Parents, it turns out, make a lot of mistakes. But according to the authors of the new book, Raising a Secure Child: How Circle of Security Parenting Can Help You Nurture Your Child’s Attachment, Emotional Resilience, and Freedom to Explore, one of the biggest mistakes parents make is trying to be perfect.
Parents, write Kent Hoffman, Glen Cooper and Bert Powell, already have everything they need to be good parents, and by harnessing the power of secure attachment they can learn to truly “be-with” their children in ways that help them understand, on a deeper level, their genuine needs and wants.
Children have two basic needs: the need for comfort and safety, and the need for exploration. The way children often navigate the world involves a complex balancing of these needs that can seem confusing, even frustrating for parents. Yet one of the most important roles of a parent, the authors contend, is to help children accept and manage their emotional experience.
While developing autonomy is an important stage in child development, and one that parents and caregivers often focus on, when it comes to raising children the term “self-sufficiency” is misguided.
“From birth through old age, our ability to act with a sense of autonomy is directly related to our capacity for connectedness,” write Hoffman, Cooper and Powell.
The authors cite Lei, a three year old girl who is learning to climb a structure in the park while her father watches carefully, yet without interfering. When Lei reaches the top she is delighted and quickly climbs down, running back to her father while they share a moment of excitement together before she runs off again for another exploration.
Moments like this have a lasting legacy, and one that imprints strongly on children. And the benefits of this sort of secure attachment go much beyond moments of excitement – children with secure attachments enjoy more happiness with their parents, feel less anger at them, get along better with friends, are better able to problem solve, have higher self-esteem, are more able to trust and know how to be kind to others.
The authors point out that a sense of security is also a protective feature in times of stress.
“Feeling secure in the presence of a loving dependable caregiver is like being offered a second skin that protects us during times of stress,” write Hoffman, Cooper and Powell.
A secure relationship also keeps children on a healthy developmental track, allowing them to learn to regulate emotion, build self-esteem, and create social competence. The authors point to one study where children who learned to trust that their parent would help them regulate painful emotions showed more confidence in their own ability to regulate emotions, which resulted in greater self-esteem and self-confidence.
One major obstacle that confounds secure relationships according to the authors is a parent’s need to be perfect.
“Modeling perfection and the pursuit of it does not promote healthy development. Pressuring ourselves to always get it right or to guarantee that our children never experience the pain we may have experienced growing up creates an anxiety that our little ones can’t help recognizing. Working too hard actually compromises our children’s need to trust in our faith in relationship, an essential foundation of security throughout their lives,” write Hoffman, Cooper and Powell.
Instead, parents can learn to let go of self-blame, relax into confidence, and develop an attachment with their child that goes both ways – what is called a dyadic regulatory system – allowing for comfort to be both given and received. Both adults and child travel around what the authors call the circle of security – vacillating between needs for comfort and needs for freedom. Through learning to ask, “Where am I on the circle?” parents can also learn to better recognize their own needs, and most importantly, accept themselves as good enough.
The authors contend that establishing a secure relationship with a child is not a technique, but rather a state of mind. By tuning into a child’s needs – both for comfort and freedom – parents can also learn to listen to their own attachment patterns – what the authors call “shark music.”
It is the early attachment experiences, in which needs are either met or not, that color how available a parent is to respond to the similiar needs of his or her child. When parents pull back the curtain on their own early experiences, they can see them for what they are, and choose to respond to their child’s needs without interference from their own.
The book is primarily about what it takes to develop a secure relationship, and the authors offer several helpful tools, such as a chart of core sensitivities in close relationships and ways to respond to them, as well as a number of take-home lessons which include things like honoring both a child’s needs for comfort and freedom, allowing the child the space to explore on his own, and remaining present to help if needed.
While children can act out in a variety of ways, and there is no shortage of techniques to improve their behavior, Raising A Secure Child reminds us that there is no shortcut for the emotional intelligence, sensitivity, and resilience, that comes with developing a lasting bond – a secure relationship – with our children.
Raising A Secure Child: How Circle of Security Parenting can help you nurture your child’s attachment, emotional resilience, and freedom to explore
Kent Hoffman, Glen Cooper and Bert Powell
Guilford Press (2017)
Softcover, 264 Pages