Circle of Security…
“I’m here for you”.
This is such a simple, yet powerful statement.
He’s just naughty:
When an Educator explains to me that Child A is out of control, is testing the boundaries, is just plain naughty. I listen. I continue to listen when they say “he’s so manipulative, I just know he’s testing me”.
Young children are simply not that complex. Children’s behaviour is learnt and responsive behaviour. I’m not blaming parents here. But in order to understand why a child behaves the way they do, we need to look at the bigger picture.
Whenever you’re having a bad day, remember this, I love you:
Last week I ran into David* who I had the privilege of teaching his daughter a few years ago. Every morning at drop-off we would chat about his complex family situation. Due to medical reasons, he had become a carer for his wife who he describes as ‘like having a 16 year old daughter’.
David appeared to be not coping. We would speak at length each time we saw each other. The impact was clear. Lucy* (4 years) became my little shadow. At drop-off she would seek either myself or my co-teacher out. The entire day she would not leave our sides. Engaging with other children was not something she was interested in, and I can only describe Lucy as a child who was scared and craved lots of attention and affection. Anxiety in children is very real and if we look at stats, 1 in 7 children has a mental health difficulty.
What Lucy was experiencing was anxiety. To explain why she was feeling the way she was, she would not have the words.
Let’s look at the bigger picture:
Lucy’s mum was physically available, but not emotionally. Due to surgery, she no longer had the capacity to cognitively understand her daughter needed her. Her family needed her. Instead, David took on the dual roles of parenting and as a result he took on far too much, became negative and I assume developed traits of depression.
After many chats, I expressed I was not the right person to support him with creating change. Only a professional could lead him in the right direction. Only he had the power to create change to get better.
If mental illness disrupts the early years of the adult-child relationship, it is less likely that the child will have a secure attachment style or optimal social and emotional development.
Children whose parents have a mental illness are at higher risk than other children of having emotional, behavioural or mental health problems at some stage in their lives.
Seeing David last week was wonderful. He is a different man. He sought counselling and although things remain at home, he has taken on his parenting responsibilities with positivity. Before me was a man with much confidence and absolute love for his children. His son is about to finish primary school and is part of the relay team for his school representing at State Level. Lucy participates in Nippers, ballet and no longer clings to adults.
As the disciplinarian he described that he was ‘always the bad guy’. Lucy who is now 8 shouted at him the other day ‘I hate you’ prior to slamming the door. His response “I know you’re not happy right now, but please remember I love you”.
When we feel safe & secure, learning happens:
For children to have opportunities to build on their social and emotional skills. Stressful triggers, or trauma can create shifts in a child’s emotional well-being and development. The close bond and building positive relationships between carers and child, helps to create security for young children.
Which brings me to ‘The Circle of Security’. Robyn Dolby (2007) quotes “the Circle of Security is an early intervention program for parents and children that focuses on the relationships which give children emotional support.”
The Circle of Security map:
The Circle of Security diagram shows a circle held between two hands. One hand supports the top half of the circle, showing the secure base of support children need for play and learning. Children’s underlying needs for exploration are summarised in the box in the top half:
- Watch over me (to see that I am safe)
- Delight in me (so I can look into your face and see what I look like to you, and find you are happy with me)
- Help me (just enough so I can do it by myself)
- Enjoy with me (join my interest)
The hand supporting the bottom half of the circle represents the safe haven children need when they have had enough of exploring. Their underlying needs in relation to attachment are shown in the box in the bottom half:
- Protect me (because I am feeling scared)
- Comfort me (when I am upset)
- Delight in me (found on both sides of the circle because this important for children)
- Help me to (organise my feelings)
* names changed due to reasons of privacy
Some Useful Links:
To talk about Mental Health, Anxiety, Parenting, Circle of Security in great detail I would be writing a thesis, for more in depth information, I recommend the following links;
- Circle of Security International
- For Robyn Dolby’s Early Childhood Australia publication go to: ‘The Circle of Security – Roadmap to building supportive relationships’ (note this is an abbreviated version, and the full copy can be purchased from ECA either as PDF or hard copy).
- KidsMatter – A mental health and wellbeing initiative that is set in Primary School and Early Childhood Settings. Incredibly useful articles, videos and resources. They also have regular (free) webinars that I highly recommend
- Circle of Security Parenting Classes run quite regularly in most regions. These are 8 weekly sessions. Cost varies from Government Funded (free) or small contribution to the organisation running the course. NSW: Resourcing Parents NSW, Other: Relationships Australia