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 Mon, 26 Jun 2017 14:24:28 +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.”

Healthy and Secure Transitions: A First Look Thu, 29 Jun 2017 14:25:09 +0000 Lately, we’ve received a number of questions about how to have a successful separation when a child attends school or childcare. It’s a complex question and at its’ heart is how parents negotiate transition with their child. We decided to devote several blogs to this topic because “coming” and “going” are important to relationships. 

To start, let’s look at a transition through the lens of Circle of Security (COS). A child will “come” and “go” from their parent hundreds of times a day. COS shows parents how to look for the cues the child is giving about if they need the parent to support exploration or if the child needs connection. As often as possible, parents will follow the child’s need for independence or closeness. 


A transition, however, is when a parent must stop following the child’s need and take charge in a Bigger, Stronger, Wiser and Kind way. So, of course, this could become problematic!


Whether it’s time to go to school, to grandmas, to the babysitters, to childcare, to the store or to bed at night, a transition could cause a rupture in the relationship. The parent is saying, “It’s time to stop doing what you’ve been enjoying and move to something that needs to be done.” Why wouldn’t a child rebel against that?? Even as adults, transitions from a fun activity to work can be hard!


Understanding and acknowledging how your child views transition is beneficial. If the parent can see it through the eyes of their child, it will be easier to meet your child’s needs through the transition and navigate it together more effectively. 


Here are some things to consider when looking at the transition from your child’s point of view:


Does my child know the transition is coming? 

Parents are responsible for keeping to the schedule. Parents also have a developed sense of time. Children are oblivious to both time and schedules and rely completely on us for most of their childhood years (and quite a few of the teenage years too!). Many children benefit from a general sense of what will happen each day. Spend a few minutes over breakfast or in the car talking about the day. Being connected to you while discussing the schedule will help a child’s emotions stay organized. As the transition approaches, get more specific. You could say, for example, “bedtime is in 30 minutes, which means we will need to put on pajamas and brush teeth soon. Please choose the last thing you’d like to do tonight and then we’ll start getting ready for bed.”


Is my child’s emotional cup filled?

Transitions require some independence from a child. The most effective way for a child to execute independence is when their emotional cup is full. If a child is struggling emotionally because they are having a big feeling or because they don’t know what to expect or because they are worried about you, they will not give you direct information about what they need. A child who is struggling is a child who will often miscue. A child may be anxious but show it through clinginess. A child may be lonely but show it through aloofness. A child may be scared but show it through a meltdown. Find moments before the transition to fill their emotional cups. 


Am I committed to leading this moment with firmness and kindness?

When navigating transitions, it is vital to have an awareness of your own state of mind. If you are preoccupied with the work on your desk or the dishes in the sink, you will not be present to the needs of your child during the transition. If you are feeling guilty or conflicted about the transition, you are more likely to fall to mean, weak or gone. If you think they need you too much or don’t think they need you at all, the transition may go sideways. Children need leadership that is both certain and gentle. Create a loose structure for the transition and stick closely to it. Make it a tradition that is consistent and predictable, to be done each time this type of transition occurs. Knowing what to expect will allow your child to move through the transition with as much ease as possible. 


Stay Tuned: The next blog on this topic will address how transitions can go sideways. Sometimes it is with the parent, sometimes it is with the child or sometimes it could be the environment.

Healthy and Secure Transitions: Parents, Children and the Environment Thu, 06 Jul 2017 09:05:31 +0000 Transitions are complex! There are so many factors to consider. In the first blog on this topic, we discussed how to view the transition through the eyes of your child. In this blog, we will focus on all the various internal and external factors that could impact transitions. 


Parent Struggles

Moving from a place of following your child’s need to taking charge can be a tricky area for parents. Much of our own “stuff” can show up during this time. Perhaps we can edge toward controlling or mean behaviors under stress. Or maybe we get overwhelmed and give up easily. Or maybe we use ineffective strategies like bribing, threats or walking away from our child.

Knowing yourself and your struggles is key to making transitions more successful. Use the next transition with your child to gather information about yourself. Allow yourself to mentally stand back a little and watch how you interact with your child. Watch how they react back to you. Observe without judgment if you can.

If you find that you tend to be a little too distant, you may not adequately fill your child’s emotional cup. You may tend to rush through the transition and expect your child to “be fine”. Your child may respond by trying to please you and act like everything is okay, while inside they are feeling nervous, scared or anxious. Taking one extra minute for hugs or to play with them as they transition could make both of you feel better about the separation.

Perhaps you are a parent who has a hard time leaving your child. Maybe you feel guilty about having them in childcare or you lay in bed with them every night until they fall asleep. You may be giving mixed signals to your child that it isn’t okay for them to transition. Your lack of certainty and confidence translates to them and they may show it in clinginess or tantrums. Your child needs you to shorten the transition by letting them know what is going to happen and then follow through on it with strength and kindness.

