Circle of Security Parents Blog Wed, 31 Dec 1969 16:00:00 +0000 en-US daily 1 It's Never Too Late I invite you to share with me your comments, reflections, Circle stories and individual experiences of the Circle of Security in your daily life and in facilitating COSP. Your submissions may be used in future blog posts, with all identifying information excluded, unless you specifically request to be identified. Contact me at

Finding our Way out of Mean, Weak, and Gone Fri, 30 Sep 2016 12:25:48 +0000 Let's face it. Sometimes being a parent is just plain hard.

Let's face it. Sometimes being a parent is just plain hard. During a recent COS-P group when we were discussing mean, weak, and gone, I listened to a mom as she shared a struggle in her home that got everyone involved. Dad was trying to teach his eight-year old son how to throw a baseball, and the son was struggling with learning the skill. Both were getting very frustrated and, no surprise, the son threw down his glove. Dad yelled at him to pick it up. The son refused. Dad yelled again to pick up the glove. The son again refused. Dad yelled louder. The son stormed off. At this point Mom decided to step in. She was quite upset with her husband for yelling and getting mean with their son, and she started yelling at him to knock it off. ?Why do you have to be such a jerk? Go apologize.? Dad refused. There are different ways to make sense of this scenario.?If we use the Circle of Security we see the child's acting out as a call for help. Where is the child on the Circle? Bottom. What is the need? Organize my feelings. We then use the Circle to focus on Dad stepping off the Circle. What was happening for Dad? Shark Music. Instead of seeing his son?s behavior as communication of a need, he was seeing his son as the problem. He then listened to his Shark Music, took his hands off the Circle and turned to Mean. This caused a rupture with his son. The Mom then began to see?how she was mad at her husband for being Mean to their son, but then what did she do? ?She turned around and responded exactly the same way?? she, too, got Mean. But Mom was trying to help. How does this happen? How does she also turn to mean? Shark Music. Mom stepped off the Circle and was no longer able to see the need. This is where an opportunity for mom to reflect was helpful. Once again we used the Circle. Where was her husband on the Circle? Bottom. What was the need? Organize my feelings. Mom then recognized the need in her husband for kindness, compassion, and understanding of his frustration, so that he could then organize his feelings and be the Hands for their son and meet the need. Being in the presence of Mean, Weak, and Gone can leave us feeling empty, upset, and feeling all alone. Being met with kindness, compassion, and understanding helps to?fill us with love, confidence, and possibilities. In the same way, when we see our children?s behavior as communication of a need, we can find empathy. Through empathy we find caring ways to help. _________________________________________________________

I invite you to share with me your comments, reflections, Circle stories and individual experiences with facilitating COS-P and in your daily life. Your submissions may be used in future blog posts, with all identifying information excluded, unless you specifically request to be identified. Contact me at

A Mom Discovers How to Help Her Struggling Teen Fri, 30 Sep 2016 12:03:50 +0000 Can changes in how a parent responds change the way a teen behaves? See what this mom discovers after participating in COS-P.

Last year the mom of a struggling teenager participated in a COS-P group. Her son had recently participated in a month long intensive day treatment program because of depressive symptoms, struggles at school, and feelings of isolation. The mom described how her son would talk about how dumb he was at school, how he didn?t have any friends, and how he had nothing to look forward to in his future. His mom responded by trying to prove wrong his complaints. She pointed out all the ways he was a good student. She listed off all his friends. She talked about all the possibilities of things for him to do after high school. During a COS-P group, this mom began to recognize that her son was on the bottom of the Circle* when he shared with her his struggles, and that she responded to him by trying to reassure him and explore with him on the top of the Circle* by pointing out all the possibilities for him and the things happening in his life. She shared how hard it was for her to Be With*?him in his struggle, and her fear (Shark Music*) that he would go to a dark place. She went on to talk about wanting to protect him. ?I don?t know what I think I am protecting him from, his own feelings?? She used her new awareness to lean into her Shark Music* and Be With* her son, expressing empathy and understanding during those first moments when he shared his distress to her. It?s been a year since this group. Last week I ran into this mom, and she shared with me an update of her relationship with her son. She expressed how different things are, and how well he is doing. In the past, when he was distressed, her son would take off on his own, or isolate in his room, or refuse to go to school. Now when he is distressed, he seeks her out. We smiled together and I said, ?He turns to you! Instead of turning away, he comes in on the bottom of the Circle and you welcome him in*.? We both smiled and her eyes teared up, and so did mine. The Circle of Security. *Learn more about?Being With,?Shark Music and how to use the Circle of Security graphic by watching our Animated Videos on our website. __________________________________________________________________________________

I invite you to share with me your comments, reflections, Circle stories and individual experiences with parenting and the Circle of Security. Your submissions may be used in future blog posts, with all identifying information excluded, unless you specifically request to be identified. Contact me at

If you have met one person with autism... Fri, 07 Oct 2016 15:50:23 +0000 Katie Jessop, MA, a LMHC and Registered Circle of Security Parenting Facilitator in Spokane, WA, shares her professional and personal insight into autism and its complexities in our latest blog post:

As a provider for families with children on the autism spectrum, this statement is the most accurate one I know of to explain the complexity of autism. Your child’s needs will vary greatly based on age, functionality, therapeutic intervention, personality, and many other components.

As a parent of a teenager who has tested on and off the spectrum for all of his life, I also understand the complexity. There was a huge learning curve with my oldest and I had already been in the professional world of attachment and autism for several years.

The providers and therapies in your child’s life are important to their independence. With a lot of hard work and follow through, there will be breakthroughs with speech/language, movement, eye contact, friendships, personal hygiene, and more. It is a critical part of the life of a child with autism.

