What is the Circle of Security?

The Circle of Security parenting program gives parents and caregivers the tools they need to foster and develop strong relationships through responsive parenting.

Introduction

Have you ever responded to a child’s behavior in a way that you are not proud of? Have you experienced guilt and shame after losing your cool at a tantrum-throwing toddler? Most parents can honestly say that they have made many mistakes along their parenting journey because, after all, parenting is certainly the toughest job in the world. Thankfully, there is a parenting approach that doesn’t expect us to be perfect parents. The Circle of Security parenting program gives parents and caregivers the tools they need to foster and develop strong relationships through responsive parenting.

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Circle of Security
1998 Cooper, Hoffman, Marvin & Powell circleofsecurity.org

Where did the Circle of Security come from?

The Circle of Security program was developed by Glen Cooper, Kent Hoffman and Bert Powell. They drew upon years of research related to secure parent-child relationships to develop a video-based intervention program for parents. Since its beginning, the program has become widely recognized across the globe and has been translated into many languages so that millions of families can enjoy the benefits of the Circle of Security approach.

Circle of Security
‘Watch over me’ or ‘Help me’ part of the Circle of Security, with reference to above diagram

What is the Circle of Security parenting program?

The Circle of Security program is an 8 week program that is delivered by a trained facilitator, using a combination of video clips, discussion and hands-on activities. Parents will be guided along a journey where they can reflect on their own experiences as a child and learn about why they respond to situations in the way that they do. Through the program, each participant will be given the information and tools that they need to be able to:

  • Recognise that their child’s behaviour is actually communication
  • ‘Be with’ their child through strong and difficult emotions
  • Repair the relationship when a rupture has occurred

Through the Circle of Security parenting program, parents and caregivers will also learn that in order for a child to learn effectively, they must feel safe and secure and have developed a strong attachment. With this secure attachment comes the confidence and curiosity to become more independent and go out and explore the world because the child knows that whenever they need to – they can return to that safe, secure base for comfort, reassurance and support.

Circle of Security
‘Support my exploration’ or ‘Delight in me’ part of the Circle of Security, referencing above diagram

Why is a positive attachment so important?

One of the most fundamental aspects of human development relates to the relationships we form and share with others. It is through relationships that children learn how to engage with others. Many years of research has proven the importance of positive attachments – particularly for babies and very young children. A strong and secure attachment with a primary caregiver creates a child who is happier, healthier and ready to learn about the world around them. When they hold a secure attachment, children are able to develop resilience, empathy, self-confidence and compassion – whilst learning how to regulate their own emotions.

Children learn how to self-regulate through repeatable actions of their primary caregiver, usually a parent. The goal of a primary caregiver is to be with the child and provides the foundation for their emotional and social development.

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Secure attachments within strong relationships form the very foundation for a child’s learning. When children feel unsafe and whose emotional needs for attachment have not been met, they are far more likely to have a harder time at school and are at increased risk of poverty, family violence and mental health problems in the future. Secure attachments, on the other hand, result in confidence and self-reliance which are central for an emotionally stable and well adult life. Giving parents the skills they need to develop their child’s secure attachment is one of the biggest and most important aspect of the Circle of Security parenting program.

What does the Circle of Security program teach about behaviour?

An important aspect for every parent and caregiver to understand is that all behaviour is communication. When behaviour is recognized in this way, it becomes much easier to look past the behaviour and identify the need that must be met. When we can see that our child is having a hard time, rather than giving us a hard time, we become more empathetic and compassionate and are able to respond more kindly and appropriately.

Through the Circle of Security program, parents will be given the tools and techniques needed to help them respond to challenging behaviour. Being able to help a child organize their feelings within a safe and secure relationship will allow them to grow their emotional literacy. Of course, there are some times where a parent needs to respond quickly, particularly when a child’s safety might be at risk so the Circle of Security program encourages parents to follow their child’s needs where possible, but also recognize that there are times where they will need to ‘take charge’. I especially love the Circle of Security parenting mantra of ‘bigger, stronger, wiser and kind’ – as this is what we are striving to be.

Who is the Circle of Security program for?

The Circle of Security program is designed for children aged birth to 12 years – however the concepts can be applied to almost any relationship in a person’s life. The program helps parents of children build secure relationships. For example, if children have a hard time interacting with parents or kids of the same age, the program offers a supportive environment to share thoughts and ideas. Although this program is often made available to those that have experienced difficulties in forming solid and secure attachments with their child – I truly believe that this program is beneficial for every parent.

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How Has the Circle of Security Helped?

There is a reason that this program has become so popular across the world. Participants have reported that this program has significantly helped them along their parenting journey. The judgement-free and supportive approach makes parents feel comfortable to talk about tough issues and grow their understandings about themselves – not just as a parent but also as a person. One of the best things about this program is that it’s not about blame. Circle of Security is about learning, growing and responding in ways that enhance and improve the relationship in our life – particularly those with children.

Another brilliant aspect of this program is that it allows caregivers to accept that they don’t need to be perfect and instead it recognizes that parenting is incredibly complex and challenging. It encourages parents to be kind to themselves because making mistakes will happen because, after all, we are only human. When we are kind to ourselves, we have a greater capacity for kindness towards others and Circle of Security talks about ‘good enough’ parenting rather than ‘perfect parenting’. The program also explores the importance of learning to apologise when we have made a mistake as this is another important aspect of building strong and trusting relationships.

Members have stated positive things about the Circle of Security, stating that the program helped their children immensely with new knowledge and gaining better communication skills. Participants have also expressed how they feel less isolated and judged in finding new solutions to dilemmas and problems.

“Participating in a group program is an effective way to gain the confidence to turn negative habits and cycles into positive ones, manage strong emotions constructively and create the future you want.” – Relationships Australia, NSW, 2020.

Circle of Security in education and care settings?

After it’s popularity with parents, a Circle of Security program that is specific to educators has been developed. This program will help education and care professionals to meet the emotional needs of children in their care and build strong relationships with the child’s family so that they can work in partnership to best support each child. If you would like to know more about the Circle of Security classroom approach, you can read about it here:  Classroom Approach: Overview – Circle of Security International.

Circle of Security
‘Protect me’, ‘Welcome my Coming to you’ part of the Circle of Security, referencing above diagram

Summary

There is a lot of information online regarding Circle of Security, including specific intervention programs, such as the one run by Relationships Australia, some that are run overseas and there are many articles and publications (such as Early Childhood Australia’sThe Circle of Security: Roadmap to building supportive relationships‘) which help to decode the Circle of Security and help families and other caregivers to decide if this intervention program may be right for them. They may also use this information to help them to understand more about why their child behaves the way they do – giving an insight into child development, attachment theory and the role that early intervention can play.

Whilst there are a great many parenting programs available out there, the Circle of Security program has the most positive track record of being successful. Literally thousands of parents have benefited from access to this program by becoming more equipped to support and connect with their child. The research is extremely solid – secure attachments are the recipe for changing lives. You can find further information about the Circle of Security program run by Relationships Australia here. Have you considered accessing a Circle of Security parenting program? Let me know in the comments!

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