Maybe you are the parent who drops the child off at the front door or tells your child to stop playing video games and get their homework done. You may see your child as self-sufficient. Unfortunately they learn that you might not be a resource and they will turn to other (unhealthy) things when they need help. It may be helpful to remember that your child needs you - and usually it is just for a short window of time. When you are with them as they transition, they learn that they can count on you and as they grow and learn, they will do more things independently!


Child Struggles

Your child could be struggling on his or her end for so many reasons! Your child may need extra tender loving connectedness during transition if they are young, or sick, or if there have been recent changes in your family. If your child has gone through something traumatic or if there was a rupture in the relationship before the transition (a rough morning, perhaps?), your child will need more patience and support from you at the transition.

Children with certain diagnoses such as anxiety or autism spectrum disorder will need structured and connected care at transitions. Different developmental ages also struggle with different aspects of transition.

If you are new to Circle of Security Parenting and you are trying new approaches, your child will need more time during transitions to change learn your new approach.


Environmental Issues

Perhaps the transition struggle has to do with the environment. If it’s at a childcare, school or with a babysitter, check in with the person who cares for your child. How does your child do once you leave? Does your child use the caregiver for comfort when they need it? How tuned is your caregiver with the emotional needs of children?

Parents should also be tuned into their instincts. Check your gut about the caregiver, school or childcare center... is this person/place trustworthy to take care of your child? Do they interact with your child in an interested, engaged way? Do they delight in your child? Do they allow support for exploration but remain present and available in the background if needs change? Has there been turn over with the people who care for your child?

Does the person, center or school follow a similar parenting approach to you? For example, if you do “Time Ins” but they believe children should simply obey authority figures, it could be confusing for your child. Many caregivers are open to new information and most childcare centers are required to attend trainings each year.

If the transition is out in public, has your child been given a few warnings of the impending change? It’s hard to leave a park, for example, and a 5-minute warning, a 2-minute warning and a choose-your-last-thing warning can be helpful. Call out pleasantly to your child to give them a heads-up of the transition, or even better, go play with them for the last few minutes so you can be right there to help them transition physically and emotionally out of the activity.

If the transition is at bedtime, have there been any changes? Is it staying light out later? Has the child been allowed to watch television soon before bed? Has the structure of bedtime been getting lax? Set up a bedtime routine and use the clock or a timer to help guide both of you through the steps.


Part three of this series will address scenarios of transition. For now, we will leave you with these wise words from “Raising A Secure Child”:

“A major “Rule” of the Circle of Security is, Whenever possible, follow your child’s need; when necessary, take charge. To figure out which is the best response at any moment, we need to Be-With the child and also remember that as parents we are bigger, stronger, wiser and always kind. We are parents first, not friends. Emotional discomfort can be managed when we take charge and help our children find a way through current struggles. Problems can be solved - together - with trust and encouragement from us.” 

Healthy and Secure Transitions: Scenerios Wed, 12 Jul 2017 15:41:42 +0000 In our last of a three-part series on transitions, we will address two specific situations. We will give a scenario and consider it from multiple perspectives. Looking at all this information through the lens of Circle of Security, we will discuss options for security through the transition moment. 


Parents often struggle during transitions - welcome to the club! Transitions require us to “Take Charge” of the child and the situation in a way that allows for the child to both feel protected and connected. When we miscue our child, the child will then often attempt to Take Charge. When they do this, it is usually messy and complicated - full of controlling behaviors or care-taking behaviors or out of control behaviors. Parents can end up become mean, distant or rigid. Or parents can end up being weak, intrusive or inconsistent. Staying in a place of Bigger, Stronger, Wiser and Kind while Taking Charge requires some prep work and follow through. Here are two examples of common transitions and possible ideas on how to navigate them while supporting secure attachment. 


Situation #1: Childcare Drop Off

The Need: Being separated from you will be emotional for your child, so they will need to be met on the bottom half of the circle. At the same time, you must Take Charge to transition them in a way where they feel confident in their connection to you as you support them moving to the top half of the circle. 


Your Child’s Perspective: While they do have fun at childcare, it is hard to be away from familiar people and places. Home is comfortable and known. Parents and siblings are predictable and your child loves and misses you! 


If you are the type of parent who does well with independence and struggles with the bottom half of the circle: Create a ritual with your child that takes 3-5 minutes to complete at the drop off. Set up the ritual at home and practice it before you are leaving for childcare. Ask your child what they would like you to do at drop off. It might be a hug or it might be waiting for a few minutes while they get settled. Work together to settle on a plan that works for both of you. Make sure the ritual has some elements of physical contact that your child enjoys. Be willing to hang out for a few minutes and watch them, even if they transition quickly from you. Your child will want to see warmth and connection in your facial expressions and body language. Make sure to give them a quick wave and smile or blow them a kiss before you leave. 