However, relationships breakthroughs are just as critical for your child. Whether or not your child can show you that you are the most important person in their life, it is a fact that you are the most important person in their life. Your ability to be consistently available to your child in a calm, interested and connected way is crucial to his or her whole development. Your ability to offer support and understanding when your child is swamped by his or her emotions is vital. The only person in the whole world that your child can connect and learn from in this way is YOU.

If you have met one person with autism, then you have met one person with autism.

Whether or not your child can directly cue you about their need to connect doesn’t matter as much as you remembering that your child needs to connect. If you can remember that your child is waiting to feel loved, nurtured, connected and safe, then I trust that you will look for moments to do just that. I remember the moment I realized that my son wanted to hug me but had no idea how to do it. I had to teach him step by step how to hug. The hugs were awkward for both of us for a long time, but now they are some of the best hugs I get.

I’ve learned from the parents I work with how tuned in and committed parents can be. You know your child. You know what is too much and what is not enough. You know if your child can tolerate hugs or foot massages or being tickled. You know if your child needs a break or needs to be supported while working through something difficult. Continue to be there for them in the wise ways that only you know and only you can provide.

Lastly, please remember this: you will need help and support along the way. You can’t give your child emotional support a thousand times a day if you are not receiving emotional support. This does not mean you are weak or you don’t know what you are doing. It means you are creative, strong and brave. It means you are committed to your child in a way that you have probably never been committed to anything else in your life. That commitment will change everything.



Katie M. Jessop, MA, has been a Licensed Mental Health Counselor in the Spokane area for the past 11 years and attended her first COS training 13 years ago. She works with individuals of all ages and biological, foster and adoptive families. She and her husband have three sons: one adopted teenager, one biological toddler and are currently expecting another.

Hidden in Plain Sight Fri, 30 Sep 2016 11:54:54 +0000 The Circle of Security® is about switching the focus of our attention away from the behavior and onto the relationship needs that are always there, Hidden in Plain Sight.

You might be familiar with the I Spy books where children read simple picture clues and rhyming riddles to try and find the hidden pictures on each page. It can be just as fun as a good game of hide and seek. And let’s face it, there’s nothing cuter than those moments when your child points to the newly discovered hidden key and then searches your eyes for a moment together of shared delight.

Where the I Spy books help to strengthen a child’s observation skills, the Circle of Security® roadmap helps to increase caregiver’s observation skills. Using the Circle roadmap, we are better able to shift our attention away from focusing on the child’s behavior, and onto what is Hidden in Plain Sight.

When we focus on behavior we tend to think about either reinforcing the desirable behaviors or extinguishing those we don’t like. While having consequences for behavior is useful, when the limits don’t work, or the changes don’t last, or worse yet, the outcome is not what we wanted, there is a tremendous pull in us to make the intervention bigger stronger, longer, louder, etc. Can you think of a time when this might have happened to you? Did your parent ever threaten to ground you till you were 18?

The Circle of Security® is about switching the focus of our attention away from the behavior and onto the relationship needs that are always there, Hidden in Plain Sight. We use the Circle to focus on meeting children’s needs so we can find caring ways to help.

Because the Circle of Security® is always Hidden In Plain Sight, learning to read the Circle roadmap offers caregivers a quick, no-nonsense, straightforward way of tracking relationship needs.

Using the Circle roadmap, we are able to solve the riddle of what our children really need from us and see that it is always Hidden in Plain Sight.

Learn more about how to use the Circle of Security® roadmap by watching our video animation featured on our website.


I invite you to share with me your comments, reflections, Circle stories and individual experiences with facilitating the COS-P program and in your daily life. Your submissions may be used in future blog posts, with all identifying information excluded, unless you specifically request to be identified. Contact me at

The Thirteenth Flaw of Parenting Thu, 27 Oct 2016 17:49:11 +0000 This much we know: We all struggle as parents. All of us. No one is perfect. Indeed, any attempt to be perfect is by its very nature a sign of imperfection. (An excerpt from an upcoming book by Hoffman, Cooper, and Powell: Raising a Secure Child – Guilford Press. Expected publication February. 2017)

Pretend for a moment that every parent on the planet has this one simple fact in common: we all have exactly twelve flaws as parents. Not that these flaws are the same for everyone. Many of us have similar configurations fitting into similar patterns while also being stunningly unique in how messed up we actually are.

Now pretend that someone comes along and tells you that having these flaws isn’t actually a problem . . . unless you also have “the thirteenth parenting flaw,” the one that makes the other twelve almost impossible to deal with.

What’s this thirteenth flaw? The belief that you shouldn’t have the other twelve.

Here’s the deal about the thirteenth flaw: it always includes blame. This blame is always built on the illusion that there is “an answer” for our imperfection as parents and we should already know it.

The hidden (insidious) message: “Imperfections do not belong in parenting.”

(Good luck with that.)

This much we know: We all struggle as parents. All of us. No one is perfect. Indeed, any attempt to be perfect is by its very nature a sign of imperfection.

When we fight our flaws as parents they turn to stone and sit on us with a weight we can barely withstand. Then we either fall into shame and guilt – continually berating ourselves or we pretend that we don’t make mistakes and, inevitably, find someone else to blame (our children, our partner, our upbringing).

When we honor our inevitable flaws, when we can bring kindness, acceptance, and understanding to the mistakes we make as parents, something shifts. New possibility and wonderful surprises start showing up for us and our children.

Blame has never helped a parent become a better parent. Being kind to ourselves flows from understanding that parenting is a remarkably difficult task, that we all make mistakes, and that our deep intention to do what’s best for our children is what matters.

As we keep saying children are remarkably good at reading between the lines. They can tell when we’re anxious and self-critical. They can also recognize when we are able to honor ourselves for doing the best we can under often difficult circumstances.

