Have you ever responded to your child in anger? Have you felt feelings of guilt and shame after losing your temper at your tantrum-throwing toddler? You would be one amazing human if you are a parent who is able to answer “no” to these questions. Most parents are acutely aware of the rollercoaster of feelings and challenges that come with raising a small human and can honestly say that they have made many mistakes along their parenting journey.
While striving to care for and nurture a child, it is easy to set unachievably high expectations of ourselves and then experience feelings of failure when these high expectations are not met. We want to do what is best for our children so when emotions run high and we become frustrated and angry, it can really affect our self-esteem and confidence as a parent.
The Circle of Security parenting approach is an internationally recognized and renowned program that supports parents to nurture positive attachments with their children that build emotional resilience and independence. These positive attachments will support children to grow into well-adjusted adults who are able to develop and sustain positive relationships with others.
Drawing upon years of research surrounding secure parent-child relationships, the Circle of Security program was developed by Kent Hoffman, Glen Cooper, and Bert Powell. It started out as a simple description of attachment theory and then evolved over time into a video-based intervention program that is delivered to parents via a trained facilitator. Since its beginning, the program has been translated into many languages and is used all over the world.
The Circle of Security 8 week program
The Circle of Security program is delivered within a small group of caregivers and includes 1-2 trained facilitators. While it has been proven beneficial for all kinds of parents and caregivers, it is especially good for those that care for children with attachment disorders, trauma, and complex or challenging behaviors. The program was originally developed for parents and caregivers; however, it is now recognized as a valuable training opportunity for a range of professionals, including educators, social workers, and disability support workers.
The structure of the program involves a total of 8 sessions where facilitators utilize a video program in combination with discussions and hands-on activities to guide parents and caregivers through a parenting learning journey. Through the program, participants are given the training and tools to be able to:
- identify a child’s needs
- “be with” a child through difficult emotions
- repair a rupture within a relationship.
Within the program, you learn that children need to develop confidence and curiosity in order to go out and explore their world. This is how they grow independence and seek out new learning. Participants will also grow understanding surrounding the importance of parental responses that provide a safe and secure base for children to come to whenever they need it for help, comfort, or reassurance.
It’s all about relationships–the importance of attachment
Relationships are fundamental to human development. It is through relationships that children learn how to interact with others and how to be within their world. The research is extremely strong regarding the importance of positive attachments, especially for babies and young children. A secure attachment with a primary caregiver results in healthier and happier children. The strong relationship that comes with a secure attachment helps children to develop empathy, self-confidence, resilience, and compassion. It also helps them learn to regulate their emotions and lays the foundation for other positive relationships throughout a person’s life.
Strong and secure relationships also form the foundation of learning. When your child feels safe and supported they gain the confidence to go out and explore the world in which they live. This is why children that are raised within a safe environment and who have at least one strong and secure attachment relationship are far more likely to experience a bright and positive future.
Contrary to this, children who feel unsafe and whose needs for emotional attachment are not met find it much harder to learn at school and are far more likely to experience poverty, family violence, and mental health problems in their future. With security comes confidence and self-reliance, the building blocks of an independent and productive adult. Parenting in a way that supports a positive parent-child attachment is at the very heart of the Circle of Security parenting approach.
Behavior as communication
The Circle of Security program helps you grow your understanding surrounding what a child’s behavior might be telling you. When behavior is recognized as communication, it becomes easier to respond to a child with compassion and kindness rather than authoritarian discipline.
However, the approach is also clear that there are times when you as a parent must “take charge,” particularly at times when the child is not able to make an appropriate choice for themselves or when there are safety concerns. While we should try to follow our child’s needs where possible, there will certainly be times when decisions need to be made outside of what the child might need or want in that moment. It is through these times that parents are encouraged to remember to be “bigger, stronger, wiser, and kind.”
Circle of Security gives you the tools and techniques to support your child to organize their feelings and to manage the difficult behaviors that might be evident when a child is struggling with their emotions and acting out in ways that are challenging. It is never fun to have a screaming child or a child who hits, bites, or clings relentlessly, but by responding sensitively and recognizing the need behind the behavior, the child is able to feel safe and supported through their emotions and over time will learn to self-regulate and manage these difficult emotions more effectively.
In essence, a parent who explodes in anger or experiences chronic anxiety may not have learned as a child how to navigate some of these more challenging emotions themselves and this can therefore continue to affect their responses to situations as an adult.
Reflecting on your own childhood experiences
Therefore, one aspect of the Circle of Security program involves reflecting upon your own childhood experiences to gain insight and understandings surrounding why you respond the way you do in certain situations. A key understanding in this learning is that it is not about blame. Every parent does the best they can with the tools they have at the time, so in this reflective process the intent is not to incite anger or frustration at our own parents, but to understand that they may have made mistakes based on what they have learned from their own childhood experiences.