If you are the type of parent who does well with closeness but struggles with the top half of the circle: Create a ritual with your child that takes 2-3 minutes to complete at the drop off. Set up the ritual at home and practice it before you are leaving for childcare. Ask your child what they would like you to do at drop off. It might be a hug or it might be waiting for a few minutes while they get settled. Work together to settle on a plan that works for both of you. Be willing to be confident and matter of fact in your approach. First, we hang up the coat. Then we say hello to the teacher or choose a toy. Then we hug and high five (or whatever you decide on). Then the parent waves from the window outside the classroom and blows a kiss. No hesitancy. Just follow the plan! Your child will need to see a loving confidence from you. 


Other Helpful Ideas: Having a transitional object can be very helpful for your child as they cope with the feelings brought on by being dropped off. The object could be a stuffed animal, a blanket or a picture of your family. On the way to childcare, talk about who will pick them up and remind them of their connection to you. For example, “remember, honey, today Daddy will pick you up after afternoon snack. Tonight we will get to read those new library books before bedtime!”


Situation #2: Bedtime

The Need: Your child will be on the bottom half of the circle and you need them to transition to the top of the circle. Your child will need clear boundaries, an established routine and their emotional cup will need to be filled to the tippy top. 


Your Child’s Perspective: Both of you are exhausted. Your child needs you very much and you might be struggling to keep it together. Your child needs your time, patience and connection so they can move to a calm, quiet space that is ready for sleep. 


If you are the type of parent who does well with independence and struggles with the bottom half of the circle: No matter the age of your child, try to hang out with them before bedtime. Spend time talking to them about their day and do something together that will promote closeness, such as reading together or playing a quiet game. Go sit on your teenager’s bed and ask them specific questions about what is going on in their lives. Play it casual but be present (don’t be on your phone). Children may want and need your help in getting ready for bed. Instead of requiring them to get ready on their own, stay near and help when they will let you. Give them a hug and kiss. Look them in the eye and tell them you love them.


If you are the type of parent who does well with closeness but struggles with the top half of the circle: Make a bedtime routine and stick to it. Your child or teen should have input on this routine but you need to make the final decisions because you are wise about what your child needs to be healthy and successful. Promote and support some independence as they get ready for bed. For example, have them get pajamas on while you clean up the kitchen. Read books on the couch and then go with them to tuck them in bed. Give them a kiss (or complete the routine you’ve decided on) and let them know you will come back in 3 (or 1 or 5) minutes to check on them. Set a timer and check on them when you said you would. If they are still awake, tell them you’ll come back again in another 5 minutes. 


Other Helpful Ideas: Limiting screen time for 1-3 hours before bed will help your child’s brain calm down and start to release the chemicals needed to feel sleepy. Connecting time with baths, getting ready for bed, reading books and cuddling will fill their emotional cup and allow them to transition more easily to the independent activity of falling asleep on their own. The use of night lights, calming music or white noise machines can allow children to feel safer. Letting a child have some time to read or play quietly in their room just before bed and/or having quiet time during the day will help them feel comfortable in their room on their own. 


Eliminate Two Words From Your Parenting Vocabulary Thu, 20 Jul 2017 22:42:34 +0000 A child falls and is scared and hurt. They look to the most important person in the world. This person is their everything: their source of learning, their source of love, their source of making sense of a confusing world. They have big hurt feelings and they hear, “you’re okay”. Those words do not match up with their internal experience of being not-okay.

If you spend any time at a place there where are children, you will often hear a version of these two words: “you’re okay”.


A child falls down: “you’re fine. Get up! Go play.”

A child gets scared: “you’re okay. Everything's fine.”

A child cries: “don’t cry. You’re okay.”


It’s understandable why we say these words. In some circumstances, we might feel bad for the child and we want them to start feeling better so we say the words and actually mean, “oh no, I’m so sorry! I hope you feel better soon”. In other circumstances, we might be inconvenienced by the child’s emotions and say the words but actually mean, “please go back to being okay because this is not a good time for me”. Or maybe their feelings are too much for us and we say the words but actually mean, “I don’t know what to do for you, so please don’t need me in this way”.


These two words are part of our cultural norm. Parents all over are saying these words. Teachers are saying these words. Childcare workers are saying these words. Grandparents are saying these words. To hold your child in these moments and NOT say these words, is often seen as odd.


What happens, though, when a child hears these words?


A child falls and is scared and hurt. They look to the most important person in the world. This person is their everything: their source of learning, their source of love, their source of making sense of a confusing world. They have big hurt feelings and they hear, “you’re okay”. Those words do not match up with their internal experience of being not-okay.


A parent does something that makes the child mad. Maybe the parent needed to have a Take Charge moment and the child is mad. Maybe the parent miscued the child. Either way, the child is left feeling conflicted. The child knows something happened but you are acting like nothing happened. It is very confusing and a child probably does have a right to not be okay.