Being kind to ourselves increases our capacity to be kind to those we most love.

It just may be that in our willingness to honor those twelve inevitable parenting flaws our children get what they need most of all.



Shark Music Behind Closed Doors Tue, 21 Feb 2017 12:33:38 +0000 During a COS-P group, a young mother shared a story about her struggle to make sense of what was real danger and what was her own Shark Music.

Circle of Security uses Shark Music to help parents explore how uncomfortable feelings left over from experiences from their own past can influence their current relationship with their child and the way they think and feel about parenting.  


During a parenting COS-P group, a young mother shared a story about her struggle to make sense of what was real danger and what was her own Shark Music.


As she tells it, her two children (nine year old son and five year old daughter) were playing together in her daughter’s room.  They had spent the entire morning setting up a castle and the battle field, putting together dozens of miniature figures – soldiers, mounted calvary, the princess and prince and of course all the members of the royal court. They were having a grand time and getting along quite well in their shared adventure. The mother checked on them frequently, nothing unusual about that. 


But after awhile she began to grow agitated because she kept finding that the bedroom door was closed. Each time she would open the door and tell them to leave it open. Her son would protest and say that they needed the floor space to fit all the pieces, and the door was in the way. Out of nowhere the mom was aware of a rising intensity in her body, and felt overcome with anger and fear and rage and had to resist the sudden urge to lash out at her son. She realized she was having terrible Shark Music and retreated to her room where she shut the door and had a long cry.


In the parent group the mom talked about how at first she felt ashamed at wanting to hurt her son. She then shared how overcome she was in that moment with the fear that something horrible would happen to her daughter if allowed to remain alone behind closed doors with her older brother. “I have never been consciously aware of how I have lived my entire life with a fear of what happens to little girls behind closed doors. In my daughter’s young life, I have been vigilant in my efforts to protect her from the harm that I endured. And in trying to protect her, I have intruded on her efforts to explore, to learn and grow and enjoy the world. I’ve been that helicopter mom, always there, hovering, watching, waiting. And what I see now is a child who is overly self reliant, protesting any involvement or help from me.”


This was a painful realization for this mom. But here’s the good news. Because she was able to recognize her Shark Music and reflect on what was happening for her, she didn’t lash out at her son. And she now recognizes how her past fears are currently playing out in her relationship with her daughter. And with this deeper understanding, this mother now has a choice to do things differently the next time she hears her Shark Music.


I invite you to share with me your comments, reflections, Circle stories and individual experiences with facilitating the COS-P and in your daily life. Your submissions may be used in future blog posts, with all identifying information excluded, unless you specifically request to be identified. Contact me at

The Balance of Being-With Mon, 27 Feb 2017 15:31:45 +0000 Being-With is, in many ways, at the heartbeat of our Circle of Security approach.

Being-With is, in many ways, at the heartbeat of our Circle of Security approach. It’s such a simple concept: the need every child has for caregivers (parents, teachers, etc.) to recognize and honor feelings by staying with core feelings rather than denying their importance.


At the center of this Being-With approach is decades of research that make it clear that we learn to manage feelings (ex. - anger, sadness, fear, joy, shame, and curiosity) by experiencing the sponsorship of an adult who is with us in the feeling rather than staying outside the feeling and focusing only on our behavior. Surprising to many is the research that shows how 2 year olds who’ve been raised in a context of Being-With are actually less demanding, throw fewer tantrums, and are more responsive to their parents requests than children who’ve been raised without this approach.


In science speak:  Co-regulation leads to self-regulation. The shared management of feelings allows emotions to become safe and thus supports the ability to manage them on our own in the future.


 “When I know that you care about my feelings and are willing to join me in how they feel to me, I no longer feel alone or overwhelmed by what seems so difficult in this moment. When you help me organize what currently feels chaotic, I can calm down and make sense of what previously felt so difficult. This helps me build a new capacity to deal with these feelings on my own.”


And yet, the plot thickens.


There’s an opposite problem that can show up precisely as some of us are learning about the importance of Being-With.


Feelings are very important. The danger is that some of us might begin to believe that feelings need to become all-important and attempt to stop the world every time our child has a feeling.  Such a child would then begin to think his or her feelings deserve focus 24/7. That would be a sad and unintended consequence of what we’re trying to say.


Being-With is always about balance, one in which a child learns that feelings are profound and essential and deserve full availability . . . some of the time. Knowing that we have someone who genuinely cares about all of our feelings and that each feeling can be shared is at the core of our approach to secure attachment. But if a child has a caregiver who suddenly stops everything and commits fully to being 100% available every time her or his child starts to feel, emotions would begin to rule the relationship in a very unhealthy way.


“I know you feel really sad right now, but we need to get in the car so I can get you to school and get me to work. I know you feel really terrible and we’ll return to how this feels soon, but not right now.”


Said simply: We live in a shared world. All children need to know that their feelings are central to someone some of the time and they also need to know that other people have feelings and priorities that are just as central to them. Feelings can be shared which includes sharing our world with others who also have feelings.


The goal is building a capacity to focus directly on feelings with children but not to over-focus on every feeling at the expense of the bigger picture that other’s have feelings too. “You matter to me. I also matter to me. And so do those we live with.”


It’s called balance.


[Excerpted from Raising a Secure Child, by Hoffman, Cooper & Powell, 2017]

Can Less-Than-Perfect Really Be Enough? Mon, 03 Apr 2017 15:57:53 +0000 One definition of “perfect” is  to make something completely free from faults or defects, or as close to such a condition as possible. In relationships, it seems like this definition could provide the key to success. If you can make sure there aren’t any problems or arguments, then the relationship will be solid. If you don’t make any mistakes as a parent, your child will respect you and turn out okay. Whew. What a relief. 


