Parenting has evolved significantly over the past century, transitioning from parents expected to do little more than feeding and bathing their children to “helicopter parenting” where parents may be a bit too involved. With such an abrupt change, it can be difficult for us parents to determine what is the best way to help guide and raise healthy, happy kids.
One proven method of child-rearing is what is known as the “Circle of Security”. Described as an early intervention relationship-based program, the Circle of Security strives to enhance the attachment between a parent and child.
The history behind the Circle of Security
Circle of Security International founders Glen Cooper, Kent Hoffman, and Bert Powell met in the 1970s and have worked together in clinical practice since 1985. Focused on family therapy and systems theory, they eventually came across John Bowlby’s original theory of attachment and Mary Ainsworth’s “Strange Situation” paradigm.
After decades of research, they found that children who partook in the Circle of Security enjoyed many successful outcomes including:
- Greater empathy
- Higher self-esteem
- Stronger relationships with peers and parents
- More ready for school
- Better ability to effectively handle emotions
This method of intervention is designed to increase parents’ and caregivers’ awareness of the needs of their children and if their responses are appropriate and supportive. Though this may sound fairly straightforward, it can be extremely challenging for any parent since it forces us to re-examine our current parenting methods and perhaps come to terms with the way we were parented as kids.
The Circle of Security rules
The primary “rules” behind the Circle of Security are as follows:
Whenever possible, follow the needs of your child
- Take charge when necessary
- Be with the child to figure out the best response at any moment
- As a parent, we are bigger, stronger, wiser, and always kind
- We are parents first, not friends
- We can manage emotional discomfort by taking charge and guiding our children through struggles
- We can solve problems together through trust and encouragement
Confronting our parenting demons
A lot of the Circle of Security is about stepping back and taking as much of an objective view of our own behaviours as observing the behaviours of our children.
This means that a lot of uncomfortable realisations about how we react and behave around and towards our kids are likely to come up. You may find that under times of stress you become mean and controlling. Perhaps you become overwhelmed and adopt a defeatist attitude, giving up when really you should push ahead. Then there are other ineffective parenting strategies many of us resort to like threats, bribing, or ignoring our kids.
As hard as it can be to critique ourselves, this is what we need to do to make sure that we as parents are able to meet the needs of a child. One example may be lying down with our child at night until they fall asleep because we feel guilty about being away from them while at work. As comforting as this may be to us, consider what your behaviour may be telling your child.
Your intentions may be good, but in reality, you could be telling your child that it isn’t okay for them to grow and transition to the next step of the developmental process. This may lead to anxiety, clinginess, or even tantrums when attempting to leave them at daycare or school.
Helping children transition
There are many reasons why a child may be struggling and needs that extra playtime, hugs, and physical contact with you. Sick children, young children, or those who are dealing with recent familial changes are all more likely to need some extra time, patience, and attention.
The environment your child is in can also affect how well your child is able to transition from one event to the next. If your child reacts strongly when left at daycare, for example, ask the provider how your child reacts once you leave. Ask yourself additional questions, like:
- Does the caregiver seem tuned in to the emotional needs of my child?
- Is the caregiver trustworthy?
- Does the caregiver seem interested and engaged in my child?
If the transition is happening at the playground, start providing your child with a few warnings before needing to leave. Be pleasant when reminding them how much time is left, and try playing with them for the last few minutes so you can be right there to help them physically and emotionally transition out of that activity.
A handful of attachment theories exist today with some variants in approach and technique. There is no question that the majority of parents who have adopted some form of a more attached and connected approach with their children have enjoyed a more trusting and lasting positive relationship with their children.