When any of us are in a not-okay place, it is not usually helpful to hear someone say, “you’re okay”. Adults don’t often say this to other adults because it could be hurtful and awkward. If you had a terrible day at work or fall and bang up your arms, it is unlikely that your best friend would say, “you’re fine. Everything is okay” and move on.


Telling a child that they are okay when they are not okay, especially if we are responsible for the not okay, is a rupture to the relationship. It causes children to question us but also, to question themselves.


Being not-okay and not being able to express it causes emotional dissonance. We have to develop a coping strategy for dealing with that dissonance and if we can’t bring it to a safe relationship, we will develop an unhelpful or unhealthy way to cope. Over time, it may develop into intense anger issues, depression, anxiety, substance abuse, isolation and more.


What could happen if we eliminated those words? If we recognized the mad, the sad, the hurt and allowed our child to be not-okay?  How could we grow if we, as parents, experienced intense not-okay moments with our child and supported it?


Saying "you're okay" stops the child from using the relationship as a resource. Eliminating those words opens up big possibilities for the child to explore not-okay and options of soothing. Security often grows in the moments when something important happens when otherwise, nothing would happen.  

Be Gentle. He Is Still Learning. Thu, 27 Jul 2017 12:29:34 +0000 In the day-to-day grind of life, it is easy to forget the preciousness and fragility of our children’s spirits. The fundamental, deep-seeded, instinctual need they have for us to be patient and gentle and kind with them, even when we have to set a boundary or say no.

The other morning, I was sitting on my couch. My 8-month-old was on my lap and my 4-year-old was cuddled in next to us. It’s one of my favorite parts of the day and it doesn’t get to happen every day.

These brothers are still pretty new to each other and they are still feeling each other out. The older one adores and resents his younger brother. The youngest one adores or ignores his big brother. Sometimes they adore each other at the same time, but often not.

The older brother was a little cranky on that morning and the younger one really wanted his brother to cuddle in closer. The more the younger one persisted and reached out, the more the older one squirmed and protested and complained. My interventions with my 4-year-old were not very effective and he remained cranky with his brother.

After a few minutes of this, the older one said, “no! I need space, brother!”. The younger one kept trying to reach out to his brother. In complete annoyance, the older one mildly swatted out at the baby.

I said to the oldest, “Be gentle. He is still learning.”

In my mind, everything stopped when I said those words out loud. Part of my brain registered that my 4-year-old did, indeed, settle down a bit and have more patience with his little brother. The youngest decided to keep cuddling me and give his brother a break.

Meanwhile, I was realizing the enormous message of my words.

It’s relatively easy to have patience with an infant as they are learning. They repeatedly drop a toy and we pick it up every time because we know it’s a learning game. Most of us don’t yell at our infants or get significantly impatient when they don’t move quickly enough, or learn quickly enough, or remember our directions well. They can spit up a dozen times, wake up throughout the night and cry and cry and cry. We usually do what we can to help them through it because this is what babies do and we realize the importance of our role in their lives. We know it’s temporary and we make our way through it with some degree of grace and gentleness.

But I have a different reaction to my 4-year-old. On an almost daily basis, I have moments of impatience, yelling, ignoring and frustration because he isn’t meeting my expectation of what should be getting done right then. I have an expectation that if I ask him to go to the bathroom, he should stop everything and do it immediately. Or that if I tuck him into bed, he should stay there and fall right to sleep. Or that he should pick up his toys when I ask him to the first time.

Sometimes, I am not gentle with him. I forget that he, too, is learning. His brain is not fully developed. His reaction times and processing times take much longer than my older, wiser, and more efficient brain. My state of mind for him often does not include “Be gentle. He is still learning.” Even though it absolutely should.

(It also occurred to me that I am also not gentle with my teenager, myself or my husband, but that’s probably it’s own blog.)

In the day-to-day grind of life, it is easy to forget the preciousness and fragility of our children’s spirits. The fundamental, deep-seeded, instinctual need they have for us to be patient and gentle and kind with them, even when we have to set a boundary or say no.

Our children are hard-wired to keep looking to us with adoration, waiting for us to remember to be gentle with them as they learn. They will give us chance after chance after chance.  Perhaps we can even occasionally remember to do the same for ourselves and each other. 

Katie Jessop, MA, LMHC is a blog contributor to Circle of Security International and has a clinical practice in Spokane, WA. 





Anxious Children Fri, 11 Aug 2017 12:51:44 +0000 “Current research from Germany shows that parents who are relaxed instead of vigilant or over focused on their infants have infants with less anxiety. Too much focus, being hyper involved, actually feels overwhelming to a child.” (Raising A Secure Child, pg 53)


Parents who struggle with anxiety may end up with children who struggle with anxiety. There is a genetic component that is important to consider when helping your child with their anxiety. There is also a relationship component to consider and which can sometimes get overlooked. 