Except, of course, none of us are perfect. 

Usually the need to be perfect comes from a bit of anxiety. Worried that something might go wrong, a person tries to figure out the situation and apply the best approach so the chance of success is higher. If you can figure it out and it works, there is relief and satisfaction. Job well done! But then the next situation starts and you have to get back at it. And life gets more complex and there are multiple situations at the same time. You don’t always get it right and that is embarrassing so you have to try harder and harder. It gets exhausting. 


People may start to notice is how hard you are working but something about it isn’t quite working. The desire to make everything right is there, but the outcome of everything being all right isn’t there. 


It can be so confusing.


Being “good enough” doesn’t actually sound good enough on the surface. When you are used to overachieving, it no longer feels like over-achieving. It just feels like the normal amount of effort required. 


In parenting, we worry that if we are only good enough parents, our children won’t have the same opportunities or success that other children seem to have. Our children deserve the best so we must be the best. Except….


Good enough parenting is actually what our children need from us. This is backed up by research (“Raising A Secure Child” is a book dedicated to explaining this). Good enough parenting is when we can hold on to two things: first, that we are willing to hold onto our children’s best interests and second, that we will mess it up… probably pretty often. 


There is nothing clean about raising children. It will get messy in more than one way. Being good enough takes the pressure and anxiety out of the equation. When we know that we will mess it up, we aren’t trying to anticipate the situation for the “exact right way”. We are just in the situation, present to it and to our children. If it starts to get off track, we will notice it sooner and pause to see where it got off track. We may have to take charge and make a decision. We may have to apologize for not getting it and ask for clarification. We may have to figure it out together and come up with a compromise.


No matter how the situation gets resolved, being good enough will feel better for both you and the other person. Being a good enough parent will teach your child that you love them, want the best for them and are willing to get messy while you figure it out. It will teach your child that there are many ways to work something out and that you are in it together with them. You will come from a place of comfortable figuring-it-out-together instead of a place of uncomfortable have-to-figure-it-all-out-perfectly-now.

Parent's Instincts vs. Expert Advice Tue, 11 Apr 2017 10:47:54 +0000 Parents are often inundated with advice from professionals on the best ways to raise healthy children. Should parents follow the expert's advice or listen to their own instincts?


Last week, Circle of Security posted a blog on FaceBook that garnered some interesting conversation. “What is a Secure Attachment? And Why Doesn’t 'Attachment Parenting' Get You There?” was written by Diana Divecha, Ph.D. and can be found here


In the blog, the author explains the early history of attachment research, the three functions of a secure attachment, the types of insecure attachments, and brain development and its’ impact on attachment. She also discusses Circle of Security, which follows attachment research, and attachment parenting philosophy, which often does not. 


As with many blogs about parenting, there were a few comments about if mothers should just follow their instincts or follow the advice of experts. What a good question!


Circle of Security honors the wisdom of parents. We all have an ancient, hardwired desire (instinct) to do the best for our children. Our bodies, minds and spirits are set up in multiple ways to connect and care for these precious human beings. 


At the same time, we also know that all parents get off track. Childhood experiences, attachment styles, trauma and stress can all muddy the water and make parenting more difficult.   Decisions we make can feel right, but could also be hurting the relationship. 


Let’s look at an example. 


Maria is a mother to two children, ages 4 and 9. She has taken a Circle of Security Parenting group and has noticed that she is pretty good at staying in charge in a firm but kind way most of the time. She’s also good at supporting her children as they have adventures in the world, keeping an eye on boundaries for safety while sometimes enjoying the adventures too. Before the class, she would have said she was good at being with her children while they had big emotions. However, halfway through the class, she realizes that when her children become angry at her, she will often dismiss their anger. 


At the end of the class, Maria decides to talk to the facilitator about it and realizes that she wasn’t able to express much anger as a child. Additionally, she was in a relationship as a young woman that was controlling and difficult to leave. Both of these events make her feel like any anger is dangerous. When her children get angry, Maria has a hard time staying connected and patient. Sometimes she will change the subject, sometimes she will send the children to their rooms, sometimes she will get angry back at them. 


Maria’s instincts around most of her parenting were attuned to her children’s needs. Anger, however, muddied the water. Once she realized this, Maria had more choice over how to parent in those moments. At first, she did the same things as before and only noticed it after she messed it up. After a little while, she could stay calmer and hang in there for longer. It wasn’t always pretty, but it was better than before. Maria talked it over with some of her friends that parent in similar ways and got some good ideas. Over time, she noticed that she was getting better at staying Bigger, Stronger, Wiser and Kind when her children became angry. She still messed it up occasionally, especially if she was stressed out, but it was easier to talk with the children later and let them know she was sorry. 


Circle of Security believes that a parent’s natural way of being has an essential, innate wisdom. COS also knows that experts and research can help offer a “roadmap” of sorts to help parents notice when they inevitably get off track. Once a parent is reflective and aware of their strengths and struggles, their innate wisdom gets centered. The parent’s state of mind is open and connected, their instincts are to securely attach and the decisions they make as a parent will be Bigger, Stronger, Wiser and Kind.


When A Child Won't Listen Thu, 20 Apr 2017 11:41:06 +0000 Sometimes parents have a difficult time setting limits and have to rely on too many tricks to get their kids to listen.  Making decisions with COS in mind can help parents stay connected and in charge. 

Mark was at the park with his 5-year-old daughter, Anna. It was a bright, warm sunny day and they were having fun together. Anna was telling her father how to play the game and he was enjoying letting her lead the play. The chased each other, went down the slides, played on the swings and imagined they were butterflies. 


When it came time to leave, Mark gave a warning that they would need to leave in a few minutes, but when it came time, the father was ready to go but Anna was not. She wanted to keep playing because it was so much fun!

