Securely attached

Sleeping baby creative commonsBabies and parents need each other.   That’s obvious, at least it is obvious that babies need their parents.  But parents, once they have become parents, need their babies, too.  This is particularly true of mothers, whose biological bond is overt, hormonal and behavioural.  Specifically, oxytocin pours through mother’s body causing uterine contractions to sheer the placenta from the uterine wall and mother gazes at this newborn creature.   The baby suckles and more oxytocin flows, causing the let-down reflex for milk to move into the mother’s breasts.  The hormone causes emotional softening, and supports nurturing, contactful behaviour.  It promotes bonding of the mother to the baby, actually, just as the same hormone, released with orgasm, promotes pair bonding in adult humans.

But how do we get to be securely attached?  How does one develop a feeling that all is okay in their world, that they themselves are probably okay, that even if things go wrong they can probably be fixed, and that even difficult, harsh, painful situations can be negotiated and managed?   Scientists who study these things might be getting close to finding out.

First, and maybe this is obvious, those kinds of fundamental ways of interacting with the world represent an intrinsic sense of the world as okay, as safe, as negotiable. That intrinsic knowing comes from the ways that important adults in your life related to you when you were a little one.

So that means that people in your life, adults in your life, behaved in a way that was fairly predictable, helped keep you safe and alive, and responded to you when you expressed your needs.  More than that, those adults also saw you in all your uniqueness…saw your emotions and helped you by labeling them, saw your new skills and pointed them out with delight, joined with you in your joy and sense of accomplishment, and soothed and calmed you in your fear, anger and disappointments.  Whenever possible, these adults…parents, caregivers, whomever, allowed you to take the lead in your experiences.  But whenever necessary, they took charge to keep you safe, help you self-regulate, and monitor your experiences.

With enough of these rich interpersonal interactions with trusted adults, we learn that our world is a good and wholesome place, a place where we belong and a place that welcomes us.   We connect to our adults in a specific and generally positive way, although that certainly doesn’t mean our relationships are without struggle and negativity.

The Circle Of Security is a model of parenting that helps adults to learn how to facilitate this kind of attachment security.  In the COS model, parents support attachment by attending to the child and to themselves in relation to the child.  Specifically, adults who can remember that they are Bigger, Stronger, and Wiser than the child, and most importantly, who can Be Kind, will help children grow secure relationships.  The “circle” part refers to the idea that children are always either going away from the parent to practice autonomy (“I do it myself”) or coming back to the parent to get support, encouragement, connection.  circle_of_security_handout_-_short

The benefits of secure attachment are far-reaching.  Infants and toddlers with secure attachment relationships are better able to cope with stress, and later in preschool they are more inclined to positive peer and teacher relationships.  In elementary school, they tend to have higher academic achievement and fewer behavioural and social problems.    This is not because they are inoculated against stressors by a secure infancy, but mostly because the good care that they got in infancy is probably likely to become good care in later years.

Babies with less-than-optimal circumstances are not destined to a terrible life:  a lot of change can happen if parenting improves early in life.   The Circle of Security research team has shown that teaching parents how to be effective in supporting the growth of attachment really makes a difference for children and their families.

Is there a Circle of Security program in your town?   Most of us can use some support in being parents to very young children;  maybe your own security could use the boost that this program can offer.

Look at a video:

Find a facilitator in your area:

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