Most of us have experienced emotional pain in our childhood. Perhaps we were bullied, or didn’t fit in, or our parents weren't there for us in the ways we needed. If we had someone to talk to about this pain, that connection may have helped lessen the pain and given us access to possible resolutions to the pain. If we didn’t have a consistent person who was interested and supportive with our emotional needs, then we had to learn ways to protect ourselves from the emotions of the unresolved pain. When we have to do this, insecurity forms.


All of us have some pockets of insecurity, even people with secure attachments. This is because there are times in everyone's lives that we don't have access to a trusted someone when we experience something too big to handle on our own (as in, no parent is perfect and no parent can be there for every single thing). When something happens in the present that triggers one of these insecure pockets from the past, our relationships with our children can get a little off track. 


When we have children, it can be scary to think about them experiencing pain in the same ways we had to. Many parents, therefore, try to protect their children from experiencing pain (even when we don't notice that we are doing it). This might be especially true for a child with anxiety because these children often have more fears, more worries and a harder time coping with those fears and worries.


The relationship component which can contribute towards anxiety in children usually stems from the combination of the parents’ pockets of insecurity being triggered while their child is experiencing pain. This combination of factors can breed anxiety in both the parent and the child. When this happens, parents no longer have easy access to their innate wisdom, which can lead to parenting decisions that aren’t relaxed, confident and secure. As a result, the child does not have access to a trusted person who can help them make sense of their feelings. 


So where and how can anxiety show up in the Circle of Security? Let's look at some specific places. If you notice that you see yourself or your child in one of these scenerios, take a deep breath. Of course you are not doing this on purpose! Again, no parent is perfect. Gaining awareness of a pocket of insecurity is an opportunity to deepen security between you and your child. 


Limited Top Parenting

When a parent struggles with allowing their child to safely explore their world, the child will come to believe that the world is unsafe. Anxiety within this relationship could show up as clinginess, extreme shyness, panic when trying new things, worry about going to new places or nervousness at being left with a babysitter or extended family member.


Children need the opportunity to explore their environments. When parents interfere with safe exploration - by being too intrusive of the play, acting as if something is unsafe when it is actually safe, redirecting the child back to them, overwhelming the child with directions or taking over the play - children do not have enough time to figure out the environment and their place in it. There is no opportunity to get to the boundary of something and figure out a way to step back because the parent is too involved. Under these conditions, anxiety is reinforced in the child because the child is not trusted to try to figure out boundaries and solutions on their own.


Limited Bottom Parenting

When a parent struggles with allowing their child to access them for comfort, protection or emotional support, the child will come to believe that they can only rely on themselves. Anxiety might show up as perfectionism, intense anger, intense self-blame, an inability to express vulnerability or struggling to apologize and take responsibility for their part in a problem.


Children need parents who value the emotional connection and support that children need. As the authors of Raising A Secure Child point out, “a parent who is uncomfortable on the bottom of the Circle might focus on mainly on the child’s achievements, intelligence, or interest in activities (focusing on the top-half exploratory aspects of care taking and ignoring the emotional caregiving opportunities).” (pg 136)


Perfect Parenting

Again, from Raising A Secure Child: “working hard at parenting from a place of constant anxiety about whether or not you’re doing it right is likely not going to help your child feel more secure. Secure parenting is actually about being relaxed - more or less - in our choices, in trusting that we are good enough, willing to believe that we’re within the comfort zone of what will be beneficial for our child.” (pg 53)


A parent who is focused on getting it “right” is a parent who is, unfortunately, focused on themselves rather than actually focused on what the child needs in that moment. Anxiety can develop in the child because the child is receiving lots and lots of attention but is never really being seen by the parent. This dissonance causes fear and worry in a child without access to someone with whom they can really connect and use to organize their big feelings.


Too Precious Parenting

Some parents can get preoccupied with their child’s “uniqueness” as a way to manage their own anxiety about if they are being a good parent. Rather than support their child and his or her interests and abilities, the parent becomes hyper-focused on the child’s talent in school or sports or hobby or something that sets their child apart from the rest. Without realizing it, parents put their child on a pedestal. Not only will the child struggle with this need to be special all the time, but the child will struggle with engaging in healthy peer relationships because other children have been unintentionally devalued. Anxiety can show up here because the child feels as if they need to always be special or unique in order to connect with the parent.


So what can we do as parents if we recognize ourselves contributing to our child’s anxiety?


Make sure you have access to people who can be Bigger, Stronger, Wiser and Kind for you! Even though you are an adult, you are still need support that is available and committed to what is best for you. When your emotionally cup is full, then you will be able to offer more to your child. When you have plenty of experiences of someone being with you, it's much easier to be with your child. 