The father kept it light-hearted and agreed to a few more minutes but then it would really be time to leave. A few minutes later, Anna was still not ready. 


Mark suggested that they play more at home. Anna said no. Mark asked if she wanted a snack that was in the car. Anna didn’t want that snack, she wanted to stop for ice cream. The father said it was fine to get ice cream, but it was time to go. The child kept playing. Mark then started to get annoyed and a little angry. He loved playing with his daughter but hated it when she wouldn’t listen. He tried redirecting her and getting her to walk to the car with him. He tried to offer something else she might like. He tried to hold her hand and pull her gently to the car but she refused. 


He might get angry and yell or threaten to take away a toy or privilege. He might give up and sit on a bench until she is ready to go. Either way, she is still in charge. 



Children need parents to let them lead sometimes, especially during play. It allows the child’s world to open up for a period of time and discover new ways of being. It allows them a chance to pretend being in charge and to see how that feels. Children need room to explore and play and experience new things and they need their parents to give them the space to do that. 


However, children also need to have a sense that parents are in charge. It makes them feel safe and secure knowing that even though they get to lead sometimes, the parent will make the difficult decisions and stick to it. 


When we find ourselves trying to talk our child into something, it may be time to re-evaluate if we need to take charge a little sooner and a little firmer, which helps us be kinder parents in the end. Getting impatient while we ineffectively try to set a boundary will often result in the child feeling confused and the parent feeling frustrated.


If it is time to leave a playground, or get to work or to school, parents must be willing to firmly and kindly help children transition from one activity to the next. It should be a part of the everyday routine of being together. No rewards or punishments required. Just a calm, no-nonsense here’s-how-it’s-going-to-be. It’s time to get socks and shoes on. It’s time to walk to the car. Please get your backpack. I see you need help today in putting on your coat. It’s hard to leave when you are having some much fun but it’s time to go for today. 


Being Bigger, Stronger, Wiser and Kind means that you can enjoy and support lots of moments of your child’s independence but it also means that you will be willing to actively be in charge when it’s necessary. A child who is struggling with transitions or limits needs a firm, kind parent who will follow through; this offers the child an experience of security, structure and safety. 

Why Are You Doing This? Sun, 23 Apr 2017 14:34:42 +0000 It can be hard to figure out what our children need from us, especially when we are feeling some type of pressure. Taking a step back to breathe and observe can change the course. 

Brenda and her 3-year-old, Jasmyn, show up to a toddler gymnastics class. Jasmyn is in a sparkly leotard and has her hair pulled back into a ponytail. She looks excited and a little nervous because she has been looking forward to this class for a few weeks. They walk into the gym where there are many other children. Some are walking on balance beams, some jumping on trampolines, some flipping around bars with the help of a coach. It looks so fun. 

When it is time for Jasmyn to sit with her coach and the other kids, she clings to her mother. Brenda encourages her daughter to join the coach but this makes Jasmyn child cling harder to her mother. Brenda starts to feel impatient as her daughter hides behind her. Brenda gets angry and Jasmyn stomps her foot. The mother threatens that they will leave and Jasmyn pouts and remains silent. She is still hiding but also watching all the things that are happening in the gym. 


Both the mother and the child are in a bind. The mother doesn’t want to leave. She has paid money for the class and she knows the child will enjoy it once she joins in. The child wants to join in but it’s all so new and exciting and scary. Both feel overwhelmed and aren’t sure what to do next. 

At any of these junctions, we have a chance to stop, observe, figure out what our child might need and change course. In the moment, though, this is hard. This parent may be feeling pressure because she is worried about all the other parents watching her and about the money she spent on the class. She may be feeling anxious that her daughter won’t actually like the class and wondering if she made a bad decision enrolling her. Maybe she worries that her daughter isn’t ready for something like this and they should just go home where it feels safer and more known. 


Brenda decides to sit with her daughter on the benches and they watch together. Jasmyn is acclimating herself to this new environment. Brenda is just trying to figure this out and buy herself some time. 

Brenda puts her arm around her daughter, holding her, and takes a breath. Tentatively she says, “I wonder if this feels a little scary because it’s new.”

Jasmyn looks at her mother with big eyes. She nods her head. 

The mother says, “Would you like to sit here with me for a bit until you’re ready?” 

Within a short time, Jasmyn is animated watching the other children. She is bouncing in her seat and her eyes light up with all the movement. Brenda walks her daughter out to join in the with class and this time there is no resistance. Just joy. 

The mother walks back to the bench and waves to her daughter. 

Will My Child Become A Cry Baby? Thu, 11 May 2017 15:20:12 +0000 In some cultures, there is a message that our children will become “cry babies” if we let them express their emotions. Nothing could be further from the truth. 

 An 7-year-old boy is playing baseball. He tries to catch a fly ball but misses. He falls hard and starts to cry. Different parents will have different responses to this child. Some may encourage the child to “shake it off” or “get in control” of the emotions. Others may ignore the feeling or distract the child. Still others may rush in and carry the child off the field for the rest of the game.

Emotions are a complex part of being human. How does it work that we learn to organize and manage our feelings?

There are three steps to learning how to manage feelings. First, we have caregivers who are willing to help feel emotions for us. As infants, we have strong emotions but our brain and body aren’t developed enough yet to make sense of it all. When a baby cries, their heart rate increases, their breathing becomes quicker and their brain releases signals of not being okay. When a caregiver picks up the baby and offers soothing comfort, the baby’s heart rate slows to match the caregiver’s heart, their breathing slows and deepens with the caregiver and the baby’s brain looks for signals from the caregiver’s brain that everything will work out okay. The caregiver is essentially emotionally regulating for the baby.

