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Helping Young Children Navigate COVID-19

What Children Need Most


e hope the Circle of Security might be helpful for caregivers and children whose world has been turned upside down by the Covid-19 crisis and all the life changes associated with the pandemic.

A screenshot of the What is Circle of Security web page

Additional Resources

If you are not familiar with Circle of Security, start by following the link below and taking a look at our web page "What is the Circle of Security" and the accompanying video.

  What is the Circle of Security

Helping Children Deal with Feelings of Fear and Helplessness

A young boy holding a basketball and wearing a face mask while looking out the window longingly
  • One of the biggest problems for children in the face of any traumatic event or life stressor is dealing with their sense of fear and helplessness.
  • Children experiencing fear is not dangerous. However, when fear is not recognized and regulated by a safe and secure caregiver, children can become overwhelmed.
  • A child's sense of fear, when it is unattended to by a caregiver, can move in the direction of terror.
  • A child's sense of helplessness, when unshared and unregulated by a caregiver, moves in the direction of despair.
  • Terror (unregulated fear) and despair (unregulated helplessness) become overwhelming for children primarily because it feels like they cannot be shared with and organized by someone who is Bigger, Stronger, Wiser, and Kind. ("I'm all alone in this worry and despair with no one with whom I can share it.")
  • Hence, the goal is to find a way to give caregivers a sense of clear direction and sound encouragement in offering themselves as a resource for the management of fear and powerlessness.
  • The Circle of Security: During a Pandemic graphic was designed to offer parents and professionals direction and clarity about how essential caregivers are to children during this pandemic. Attachment research fully supports how valuable caregivers are in times of crisis or prolonged stress—even when those caregivers are unsure of their usefulness and value.
  • More than anyone else during this pandemic, a child's primary caregivers are the center of that child's world and are the resource who can make all the difference.

The Circle of Security diagram showing the circle and the hands

Summary of Circle Related Themes During the Pandemic for Parents and Professionals

During the pandemic, children are looking for:

Illustration of two open hands with the words Bigger, Stronger, Wiser and Kind above them
  1. The caregiver's ability to take charge and be firm, yet kind and caring (Bigger, Stronger, Wiser, and Kind),
  2. The caregiver's choice to consistently soothe her/his child(ren), focusing not just on each child's clear cues of distress, but also on distress that doesn't seem to make sense.
  3. The caregiver's decision to consistently be available for protection, comfort, and organization of any feelings that a child expresses (see the bottom half of the Circle of Security diagram).
  4. The caregiver's recognition that only as the child is feeling safe on the bottom half of the Circle will s/he begin to venture out on the top half of the Circle in the direction of exploration and play.
  5. The caregiver's recognition that the child will inevitably return again and again to the bottom half of the Circle, with seemingly "unreasonable" and "endless" needs for reassurance. This is to be expected and might even increase when the child senses the caregiver is stressed as well and/or less available.
  6. The caregiver's realization that underneath most of a child's problems and meltdowns is a simple but sometimes-difficult-to-understand request for reassurance.
  7. Rather than specific problem solving skills, what's needed is the caregiver's willingness to simply be available.

COS co-originator Glen Cooper and COSI Leadership Team member Deidre Quinlan join Jenny Peters from Connected Lives in London to celebrate their one year anniversary and share a bit about COS and parenting during a pandemic.

Deidre Quinlan, Deborah Harris and Mark Hald discuss facilitating COSP during the pandemic.

Illustration of a cup that is full

COS, Attachment and COVID-19

We get activated by all kinds of threats, including those associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. Today we are all experiencing threats in a number of ways - the loss of a predictable future, the loss of our freedoms, the loss of life as we know it. At Circle of Security International we're concerned with how the lack of human connection, economic uncertainty, food insecurity, health disparities, racial inequalities, and the fear of illness, and even death, are affecting all of us. We're beginning to think about the ripple effect from the activation of all kinds of threats compounded by so much social isolation.

Read the full article here.

Additional Resources

There are many resources available online for families. Below is a link to a robust list of Covid-19 Resources from Center For The Developing Child at Harvard.