Work at recognizing your own anxiety and pockets of insecurity. Talk to your supportive and healthy family and friends. Use all the resources available to you to gain awareness of the areas where you are unintentionally causing some issues in the relationship. Watch how other healthy people are doing it and give it a try with your child. And remember to cut yourself some slack - you would never have hurt the relationship intentionally! 


If you tend to get too involved, take a few steps back and just watch and smile. If you tend to distract your child from their feelings, take a few steps toward them and open your arms. If you have too high of expectations, focus on “good enough” parenting. If you tend to believe your child is extra special, try to delight in your child without making it the “most” or “best” of everything.


All children, but especially anxious children, need parents who feel confident in their position to offer consistent structure with available support. Predictability combats anxiety. Feeling “felt” alleviates pressure. Comfort and protection decrease worry. “The research implies that helping parents regulate their own emotions - so that they come to their child with confidence and ease - is very important, it may even be central.” (Raising A Secure Childpg 53) 

What If It All Turns Out Okay? Thu, 17 Aug 2017 09:42:59 +0000 How would you parent if you knew that your child would turn out okay? Would you let go of some of the smaller stuff? Focus on connection more than consequences? Allow more room for your child to make mistakes? Make more time for family dinners at the table and less time for technology?

One of the characteristics of secure attachment is that a person has a sense that “good things will come their way” (Raising A Secure Child, page 15). Trusting the world to hold goodness and trusting that there is enough goodness for us all, is a secure perspective. This idea could show up as thoughts such as, “even though things won’t always work out, I trust that most things will end up being okay for me”. This idea could also show up in feelings, such as a relaxed flexibility when your expectations don’t get fully met or plans have to change.


In parenting, our ability to stay within our own secure perspective allows our children to build their own secure perspective. When we Take Charge in a moment that requires it, we build security by firmly and kindly setting the boundary. A child will have a deeper understanding that may say, “even though I don’t like it that my mom said no, I trust that she is doing it to take care of me and there will be other things I can do”. When we offer closeness and connection to our children during big feelings, we build security by offering a warm and safe place to find help in making sense of what just happened. A child may experience “good things” when out of control feelings start to go away because their dad gave them a hug.


Of course, we will all have moments as parents when we can’t hang on to a secure perspective. Children will struggle in school and we will wonder if they will be able to successfully get to graduation. Children will fight with friends, be a bully or get bullied and we may worry that they won’t be able to navigate relationships. Children will make big mistakes such as skipping school, stealing an item at a store or lying to us about where they were going. And we may become fearful about their future - what if they end up doing something that changes the course of their lives in a big way?


Sometimes, the worst does happen. Our children get hurt. They make bad choices that lead to more bad choices. Our children don’t graduate or have trouble with relationships or holding a job.


But more often, our children end up being pretty okay. They will struggle and learn and end up in a good place. They may not get into their first choice for college, but meet their lifelong best friend at the school they attend. Your son might be a rebellious teenager but a responsible adult. Your daughter may struggle with her self-esteem as a teen but be a confident leader in her career.


When we can hang on to our own secure perspective as a parent, we will be able to help our children transition into those good places. Parenting from security doesn’t eliminate the pain, hurt and struggle but often the transition is quicker and less intense. When there is less anger, fear, worry and bad decisions, then there is less to have to repair and transition from.


However, when we struggle with our own big feelings, it is easy to move into an insecure perspective. When we do this, we can feel exhausted, overwhelmed, worried, fearful and more. Obviously, this is not the ideal situation for healthy decisions. Without even realizing it, we may actually be contributing to the negative results that happen when insecurity runs the show. Insecurity often creates more chaos, more rigidity, more weakness and less connection. We get caught in endless cycles of consequences, yelling, time outs and we lose family time, humor, delight.


What if we could rest in security? What if we trusted that being Bigger, Stronger, Wiser and Kind could result in good things coming our way and our children’s way?


How would you parent if you knew that your child would turn out okay? Would you let go of some of the smaller stuff? Focus on connection more than consequences? Allow more room for your child to make mistakes? Make more time for family dinners at the table and less time for technology?


No matter how you choose to parent, it requires effort. Secure parenting offers more opportunities for connecting moments that fill both of your emotional cups - which then helps both of you navigate the difficult moments. Taking a moment to parent from Bigger, Stronger, Wiser and Kind will help create security in you, which will allow for more trust that good things will happen - for both you and your child. 

The Subtlety of Shark Music Thu, 24 Aug 2017 17:31:23 +0000 "My shark music is what got in the way of us moving into this new way of being together. It was me all along, not him. I thought I knew Circle of Security. I thought I knew my shark music. I thought I knew myself. And yet... the subtlety of this shark music made it so that I didn’t notice it for months."

Our oldest son moved in with us when he was eight years old. He had been in the foster care system for several years and in an neglectful birth home before that. At that time, I had been studying Circle of Security Parenting for a few years and I thought I was prepared.