Over time and with many repetitions, the baby’s brain and nervous system develop enough to emotionally regulate with the caregiver. An 8-month-old baby may take a deeper breath as their caregiver comes closer. By the time the caregiver is offering soothing comfort, the baby will be on their way to calming. He or she will still need the caregiver to cope through the entire emotion but their brain is learning the complex steps to making sense of a big feeling.

Eventually, children’s brains and bodies will be able to soothe themselves in moments of distress, but their feelings can still often overwhelm their still-developing system. Even when a child can sometimes manage feelings on their own, there will be times when they need us very much to help. This is especially true when they are tired, hungry, stressed or sick.

All of us, even adults, have moments where we have to buckle down and get through something on our own. But all of us also have moments where we need to turn to others for help. Healthy emotional regulation is the ability to self-soothe when necessary but also the ability to seek and use support when it’s available.

We enter this world with feelings but no real way to understand or organize those feelings. When we have a caregiver who helps us emotionally regulate for and with us, it allows our brain and body time to learn healthy self-soothing. Perhaps most importantly, it also helps children learn that they aren’t alone when they have an intense feeling. So as a child is moving through a feeling, it isn’t as intense because there is someone bigger, stronger, wiser and kinder than them to help them get through it. 

“Raising a Secure Child” says it well: “you don’t have to “like” your baby’s or child’s emotions. You don’t have to enjoy the expression of them. But you need to demonstrate overall that you can accept our child’s feelings and that it’s safe for your baby or toddler to share their feelings with others who care about them.” (pg 77) 

"Daddy! Daddy! John!" Sun, 21 May 2017 18:20:45 +0000 Everyone knows the old saying, “actions speak louder than words”. We tell our children that we love them, but do our actions show it as well?


A father recently shared that his young son was calling him by his first name. The father didn’t like it, so he reminded his son to call him “daddy” but it didn’t always work. Upon further reflection and awareness, the father realized what was happening:


When his son needed to get his attention, he would call out, “daddy!” several times before finally yelling, “John!”. When the father heard, “John!”, he would look at his son, remind him to call him “daddy” and then find out what his son wanted. John’s son was learning that if he wanted his daddy’s attention, this was the quickest way to getting it. 


John realized that he had been inadvertently ignoring his son. This usually happened when he was watching television, looking at his phone or checking his email. John was tuned out to his son’s needs and didn’t realize his son was calling for him until his son yelled, “John!”. Then he ended up reprimanding his son for calling him by his first name. 


John loves his son very much and frequently tells him how much he loves him. His son knows he is loved by his father and loves to hear his dad say the words. And yet, in moments such as the one described above, it would be understandable if the son wondered if he was as important as the thing dad is paying attention to.


From a child’s perspective, the need to share something exciting or scary is immediate. A child wants our attention and connection immediately because we are the most important people to them and because their biological need to attach is strongly urging them to check in with us.   


Does this mean that we should drop everything we are doing every single time our child calls us? Of course not! It is important, however, to understand what our children need from us and reflect on times when our actions may not match up well with our words. 


Below are some examples of opportunities we have to show our children we love them. 


Be present with your child. It is so easy to get distracted as a parent. There are a thousand chores and adult responsibilities each day. Our children need us to be present to them consistently throughout the day. This isn’t the same as being constantly available throughout the day. Look for short periods of time to particularly tune into your child and spend time together without any distractions. This can be especially helpful after separations, such as the 10 minutes after you get home from work or they get home from school. Or just before separations, like bedtime or before the babysitter shows up. 


Be aware of the bottom half need to connect. If your child is calling you, they very likely want to check in briefly to make sure you are still there. Spending 30-90 seconds letting them know you are there and interested will allow their attachment system to settle back down. Then you can support them in returning to the top half of the circle. 


Play! Get in there and play together! Go outside and run around, pull out the messy art supplies, get down on the floor, pretend to be animals, toss or kick the ball around - do the things your child enjoys doing. Children love it when an adult is willing to be silly with them (plus, it’s a great stress reliever for us!). 


Cuddle, snuggle, hug, high-five, tickle, kiss - love on them. Children (and adults) need a lot of physical connection. In our busy lives, it can be easy to overlook how often our children need our touch. Get intentional about initiating this type of connection. Your child will let you know when they’ve gotten enough!


Make decisions and set boundaries in a loving and firm way. When you do have to set a limit, make sure there is structure and patience involved. Let the child know what the expectations are (“we can wrestle for ten minutes and then I need to get back to the dishes”) and know it will be hard for the child (“It’s sad for me too when we have to stop doing something fun but our play time is done.”). If you allow the boundaries to get pushed out too far, you will lose your patience, which will likely make the situation harder on both of you. 


Give yourself a break. This may sound counterintuitive, but if you don’t have time to yourself, then you are probably more likely to tune out here and there throughout the day. Don’t wait until your own cup is empty. Find moments to take some time for yourself…. use the drive home from work to listen to your favorite songs, walk to get a cup of coffee, grocery shop by yourself, take an extra 3 minutes in the shower to breathe. Build in some time for yourself as consistently as possible so you will have enough in reserves to prioritize your children throughout the day. 


The Benefits of Secure Attachment Fri, 02 Jun 2017 11:34:07 +0000 Sometimes, under the stress of life, we forget to match our moment-to-moment parenting decisions to the big picture of our children's long term needs. We get impatient when our children need patience the most. We get loud, overwhelmed and frustrated when our children need a kind, in- charge parent. We get so lost that we tune out the needs of our children when they need engagement and commitment the most. Sometimes, we expect them to succeed in life even when we aren’t giving them the tools to succeed. 

When you close your eyes and picture your child as an adult, what does their life look like? Actually, take a moment and do this.... Picture your child as a 30-year-old. When you describe their life, what words would you use? Do you want them to be happy and fulfilled? Hardworking and persistent? Make a short list for yourself.

