy but I see him sitting with other students at lunch and I occasionally see him share work or converse with other students. The other day I was instructing students how to create a foldable to study their vocabulary and he became extremely agitated and frustrated. His binder went clear across his table and he slammed his glue stick down. I went over and in my attempt to help him get it right, took his foldable and began to show him. While I thought I was being helpful, he completely lost it and became verbally upset. I apologized and asked him to go on a walk to cool down. He came back to my room and another student had his foldable finished for him. He was fine with that. Today he came in after missing yesterday’s class and again, became verbally agitated when I started collecting homework that he was not here to complete. Of course, I did not expect him to do it, but I had not even gotten around to explaining the assignment and what my expectations were of him. This chapter has helped me realize that some students do not have the same relaxed temperament that I do and I need to be a little more proactive and careful how I deal with these students and interact with them. I also realized that this student may not have positive attachment with an adult and may associate adult help with criticism or failure to some extent.

  2. Jimmie Jo says:

    Are there specific practices you are using to form healthy relationships with students? If so, what are they?

    Building relationships with students is one way to create a positive climate in the classroom. One specific way that I form healthy relationships with students is by using the books “Have you Filled a Bucket Today?” and “How Full is Your Bucket?” The books teach the message that we all have an invisible bucket that can be filled or dipped out of many times a day. Our buckets can be filled by the kind and thoughtful things that others do or say to us. We can also fill other people’s buckets by doing kind and thoughtful things for them. Our bucket is also filled when we do nice things for others. We talk what a bucket filler looks like and sounds like. I have found that a relationship is easily built when there is a mutual respect shown. Another specific way that I can form a healthy relationship with a student is by learning about them personally. I learn the name of their brothers, sisters, and pets. I ask questions about extracurricular activities such as sports. I attend sporting events to show support. A final way that I build a healthy relationship is by forming a relationship with parents. I want parents to understand that I care about their child. It is especially important that a parent know that I care about their child when the child is having difficulty at school. I want to treat the parent as a partner and let them know that I am open to suggestions as they know their child the best. I do become very attached to my students. It is a big loss to me if a child moves. Sometimes it is difficult for me not to give advice to the next year’s teacher.

  3. Janet says:

    2.Have you struggled to communicate with parents who do not have a healthy attachment relationship with their child? If so, how did you respond?

    At the middle school level, as a special education teacher, I have worked with parents that hover very closely and do not view their child as capable of being able to handle an increase in independence (this can include attending school). The parents are wary of allowing their child to attempt new tasks on their own that will result in an increase in independence. Sometimes, this may be due to safety concerns, but other times it is because they don’t even realize their child is capable of the task because they have been doing it for them for so long. When this happens, the child is more insecure and anxious and demonstrates helplessness in the school setting. These students are often what we refer to as “prompt dependent”.
    In these situations, I respond by working to build a trusting relationship with the parents.
    I make a conscious effort not to judge, as I have not walked in their shoes. However, I do try to understand the reasons for the excessive need to “do for” the student and find ways to work together to increase the student’s independence. If we can establish trust and the parents realize that I have their child’s best interest at the forefront while they are at school, I have found that much progress can be made. I share my high expectations with the student’s and their famiies and share the positive outcomes that follow learning new tasks. I want to give all of my students the healthy attachments they need at school to so they can focus on the tasks needed for life success.

  4. Janet says:

    I feel the need to clarify that in my previous post I was referencing more severe cases from my experience. It would not be a reflection of my typical experiences as a special education teacher.

  5. anonymous50 says:

    1. Are there specific practices you are using to help form healthy relationships with students? If so what are they?

    As a language arts teacher, I am fortunate that the content I teach often affords opportunities for students to express themselves in personally revealing ways. Likewise, our discussions about literature and the modeling I do for writing assignments allow me to share relevant parts of myself with them (remaining cognizant of appropriate boundaries). These factors facilitate and even encourage the mutual trust and sense of familiarity necessary in forging a relationship.

    If the parent opinionnaires and student surveys are any indication, however, there are a few seemingly innocuous but apparently most impactful practices that I employ. The first is to stand at my open door at the beginning and end of each school day and of each class period (regardless of the busy-ness of my day), where I make eye contact with and greet or bid farewell to each student by name. If I don’t know a student’s name because he or she is not in my class, I will say, “I don’t think I know your name, but . . .” and offer a salutation, nonetheless. I then make a note to address him or her personally the next time. (In an unfortunate reality of contextual learning, I have, on occasion, encountered students at the mall, a restaurant, or the grocery store only to find, much to my chagrin, that in such an atypical context, the student’s name escapes me completely, forcing the use of some generic address.) The second is to make it a point of asking about nicknames, pronunciation, and spellings of student names. (It is amazing to me what good will this engenders with a student, especially if I am the ‘only’ teacher who bothers to pronounce his or her name the ‘right’ way.) The third is to get to know about and form a relationship with their parents, to learn about their siblings, their pets, or their hobbies and interests, and to attempt to attend as many performances, meets, and competitions as my own family life allows. The fourth is to maintain a sincere open-door policy (for any student, not just my own, and for the parents), never turning a student away at the end of the day, during lunch, or at a passing period, even if all we accomplish is to commit to another meeting time. The feedback I receive regarding each of these practices is that students – and their parents – feel as if I “really know” them “as a person” and make them “feel valued”.