One of my focuses for our adopted son was to offer him moments of delight - something I was sure he hadn’t received much of in his life. I noticed that I wasn’t able to delight in him very often because he didn’t make much eye contact. As a few months went by, I grew a little concerned that I still could not delight in him because he wouldn’t give me the opportunity. Each time my delight showed up, he would look down and stay engaged in whatever he was doing. After about six months of doing this, I was annoyed at him. I remember thinking, “It’s almost like he doesn’t want to be delighted in. He just ignores me. Maybe I should just give up on this part.”


One day, he did a chore the first time I asked him (this was reason to celebrate, believe me!). I went up to his room to thank him and we started chatting. I was feeling proud of him in the moment and I was enjoying hanging out with him. My face started to just naturally beam with delight for him as we were talking. He noticed and looked down.


I was so disappointed. I turned away to leave his room. Then, for some reason, I turned back. 

When I did, he was looking at me. 


I opened my mouth. Then I closed. Something important struck me in that moment: 

I had been the one who was messing up the delight. Not him. Me.


This very vulnerable child was responding to my delight... just not in the way I thought he should. He did care about us and when he saw that we cared about him, it was overwhelming to him. He would look down because he didn’t know what else to do. And then he would then look back up - but by then, all he saw was my back.


I turned my back on him because he wasn’t responding how I thought he should. I felt disappointed, annoyed and disconnected. I broke the opportunity for delight - not him.


Once I realized this, it changed things. When he noticed me delighting in him, he still looked down, but then I waited. Usually within a few seconds, he would look back up and give me a big smile. His smile would warm my heart and he would see my warmth and he would delight back in my delight for him.


My shark music is what got in the way of us moving into this new way of being together. It was me all along, not him. I thought I knew Circle of Security. I thought I knew my shark music. I thought I knew myself. And yet... the subtlety of this shark music made it so that I didn’t notice it for months.


We all have shark music. It’s in all of our relationships. Some of it is very powerful and bold. Some of it is subtle and almost invisible to us. No matter the intensity of the shark music, it is still calling the shots until we gain awareness and practice doing something different.


If you notice a particular negative feeling about someone regularly, if there’s something missing from a relationship, or if you tend to blame the another person.... it might be time to gain new perspective on your own shark music to see if it’s a contributing factor. Watch with a newly objective eye to your interactions. Ask a friend who will be honest and kind.


My relationship with my son really began in earnest on the day I learned to be available to delight in him. Now that he is 18 years old, I have some perspective and wisdom that I didn’t always have as he was growing up. It has been wonderful and maddening, intense and amazing, confusing and just right. Our family wouldn’t be our family without him. I am so grateful for him and for the Circle of Security, which offered us room to finally be able to delight in each other.


As a final note to this story, I shared this blog with him the other night over dinner. I wanted his permission before I posted it. He said, "yes, of course" and added, "all kids should feel good in that way, mom." It made me tear up when he said it. When I think of this part of our story, I see how I failed him. When he read the story, he remembered how he felt when he was delighted in and he wants all kids to feel that way. A reminder once again of where our shark music may be as parents (one of mine is in assuming the worst) but more importantly a reminder of the magic of "good enough" parenting and just how forgiving our children can be. 


Katie Jessop is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Circle of Security Parenting blog contributor. She has a private practice in Spokane, WA. 

Work and Work and Work Until You Get It Wed, 13 Sep 2017 11:14:35 +0000 In these moments, she doesn’t need her caregiver to teach her how to crawl - she has the instincts which can provide that - but she may need a caregiver’s encouragement, a caregiver who creates a safe surrounding for movement and a caregiver who can help her work through any feelings like that may come up, such as delight or frustration.

On the top half of the Circle of Security, one of the needs is “Help Me”. To be more accurate, it should actually be “Help me just enough so I think I did it on my own”. When a child is learning a new skill or trying something new, they must do it over and over again to learn just how it needs to be done. Caregivers can help by providing the scaffolding necessary for the child to learn the new skill “independently”.

Picture a child who is learning to crawl. She might spend hours just practicing moving from belly to hands and knees. She will do it repeatedly to find just the right technique that feels good to her body. Then, she will start rocking back and forth on her hands and knees. Sometimes it might be just a little and sometimes quite a bit. Her brain and body are synchronizing in this new movement. Too much this way and she loses balance. Too little that way and it won’t provide enough momentum. In these moments, she doesn’t need her caregiver to teach her how to crawl - she has the instincts which can provide that - but she may need a caregiver’s encouragement, a caregiver who creates a safe surrounding for movement and a caregiver who can help her work through any feelings like that may come up, such as delight or frustration.

Here is a story from a parent about how she helped her young son by helping him just enough so he did it on his own until she started to see his internal value of persistence.

“My husband and I really wanted to impress on our child the value of persistence because we both feel like we have to use that skill often as adults. We weren’t sure how to go about it. We knew we didn’t want it to seem like we were hitting him over the head with it, but we did want some kind of message given to him in his early childhood.

