How the ‘Circle of Security’ Model Can Help Us Be Better at Parenting

by Brisbane City Psychologist Liz Parr

As parents, we hope we struggle hard to do a good job and get it right, but at times it can be tough. Parenting is a deeply personal experience. Whilst incredibly rewarding, it can equally be frustrating, and extraordinarily demanding at times. How can we be sure we are giving our child what he or she needs the most?

What is it that your child needs from you and how are you reacting?

Sometimes children behave in ways that cause us stress, worry or embarrassment. Often their behaviour is like the smoke, and what we can work together to understand is where is the fire? What is it that your child needs from you? Sometimes parents notice their own responses are telling them something about their experience of parenting:

  • Are there negative loops that you and your child keep getting caught in?

  • It may be that when your child is needing comfort or wants to stay close you feel your frustration rising.

  • Or that you feel anxious when they want to be autonomous and explore the world.

  • It may be that you find it hard to take charge and set boundaries.

  • It may be that you don’t feel connected with your child.

“To have a space in which to explore your parenting experiences openly and without feeling judged can be enormously therapeutic in itself. Understanding your child’s needs and your responses to them will lead to less tension and dysregulation and more satisfaction and closeness.”

Building a secure attachment

Every person’s experience of parenting is unique, but a child’s need for an attachment with their caregiver is universal. Attachment theory has helped us to understand that across cultures children are innately driven to keep their caregivers close by, for both protection and connection. When we think about attachment we are talking about the AND that exists between caregiver and child. Research has shown that children who have a secure attachment with their caregiver/s experience a whole host of benefits [1], including:

  • higher self-esteem;
  • being able to turn to their parents when they need help;
  • more lasting friendships;
  • being better able to solve interpersonal problems; and
  • knowing how to be kind to those around them.

Secure attachment helps children grow into healthy adults

Secure attachment as a child goes on to benefit us as adults as well. Feeling securely attached in childhood gives us a framework for our adult life that includes:

  • being able to trust the people you love;
  • learning that emotions are safe;
  • being better able to work with others to work out our problems;
  • being able to be autonomous but also connected with others, which is the key to well-functioning relationships.

What your child needs is ‘good enough’ parenting

The creators of the Circle of Security intervention, an attachment based parenting intervention have gathered evidence that tells us as parents we are not aiming for perfection. What our child needs is ‘good enough’ parenting (Powell et al., 2016). And importantly, it’s never too late.

More on the Circle of Security

Liz Parr
Liz ParrRegistered Psychologist
Liz has a particular interest in parenting, is trained in the Circle of Security, and has worked in a community parenting support program and with mothers experiencing postnatal depression in a hospital setting. She is passionate about supporting parents to understand their children’s different needs, feel more connected with their children, improve transition times, and explore ways to manage difficult behaviours.

[1] Powell, B., Cooper, G., Hoffman, K., & Marvin, B. (2016). The circle of security intervention: Enhancing attachment in early parent-child relationships. Guilford Publications.