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  • Hannah Whitley, LCSW

Parenting for Secure Attachment: Being the Secure Base and Safe Haven for your Child

Parenting is no easy task, and every parent knows that what they want most of all is to be the best parent they can be for their child. However, children don’t come with an instruction manual, and often the only framework for parenting we have is our own experience being parented. For some of us, we hope to follow in our parents footsteps, and for others the hope is to provide our child with the things we felt we missed in our childhood. As parents strive to be the best for their kids, they read books and look to find the next best parenting strategy. However, years of research has shown that putting parenting strategies aside, and focussing on building a secure attachment for our child can lead to the most satisfaction and best outcomes for both children and parents.

What is secure attachment? Secure attachment is formed starting in infancy, when a baby knows that he or she can rely on his or her caregiver to meet, or at least try to meet, his or her needs most of the time. Secure attachment enables children to feel safe and secure enough to explore their world in a way that is essential to development, and be able to accept and manage emotions. We often are led to feel that this ability to meet our child’s needs in such a way should come naturally when we become a parent, but for many it does not, and we can be left feeling unsure and lost.

Why is secure attachment important? Research shows that one of the strongest factors to predict positive outcomes in childhood and into adulthood is secure attachment to a primary caregiver. Research shows that secure attachment can lead to improved quality of life, better health outcomes, and better relationships. Children who are securely attached have higher self confidence and resilience, are better able to regulate their emotions, have better relationships with their parents and stronger friendships, are more likely to have fulfilling work and personal lives, and are more mentally and physically healthy. Secure attachment essentially creates immunity from various risk factors throughout childhood and adulthood.

So, how can I help to promote a secure attachment between me and my child? And how can I better understand my child's cue so I can better meet their needs? Circle of Security parenting, is a parenting reflection program that helps parents do just that. We can think of the circle as a road map to better understanding our child and promoting a healthier parent-child relationship. The circle outlines the needs that all children have for exploring and for coming back to get their “emotional cup” filled back up.

Circle of security parenting is different from behavioral approaches because it views behaviors as an expression of an underlying need. Circle of Security parenting helps parents to see what is hidden in plain sight, and get to the “why” behind their child’s behavior while strengthening the parent child relationship. Circle of security parenting helps parents to find the balance between being “bigger and stronger” and being kind and loving in order to set boundaries while still “being with” their child's emotions, through co-regulation. Finding this balance, and reliably trying to meet our child's needs creates a sense of security for children, letting them know that they are free and safe to explore, and when they need to come back to us we will be there waiting to provide protection, comfort, or delight. 

Wanting to be the best parent we can be for our child can be a lot of pressure. The important thing to remember as we work toward building a secure attachment with our child, is that as parents we don’t have to be perfect. We are human, and make mistakes, we won’t get it right every time, and that is ok. We just need to be “good enough”, meaning that our child knows that we will do our best to meet their needs, and even if we don’t get it right we keep trying. Every parent makes mistakes, and repairing those mistakes with our child shows our child that we are still that secure base for them.

If you’re looking to better understand your child and feel more confident in your parenting and more satisfied in your relationship with your child, I am happy to be facilitating Circle of Security programming to support parents in our community. The Circle of Security parenting program is available for individual and group sessions to support you in your journey to becoming the “good enough” parent that your child needs. For more information please contact Mind and Body therapeutic connections at 919-791-5611.


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