    My fundamental objective is to validate each student by looking him or her in the eye, to recognize his or her specific talents and interests, and to make him or her feel relevant both as an individual and as a member of our school community. If I accomplish that, then I believe I lay the groundwork for building whatever depth of relationship that student desires or, perhaps, simply needs.

  6. Nicole Gaffney says:

    Are there specific practices you are using to help form healthy relationships with students? If so what are they?

    In my classroom, I value trust and mutual respect. We work hard the first month or two of Kindergarten to build our community. We do many friendship building activities, use our names to learn about ourselves and learn how to work together. Our school uses character words which are frequently discussed in the classroom: respectful, responsible and caring. These words set the tone for our classroom.
    I also promote a positive atmosphere by greeting each child at my door with an overly-enthusiastic, “Good Morning ____, good to see you!” Getting to know them is definitely a big part of my year too. I use their sisters’ and brothers’ names in conversation, talk about their interests and visit their sporting events when I can. In our classroom, we laugh together often and achieve goals that we make. I like to leave “secret notes” in their backpacks to tell them when I notice something wonderful they do. These things are usually in relation to one of our character words. I think this also helps their parents know that I care about them and encourage them to be good citizens as well as students.

  7. Autumn says:

    Have you struggled to communicate with parents who do not have a healthy attachment relationship with their child? If so, how did you respond?

    Many years ago, I taught English as a second language in a rural community in South America. Unfortunately, the unfathomable conditions of abject poverty all but precluded any degree of healthy parent-offspring attachment. I submit that there was little to be done in this regard, as both parents (if both parents were indeed present) were compelled to work extended hours to simply subsist under the crushing weight of a savagely cruel economic reality. Given these conditions, it was not in the least bit unusual for a parent to surrender their caretaking responsibilities to an older child, who was often ill-equipped for the task. It is not difficult to imagine how or why these familial bonds became compromised.

    Considering the situation, appealing to parents in an attempt to challenge/redefine the delicate family dynamic was, largely, ineffectual. Their aim for their children was as justified as it was unequivocal, reflecting the harshness of fate and circumstance: to supply basic necessities in order to keep the child alive long enough to secure employment -the fruits of which would conceivably be directed to the family’s finances. I understood their position, but it did not make the tragic portrait of disintegrating relationships, shattering resentment, and underlying suffering any more palatable. Regrettably, there was little room for forging bonds or entertaining abstractions in this environment. I never approached anything close to what I would consider a success story (just a lot of sad memories); however, I would like to think that engaging parents in discussions about their children did, if just for a brief moment, remind them that they were, in fact, parents and that their children were entitled to as much nurturing as they could possibly spare.

  8. Andrea says:

    Has your temperament ever caused you to struggle as an educator? If so, how did you work through it?

    When I first started teaching I thought I had to be very stern and quite the disciplinarian. Much more of an authoritarian style of teaching. This did not work well with the population of students (at-risk) that I was working with. I was introduced to teaching with “love and logic”. The philosophies of love and logic made a lot of sense to me. One of our training sessions had us to list the things we could control and those that we can’t in our classrooms. I realized that “I” couldn’t control my students responses, but I could control my responses to given situations in the classroom. The more I practiced love and logic techniques in my classroom, I began to see a shift to a more positive climate change in the classroom. I also realized that when I unleashed my “wacky” sense of humor, students responded in a way that I would not have expected. I have a tendency to use antiquated phrases and found students relaxed much more in the classroom. I work really hard in the classroom to model respect, empathy and sympathy. Even though I teach science, there have been many times that I stop class to discuss a teachable moment regarding a “life lesson”. For example: When I find a note in the classroom, I do not read it out loud. There are students who try to encourage teachers to read notes out loud and unfortunately I know teachers who read them out loud. This can be extremely embarrassing for the students, depending on what is in the notes. I stop the class and discuss, if the note was about you would you want it read out loud. Trying to reinforce empathy for each other and I usually relate some of my own horrific junior high stories to further hit home the point.

  9. Karen says:

    Are there specific practices you are using to help form healthy relationships with students? If so what are they?
    I think one of the best practices that I use to form healthy relationships is to ask my students how they are doing and if they need anything. When I ask them, I actually listen and care about how they are doing. This shows them that I am genuinely interested in them and that I care about them. These mini conversations rarely last more than a couple of minutes, but those couple minutes to find out how there day is going or how their night was makes a huge difference. If I have time in the morning I try to stop by the bus line and greet them by name as they come in. I have every student in the school so I have the advantage of knowing every student’s name and it makes them feel good that someone says good morning and uses their name. In the mornings before homeroom I also let students come into the gym to practice for the fitness test, during this time I record their best scores and congratulate them on their improvements, which sets them on a good path for the rest of the day. Overall, I think the key to building healthy relationships with students in spending extra time with them and really showing them that you care. Some of my students don’t have other adults in their life that care, so showing them that they truly are important to me and referring to them as my children means a lot to them.

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