Guess what – We are all “hardwired” to feel secure, this need for secure relationships is “built in” to our most important interactions throughout every hour of every day.
The Circle of Security is a relationship based parenting/caregiver programme developed by Kent Hoffman, Glen Cooper and Bert Powell. They are three of the originators of COS which is internationally acclaimed. I was lucky enough to be trained by Bert when he came over from the USA at the beginning of this year.
Two important messages from our first session:
“All my child needs is for me to be good enough” which means there is room to make mistakes in parenting.
“It’s never too late” which means as we learn new ways of parenting, good things will happen for both our child and ourselves.
The best way to understand our child’s needs is to follow their lead; to watch and to see. Sounds simple but with the help of our smartboard – looking at lots of children and parents together on a big screen - we learnt how easy it is to “miss” the things we don’t know we are looking for. A child’s needs may be hidden in the everyday rush and bother of parenting. COS is about helping parents to know what to look for, and so more importantly, once we know what we are looking for, we can easily see it.
I hope using clips from some selected movies helped. However, it did involve looking at the clothes I used to wear in the early 1980’s. Kraemer V Kraemer. How young - Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep! How old I have become! But with the years may there also be stores of wisdom gathering in my brain matter to share with you all.
COS is about seeing the importance of being a secure base and safe haven for our child. When this is a constant that is reliable, a child can go out on the top of our circle to explore with curiosity. We can allow this child to do this by delighting in them, enjoy with them their exploration. We can also learn to be at the bottom of the circle when they need to come back to us for reassurance, comfort and protection.
These circles of learning are going on all the time between all humans. On and off, up and down, round and round the circle. And so we now talk about ”Circle Stories” at our workshop.
Sometimes a child will behave in ways that challenge us and it looks and sounds as if they are deliberately winding us up, are being nasty, attention seeking and sometimes plain horrible.
This is when they are saying but not in words “help me organize my feelings, please because I can’t do it on my own. I don’t know what I feel. I am frightened of these feelings and they keep changing. I need my cup filled. I need your safe reliable hands. I need you to “be with me”, so that when these particular feelings build up and become intense, I will have you by my side as subside and I will survive them with your help.”
It probably doesn’t feel like this as the parent on the receiving end of a child yelling, kicking and screaming and maybe even saying “I hate you”. At these times it is easy to forget we are the grown-ups. We may be expecting our little ones to articulate their needs and feelings in words. Is it really likely or realistic to expect our child to say something like this:-
“Dear Mummy, I know that you have a very busy working day today and you need me to be mindful of this. I will notice you are becoming anxious and stressed . I will realize that the last phone call was from the child minder ,saying she cannot pick me up from school. I will know, you have to go shopping after work and cannot do it before picking me and my younger brothers up and so we will have to come shopping too. I will know that you will be dreading this because we will be tired and hungry and so we will probably misbehave. I also know that Daddy told you earlier this morning as he was leaving for work that he won’t be home until late tonight. And so Mummy, I am so sorry for not getting dressed quick enough and helping my brothers. I am so sorry for day dreaming and I know that my yelling is giving you a head ache. I will change my behavior straight away and put my need for help and support away because right now you need me to think and act like a grown up even though I am 7 years old.”
Our children need us to be “Bigger, stronger, wiser and kind”. Whenever possible: follow my child’s need. Whenever necessary: take charge.
This is what we are learning about. We can only use the skills we have in our social skills tool kit. It’s a bit like trying to unblock the toilet u bend without one of those wonderful plungers. If we don’t have our tools with us or we only have broken ones that can’t do the job, we have to make the best of it. We all do the best we can with what we have and so it makes sense to fill up our tool kit with new, reliable tools of quality.
If we have learnt that to let someone know we are angry we need to yell and that is all we have then that is what we will keep doing. If we keep doing this then our child learns this “skill” and puts it in their tool kit. How wonderful to find some new tools.
COS helps us to reflect upon our own experiences of being parented. It gives us clues as to why we might find certain emotions expressed by our children difficult to manage. It is not about blaming our parents but about understanding they too did the best they could with the skills they were given. Self-reflection is a major part of this workshop. We do lots of watching, thinking and sharing.
Yes, our children seek our attention because they have needs to relay to us. When this is done in a kind, appropriate way we usually respond positively but sometimes a child may not be able to put into words what they need. They may act out in an unsafe way. Remember, it is likely this child is frightened and needs us to be with them in a way that creates a safe, secure feeling.
Perhaps when you begin to say this child is attention seeking, add on ‘This child is connection seeking”. We all want to feel connected to others. We are hard wired to be in relationships with each other. When behavior becomes unsafe it means there has been a rupture in the relationship. There has been a disconnection.
Both child and adult seek reconnection and repair in the relationship. It is simply that not every child or indeed adult has the knowledge and experience to provide the repair and re-connection. That’s what we are learning about because our children need us to be the grown-ups with these skills.
Always remember the great news that we are seeking to be “good enough parents” who have permission to make mistakes to learn and grow from them. “It’s never too late to learn new skills and make changes.”
I hope you can tell, I am excited by COS and looking forward to our next workshop.
Watch this space for more Circle stories.
SHPSH Social Worker