The characteristics of secure attachment are one of the most researched aspects of attachment. It has been studied for well over 50 years by many different professionals researching cultures from many different countries. Overall, the list says children who have a secure attachment will benefit from the following ways:

  • They will feel more happiness and less anger at their parents
  • They can solve problems on their own and ask for help when they are in trouble 
  • They have lasting friendships and get along better with their friends
  • They have better sibling relationships
  • They feel better about themselves and what they can contribute
  • They are more protected against feeling hopeless or helpless about life
  • They trust the people they love and know how to be kind
  • They believe that good things will happen

Now compare your list to the secure characteristics list. Usually there are some close similarities. If it is important to you to offer your child a chance at secure characteristics, good news! Circle of Security has pulled together all the research to help you and your child get there.

Our moment-to-moment parenting decisions are meant to lead up to our parenting end-goals. That is, we want our children to learn along the way so they can grow to be a well-adjusted person who can succeed in the adult world.

For example, perhaps one of your end goals is for your child to graduate from high school but you have a child who struggles with the ability to focus. You will have many opportunities to work on patience and persistence as you both move towards the graduation goal. They will watch your patience during frustrating moments and it will build patience in them. They will watch as you demonstrate how to break assignments down into workable parts, how to ask for help when it’s needed and how to work through to the very end. Watching you, they will build persistence even when life can get overwhelming.

Your voice with them will become their own inner voice. Their ability to adjust, get creative, be resilient - it all comes from their relationship with you.

So, parents, take a step back now and then. Dream of the life you hope your child will have. Consider your daily life, routine and conversations. Are you supporting them in the world the same way you hope they will eventually support themselves? Security is such a gift and we give it to them through our words, our interactions and our healthy relationship. 

Attachment and Brain Development: Middle Prefrontal Cortex Wed, 07 Jun 2017 10:28:24 +0000 Over the past 10-15 years, the research of brain development and the research of attachment have had some interesting intersections. One of these intersections has to do with a part of the brain called the middle prefrontal cortex. For parents who struggle with certain decisions their children make, learning about this part of the brain could offer some support. 

Brain information can be complicated to understand but it is an important part of how attachment works. Dr. Daniel Siegel from UCLA does a wonderful job explaining this information to parents and professionals. To hear some of the information directly from him, check out his Hand Model of the Brain.


The frontal lobe of the brain is just behind the forehead and isn’t fully matured until our mid-20s. This lobe allows for anticipation and prediction, logic and reasoning, creativity and artistry, personality and decision-making and many other important tasks. Within the frontal lobe is the middle prefrontal cortex which is largely responsible for helping to calm down big emotions. In order to do this, the middle prefrontal cortex develops nine crucial skills: 


Regulation of the body: the ability to have awareness of temperature, pain, hunger, etc

Attuned Communication: back and forth engaged conversation

Regulation of Emotion: awareness of and managing of emotions

Response Flexibility: being able to shift from one emotional response to another

Empathy: taking on another person’s emotional experience in order to offer support

Insight: being able to reflect on your own and other’s perspectives

Fear Extinction: the ability to self-soothe following a scary or anxious experience

Intuition: having a sense of what is in your best interest

Morality: knowing right and wrong


These abilities are developed in this order during the early years of life. As a baby grows, the middle prefrontal cortex will help the baby organize and understand the sensations in their body so they can let you know when they are hungry, tired or need to use the bathroom. Once they have begun to master that ability, this area of the brain then moves to mastering attuned communication, then regulation of emotion, then response flexibility and so on. 


An important note is that the final development of this area is morality. There is a belief that very young children should have mastery over what is right and wrong, but their brains are often not developed enough for them to rely on themselves to figure this out for a large portion of their childhoods. They must use our brains, support and help in making decisions particularly when they are experiencing strong emotions . 


One other important note about the middle prefrontal cortex is that it needs to essentially re-develop in the teenage years. During these years, this area of the brain will re-calibrate and master each of the skills again. Sarah-Jayne Blakemore has a wonderful Ted Talk on this subject. Some parents are baffled because their teenage son will suddenly only wear shorts in the winter (regulation of the body), or they can no longer have a conversation with their adolescent daughter (attuned communication). Teens struggle to be kind to one another (empathy) or understand different points of view (insight). There are probably many reasons that the teenage years are so difficult, but the demanding brain development of the middle prefrontal cortex is one of the factors!


As a parent of a young child who is learning to notice and integrate all the information of the world or as a parent of a teenager who is trying to find their place in the world, understanding part of what is happening in their brain may help you find the patience and wisdom to hang in there with your child in their moments of struggle. It could be that it’s not willful disobedience on their part. It could be a brain that is over stimulated and under supported. They need us to be present and available. They need us to walk through those moments with them in an engaged but not intrusive way. They need our brains to scaffold theirs until their brain is mature enough to really handle the complicated adult world. 


Remember, it takes the frontal lobe about 25 years to fully mature. Our children will need our guidance during all that time as they experience and integrate all that life has to offer. 

Remember The Tenderness Thu, 15 Jun 2017 21:34:29 +0000 Tenderness may be one of the most powerful connecting opportunities we have. It also can be one of the most overlooked. Children (and teens... and parents.... and friends.... and partners...) need moments of tenderness. 


“The quality of strength lined with tenderness is an unbeatable combination.”

Maya Angelou 


Here are five every day moments and five spontaneous moments that could be opportunities for shared tenderness. Take one or as many of the suggestions below that work for you.

The first few moments of waking up: There are so many things to get done between waking and getting out the door. With some intention, though, it offers a time for tenderness. There is nothing sweeter than a baby waking up or a child mumbling about the dream he just had. Take a few minutes (or ten) to snuggle up to your child and slowly wake them up. The tender connection will likely help both of you transition through the hectic morning.