By building understandings surrounding why we respond the way we do as parents, we are able to be empathetic towards ourselves for our past failings and then take an important step forward to break negative patterns of behavior that we may have learned and then make positive changes for the future.
There is no such thing as perfect parenting, only good enough parenting
I really appreciate that this parenting approach allows us to accept that we don’t need to be perfect. In fact, perfect has absolutely no place in this program and the Circle of Security approach recognizes that parenting is incredibly complex, challenging, and at times extremely unpleasant. It encourages parents to be kind to themselves and understand that it is completely normal to make mistakes and not always respond to our child’s needs positively. We are, after all, only human, so it’s important to cut ourselves some slack and recognize that we all have strengths and areas of challenge. Being empathetic and understanding relieves us of the tremendous pressure to always have the perfect response.
Since there is no such thing as a perfect parent, there will of course be times when we respond to our children in ways that are less than ideal. We might get angry and yell, shame our child, or walk away when they are needing our help. Within the program this is known as a “rupture.”
Fortunately, there is a clear and simple methodology for resolving these ruptures so that the relationship can be restored and even strengthened. Once the rupture is resolved, both the parent and child are able to move on without guilt or shame and can feel safe in the knowledge that their relationship is strong, secure, and grounded in love.
Circle of Security teaches that when we are kind to ourselves we have greater capacity to be kind to others and therefore recognizing that we are not always going to get it right is just a normal part of parenting. The program introduces the concept of “good enough parenting.”
I especially love this concept because it means that when we respond positively to our child’s needs at least some of the time, then that is “good enough.” The pressure to be perfect is significantly reduced and we are given room to make mistakes, apologize for our behavior, and then move on without guilt or shame. Through this process, our children are able to learn that everyone makes mistakes and can develop a stronger sense of empathy towards others. I also like that this program explores the importance of learning to apologize, which in itself is a foundational aspect of building and sustaining caring and trusting relationships.
The Circle of Security book
I strongly recommend the Circle of Security parenting program to all caregivers and expectant parents but if you are unable to access an accredited program provider, you might like to purchase a copy of the associated book.
The book Raising a Secure Child: How Circle of Security Parenting can help you nurture your child’s attachment, emotional resilience, and freedom to explore by Kent Hoffman, Glen Cooper, Bert Powell, and Christine M. Benton outlines the Circle of Security approach. Through reading the book you will learn how to identify the emotional needs that your baby, toddler, or older child might be expressing through their behavior. You will then build understandings surrounding how to respond to these behaviors in a way that is nurturing and supports connectedness. There are also a range of recommended self-assessment checklists that can be downloaded and printed to help you develop insight into how you have developed your particular parenting style.
Raising a Secure Child is an easy read that breaks the research down into plain and simple language. The book details 3 categories of core sensitivities that determine how we respond to our child. These core sensitivities are shaped by our own experiences and are, in essence, protective behaviors that we have learned in response to difficult life events.
- Separation sensitive: People who are separation sensitive tend to want to keep relationships close. They might be overprotective of their child and feel uncomfortable letting their child explore the world.
- Esteem sensitive: People who are esteem sensitive feel a need to be distinguished positively and place strong emphasis on their own accomplishments because deep down they worry that imperfection means rejection. Often parents who are esteem sensitive find it more challenging to comfort their child when it is needed and say things like “rise above it” or “you will be alright.”
- Safety sensitive: People who are safety sensitive find relationships very difficult and fear that making a close connection with another person comes at a loss of themselves. They often crave close relationships, but can quickly withdraw when they feel threatened. Parents who are safety sensitive often desire to keep their child close, but not too close, and this sends a mixed message to the child.
The examples within the book take common parenting scenarios and script how we might naturally respond to the child in line with our core sensitivities. It then offers an alternative response to help the parent listen and respond in a way that supports greater security for the child and strengthens the parent-child relationship.
The Circle of Security parenting program is underpinned by solid research and is recommended by many esteemed psychologists and mental health experts. This approach is now commonly used within schools and preschools across the globe and there are growing numbers of trained facilitators delivering the program to teachers and child care professionals as well as new, experienced, and expectant parents to help them be the best they can be.
I can honestly say that the Circle of Security parenting program has been the single most beneficial training program that I have ever received. As a qualified early years educator, parent, and foster parent, the program has allowed me to understand my own children’s needs better and has also changed how I interact at work. I am now able to better support children in my care who have experienced trauma in their lives as well as those who might be anxious or oppositional.
I am also more equipped to support and educate children with learning difficulties, disabilities, or special rights. Circle of Security has given me the tools I need to see past behavior and make conscious choices to respond to children in ways that show understanding and build trust. Ultimately, it has made me a better educator, parent, and just an all around better person. The research is clear: Secure attachments will literally change lives.
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