Circle of Security Parenting

The Circle of Security is an internationally recognised, relationship based, early intervention program designed to enhance attachment security between parents and children. Decades of university based research have confirmed that secure children exhibit increased empathy, greater self-esteem, better relationships with parents and peers, enhanced school readiness and an increased capacity to handle emotions more effectively when compared with children who are not secure.   So lets take a deeper look at what attachment is...

The Science of Attachment

The attachment system is an innate evolutionary system present in all mammals.  It serves a protective function, designed to keep the dependent infant close to its mother until it’s mature enough to survive on its own.  In humans, the attachment figure’s internal state also regulates the child’s internal state during most of the first three years of life.  If the primary attachment figure is calm, the baby will be calm.  If the attachment figure is depressed, the baby’s physiology will become depressed.

A child forms his/her primary attachment during times of distress, generally with the mother figure.  A child may also form secondary attachment bonds with other caregivers that will support and complement this primary bond.  Here’s how the system works:  The baby experiences some distress.  This distress turns on the attachment system, signaling a physiological red alert.  This alert tells the child, “Find your attachment figure and seek comfort!”  Ideally, an attachment figure will be available and attuned to the child’s distress.  He or she will respond by soothing the child, turning the alert system off like a light switch.  The quality of comfort the attachment figure provides dictates whether the child’s attachment style is secure, anxious, avoidant or disorganised.


Anxious Attachment Style

When the adult responds to the child’s distress in an inconsistent way (sometimes attuned, sometimes not), the child may form an anxious attachment style.  The child becomes preoccupied with the caregiver and with negative emotions, particularly anger.  This preoccupation inhibits exploration and thriving in the play environment.  The child learns to cling, whine and demand attention, ultimately hoping to recapture the attuned moments that seem to appear and disappear with no predictable pattern.  Imagine dating the most amazing person in the world, and then discovering that on some dates the closeness between you is wonderful beyond words and on other dates its as if you are on completely different pages.  In the face of this inconsistency, we might start doubting ourselves and become determined to find ways to keep the person’s attention, even if it means behaving like someone we are not.


Avoidant Attachment Style

When the adult responds to the child’s distress in a way that is cold, distant or negative, the child learns quickly to avoid depending on their attachment figure for comfort.  The child learns to avoid feelings and dismiss the parent’s mental state.  From the outside, avoidant attachment looks like independence, especially in times of distress.  On the inside, the child is just coping the best she can in a world without trust.  Imagine marrying a person who has wonderful qualities, but withdraws or becomes ugly when you are distressed.  Ultimately, you would distance yourself from the relationship as a way of managing the disappointment, rejection and additional pain that is heaped on top of your original upset.  Trust is out of the question and control replaces closeness.


Disorganised Attachment Style

When the parent is both the source of fear and the protective attachment figure, the child may develop disorganised attachment.  In this case, neither proximity-seeking nor avoiding is a sufficient coping strategy.  This can leave the child vulnerable to personality disorders.  Situations such as abuse, trauma, neglect and severe parent-child misattunement compromise the attachment system in the child’s brain.


Secure Attachment Style

When the adult responds to the child’s distress in an attuned way, the child forms a secure attachment style.  The caregiver’s response brings the child’s physiology back into balance.  This is the foundation of emotional regulation.  The acronym R.O.A.D will lead you to success:


R               Respond consistently to the child’s distress.

O               Organise yourself first and the child second.

A               Attune to the child’s internal state by offering empathy and understanding.

D            Describe by “mind reading” intentions and desires for the child.  This helps the child make sense of the experience and her world of relationships.


The way the primary attachment figure responds to the child’s distress determines whether the child’s attachment style will be secure, anxious, avoidant or disorganised.


So What Have We Learned?

Researchers have long observed that children have distinct attachment styles to caregivers, and that these attachment styles predict certain behaviours and life patterns.  Let’s quickly review what research tells us about early attachment:

*     Attachment is a biological necessity

*     It is formed during times of distress

*     The most important attachment relationships begin in the family

*     When in distress, a baby’s alert system urges her to seek an attachment figure to help regulate her overwhelmed system

*   When the resulting care is responsive, the attachment system turns off and the exploration system turns on.  A secure attachment wires the child’s brain for lifelong patterns.

*     The attachment style children form during the infant and toddler years becomes a blueprint for all future relationships.


The COS Parenting Program

If you would like to ensure you are creating a secure base for your child and are interested in the "Circle of Security Parenting" Program, we offer two ways to get involved in the program.

  • 8 Individual Sessions, or
  • The 8 session series of workshops


8 x 1hour sessions = $400.  A deposit of $120 is required, then $35 to be paid at each session.
4 x 2hour sessions = $400.  A deposit of $120 is required, then $70 to be paid at each session.

(Eight one-hour sessions would normally cost $640 but by booking your sessions in advance you save $240)

All sessions are located in Monique's office in Mullumbimby, Northern NSW.


This eight-session parent group is for expecting parents, grandparents, carers, early childhood professionals and parents with babies, toddlers and/or pre-schoolers and is designed to enhance the bond and sense of security for both parent and infant in their relationship by:

~  Giving parents a roadmap as a way to better understand their children's needs
~  Inviting parents to reflect on their own experiences of being parented and how it impacts on their parenting
~  Providing an environment where parents can focus on their strengths and struggles and benefit from the experience of sharing with other parents

Our next series of workshops:

TIME:  10am - 2pm
DATES:   Mondays, 4th - 25th November, 2013
VENUE:  TBA, Byron Bay Shire
INVESTMENT:  $250 per person or $450 per couple
PAYMENT DUE:  25th October

For further information about or to register for the 'Circle of Security Parenting' Program please contact Monique on 0439 456 335 or monique@insideout-counselling.com.au


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