The Circle of Security

The Circle of Security refers to the close network that exists between children and their caregivers during their development. The Circle of Security is a representation or ‘visual map’ of attachment theory as applied to parenting.

The circle of security program aims to educate Parents, caregivers and those working in early childhood about the benefits of providing secure, stable relationships with children through the concepts of providing a Safe Haven for your children, and a parallel Secure base from which they can explore.

Circle of Security:

“Parent attending to the child’s needs

Circle of Security Dad bonding
Father-son bonding: Here a Dad is teaching his boys to fish. This is supporting their need for exploration whilst protecting them and setting an example. Children crave a strong role model to look up to.

The need for the Circle of Security

A secure attachment between children and their caregivers is a leading indicator of a child’s present future success and well being. Children crave strong role models to look up to and require a stable, loving relationship in order grow and properly establish stable bonds.

Children need and crave security and stability. It is important as a parent or caregiver to provide that structure and safety. If we consider Maslows Hierarchy of Needs; physical safety and security is the core or underlying cornerstone of our lives.

Research has shown that children that form stable bonds early in life are known to have greater empathy, self esteem, better relationship skills, are able to be toilet trained earlier, become more ‘school ready’ and are more in control of their own emotions.

Conversely, children who experience attachment problems during their early childhood have a greater probability of developing mental health issues later on in their lives. [Bowlby, J. (1980) Attachment and Loss: Volume 1. Attachment. Basic Books: New York].

Clearly then, understanding the psychology behind attachment theory through the Circle of Security is of great benefit to parents and all caregivers.

An introduction to the Circle of Security

The Circle of Security can be thought of as having three main components

  1. Set up a Secure Base: Mentor, Guide, Explore, Play with and be Proud of me – Going out on the circle.
  2. Provide a Safe Haven: Protect, Comfort, Understand and Help me when I need it – Coming in on the circle.
  3. Be the Authority: Be Bigger, Stronger, Wiser, Kinder and in Charge of me – Holding up the circle.

Set up a Secure Base

Setting up a secure base for your children lets them feel safe and supported and gives them the freedom and confidence to go out and explore the world. Once children feel safe and supported, they will naturally begin to ‘go out on the circle’ and start pushing their boundaries to develop, explore and grow.

They want us to share in this exploration; they need to feel encouraged, mentored, guided and watched over, they also need participation, help when needed and want you to have fun with them and be proud of them.

Provide a Safe Haven

Providing a safe haven to protect, comfort and counsel the child when needed gives them the assurance that they can come back ‘in on the circle’ to you for comfort and protection should they need it.

They need to have their emotional needs met with compassion and understanding, and so need you to empathise and listen to your child’s non verbal communications. This might sound like a child being sooky, but they are looking for a physical demonstration of support from their bid for attention

Be the Authority

They of course, need this to be provided for them by an authority figure that provides leadership in a loving and kind way. Building foundational stability for your child can be done by;

  • Always being there for your child
  • Leading as a Role model
  • Setting a positive example
  • Taking charge when necessary

Children will look to you as someone who is bigger, stronger and wiser for the solution. Remember to always be kind and to fulfil your child’s needs where possible.

Who is in my Circle of Security?

It is important to explore the concept with your child of ‘who is in my circle of security?

It is important to let your child know who is in their circle of security and who they can trust and depend on. For example, you can trust the teacher

The Circle of Security
Is your teacher in your Circle of Security Safe Haven? Can you trust them?

Children will naturally associate people in a position of authority or power as being within their circle of security, especially if they see the person frequently or regularly interact with them. This is not necessarily always the case, so it is wise to have this discussion with kids as early as possible.

The Circle of Security
Is the school bus driver in your Circle of Security Safe Haven? Can you trust them?

For example, your child’s school bus driver may regularly interact with your child; they may know your child’s name and offer them a friendly greeting in the morning or afternoon as they enter or exit the bus. Your child may form an attachment to the driver because of this, and assume that the driver belongs inside their circle of security and that they can trust them – which is why you should have the conversation with them to help establish boundaries.

Teaching the Circle of Security in parental counselling

Parenting is not something that comes naturally to everyone. Just like in other areas of our lives, we all need a hand from time to time. Reflecting on the Circle of Security during parental counselling is a way for parents to understand and reach therapeutic goals and increase empathy for their children.

Understanding your parenting attachment and relationships, fostering a secure environment to expand your parenting skills, Explaining the ‘visual map’ of the Circle of Security and developing your own observational skills as well as developing reflective dialogue are all key areas of circle of security parental counselling.

Summary of the Circle of Security

Fostering an environment of security is important to your child’s well being and development. The circle of security is a great visual map or framework for understanding the attachment needs of your child as they grow.

Knowing when to encourage them to ‘go out on the circle’, and when to welcome them ‘back in on the circle’ by understanding and identifying your children needs will help to avoid pain or frustration and provide better emotional support.

Poor behaviour or development in a child is often rooted in a feeling of insecurity or problems at home. Understanding how to become an Authority who is bigger, stronger and wiser to set the example and ‘hold up the circle of security’ is a key way to foster better attachments with your child.

Further reading: If you are interested in learning more, head over to Relationships Australia and check out their Circle of Security learning program designed for parents with children under 12 – Relationships Australia

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