The moments before leaving for school/work: Your teen is probably starting to dread the test she has that day. You are probably go over the list of things that need to get done before lunch. But you will also be separated from your child for quite a few hours. Be very present as you let them know that you love them and will miss them. Share a little joke or check in about plans to see each other later in the day. Make sure they head off into their day certain of your support.

The moments of being reunited: Maybe one or both of you need some space, but maybe one or both of you need some tenderness too. Look into your child’s eyes. Ask to hear a story about their day. Stand in the kitchen while you pause to really see how your child is doing. Listen to them. Really just stop and listen.

The moments of breaking bread: Between homework, after school activities and adult responsibilities, it’s easy to grab something easy for dinner and just sit in front of the television or a computer. It’s incredible, however, how children and teens (and your spouse) will open up over some time at the dinner table together. Put the phones on silent in another room and share a meal.

The moments before going to sleep: Tenderness in the minutes before slumber allow for a calming, gentle transition into bedtime. Lay next to your child or sit on the floor. Tell them a story about a brave child who sounds quite a bit like them. Tell them the story of the first time you fell in love with them. Tell your teen about a moment you felt really proud of them or a silly, touching memory you have of their younger self.

Moments when your child is coming toward you: Make space in your heart and mind for them in that moment. Turn toward them. Offer eye contact. Put out your arms in an open invitation. Stop what you are doing for a moment. Welcome them into your space. Show curiosity about what they have been doing. Listen.

Moments your child is moving away from you: Watch them walk away. Smile, wink or nod if they turn their head back. Fondly recall to yourself a memory of when they were younger and you dreamed of this type of independence. Trust.

Moments when your child is struggling: Open your arms. Sit next to them. Be quiet. Listen. Hold them. Hum a favorite song. Rock them. Rub their back. Stroke their hair. Hang in there until the big feelings calm down. Wait with them. Be with them.

Moments when your child is joyful: Allow their joy to be infectious - join in the joy! Delight in their wonderful moment. Ask to hear more. Smile. Laugh. Do an impromptu dance. Be silly. Enjoy them.

Any moment: Mary Ainsworth said, “My advice to parents is not to miss an opportunity to show affection (tenderness) to their babies.”

And of course, they are always our babies, even when they are grown. 

"Time In": A True Life Example Thu, 22 Jun 2017 16:31:09 +0000 A parent’s ability to allow room for “Rupture” and “Repair” is an incredible opportunity for a relationship to grow. Many people do not have experience with the power of this process. Here is a true example of a mom who learned how to do a “Time In” with her son while he was very angry at her. 

A young single mom came to a Circle of Security Parenting (COSP) class looking for help with her two-year-old son. The behavior she was most worried about was how much he “bosses me around”. 


During the class, she was very reflective and noticed quite a few things about her parenting but she still struggled to set boundaries with her son and would give up quickly because she just didn’t know what to do. 


Halfway through the class, she told the group that she started setting boundaries but it would escalate to the point where her son was left alone in his room, crying and yelling until he became exhausted and fell asleep. She felt good that she was finally setting boundaries but mostly felt terrible about him being alone and angry. 


This particular COSP class had a volunteer so parents could bring their children if it was needed. On the final day of class, this mom had to bring her son. He tested limits over and over with his mother. She was very kind as she repeatedly told him no. Over time, his testing became bolder and louder. 


After class, the facilitator (who was a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and who had known this mom for a year) asked the mother if she would like support in walking through setting a boundary in a Bigger, Stronger, Wiser and Kind way. The mother accepted. 


The facilitator asked the mother to pick up her son and bring him to a quieter place, away from other people. The son began to yell and squirm. The facilitator encouraged the mom to hold her son as comfortably as possible and to make soothing noises. The mom rubbed her son’s back. The facilitator said, “oh…what a rough day!” and “sometimes it’s hard to feel so angry” with a quiet, empathetic tone. 


As the child squirmed, mom continued to adjust the way she held her son. If he became louder, she got quieter and just offered gentle, soothing physical touch. Several times, the son tried to hit his mother. She gently held his arm while the facilitator quietly said, “gentle hands with your mama”. 


A few minutes in, the child became very loud and tried to get off his mother’s lap. The mom looked to the facilitator and seemed to be very overwhelmed and scared. The facilitator encouraged mom to hang in there with her son. This is when he needed her the most. 


The loud yelling and big movements lasted less than a minute. Then the son started crying and turned into his mother. He put his arms around her neck and clung to her as tears ran down his face. Mom held him close and gently rubbed his hair and back. 


A few more minutes went by and the son turned his body around and sat calmly on his mom’s lap. He looked up at her and smiled. He hopped down and asked his mom for help putting on his shoes and then went off to play with the other children. 


The mom looked at the facilitator. She had tears in her eyes and sweat on her face. Emotionally, she said, “that’s never happened with us. He’s never held onto me like that. We’ve never had a moment like that. That felt so good.”


The facilitator said, “you were so amazing. He needed you to hang in there while he had all those big feelings. He needed your strong body, your gentle hands and your soothing voice. Just when you were sure it wouldn’t end, it did. He calmed down and turned right into you.”


Both the mom and the facilitator took a moment to soak it all in and wind down from the emotionally charged moments. It had only been about 5 minutes total, but it felt longer. 


The facilitator said, “what you are feeling is the power of repair. The rupture was his big emotions when you said no to him. When he realized you wouldn’t give in and that you could hang out while he felt those big feelings, he melted into you. Something was fixed in that moment between you.”


Mom replied, “yes. Repair is needed between us on quite a few things. I can do that with him.”