When our son was about 10 or 11 months, he was playing with some toys. It seemed like he was trying to get one smaller toy onto a larger toy a certain way. I watched him try over and over but it wasn’t working. He finally gave up and did something else. I didn’t say anything. A few minutes later, he went back to it and after a few attempts, he got it to do just what he wanted. He looked up at me with pure joy on his face. I smiled back at him and said, “hurray! You worked and worked and worked until you got it!” He grinned back at me and then did the same task over and over until it seemed like he was satisfied that he had done it enough.

I told my husband about it later and we realized that I had witnessed our son’s innate persistence. We didn’t need to create it in him - because it was already there - but we could scaffold it, encourage it and organize his feelings around it.

The next time we saw him try a new task, we observed and waited. When he moved on, one of us would say, “hmm.... You are taking a break from figuring it out”. When he finally figured something out, we would say, “you worked and worked and worked until you got it!” Usually, he would get a big smile and so would we.

As he got older, we added a few parts to how we talked about persistence. As a two year old, I might notice that he was trying to do a simple puzzle. I would hang out nearby to be present but not get in his space too much either. If he didn’t get it and stopped, I might say, “puzzles are tricky. Sometimes it helps to take a break or take a deep breath before you try again.” I didn’t expect him to understand or do anything differently, I was just scaffolding the experience for him for when he got older. When he finally got something, I might say, “you worked and worked and worked until you got it! You had to take a quick break but the you were able to figure it out!”

As a three year old, we expanded it a little more and he would participate in our help more. When he struggled, I could say, “wow! This is a tough one. Do you need a break or help or do you just want to keep trying to figure it out on your own?” He would tell me which option he wanted to choose and we would offer some organization of his feelings. I might say, “this can be frustrating, huh? It can be really good to take a break and come back to something later” or “boy! You look like you might be starting to feel impatient now! I would be happy to help for a little bit” or “my goodness! This is requiring some persistence from you! You really want to get this figured out”.

By four years old, we watched him doing this process for himself. Most of the time, he walked through the same steps we did with him, but on his own. We could hear him talking to himself and saying things like, “whew! This is a tough one! I better take a breath and try again later.” It was cute to hear him use the words we’ve used with him.

Now our son is five years old. He came home from kindergarten yesterday and saw me in the kitchen getting frustrated when a recipe wasn’t working out like it was supposed to. He said to me, “mom, it’s okay to get frustrated! Sometimes you gotta take a break and come back to it later.”

Here was my five year old - the little expert in teaching other people how to persist! He could not see the irony in the fact that he was teaching me the very thing that we’ve been teaching him all this time. I thanked him for his help and wisdom and he went about his business of playing. My recipe did end up working out later, once I wasn’t feeling so frustrated.

When our son was "instructing" us, it was very strong evidence to my husband and I that our strategy for building persistence - quietly and consistently - was working (and working and working, until we got it!).” 

When It Is Close To Home Thu, 28 Sep 2017 13:42:54 +0000 I’m not sure I’m being a good enough parent to you, but I love you with every ounce of my being.

Trigger Warning: This blog includes information about a school shooting. 

A 20-minute scenic drive takes you from Circle of Security International’s office to Freeman High School. Two weeks ago, a 15-year-old boy named Sam was shot and killed by another 15-year-old boy. Ami Strahan, a Social Worker, had to make that drive from downtown Spokane. When she heard about the shooting, she texted her son but he hadn’t returned her texts. It wasn’t until she got to the school that the Sheriff found her and had to break the news to her. Twelve weeks prior, Ami’s husband was involved in a freak accident on Father’s Day and the family was still reeling from the loss of him.

The larger Spokane community has rallied around Ami, her daughter Emily and three other families whose daughters were injured by gunfire. Businesses have donated profits to the families, a Go Fund Me account was set up for Ami and everywhere you go there are “Freeman Strong” t-shirts, bracelets and signs. Over the past two weeks, families, friends and strangers have spoken with each other about the tragic events in Freeman and offered comfort to each other.

Healing from something as awful as this can only happen within connection... In the humanity of shared grief and loss, of pain and confusion. We soothe ourselves and each other when we can turn toward each other. When we can hug, cry, talk or just be together. When we can each tell our story about how we feel this so deeply even if we do not live in Freeman.

On Saturday, a memorial service was held for Sam Strahan. Hundreds of people attended: fellow students and their families, Ami’s co-workers, community members and leaders, first responders, local politicians. Sam’s memory was honored by people who knew him well and people who didn’t know him at all, except in his final act.

Even in her profound grief, Ami spoke at Sam’s memorial. “They had argued the night before about typical teenage stuff, she said, but she worried she wasn’t being a good enough parent, the kind of parent that Sam needed. The next day when Sam came downstairs ready for school, she hugged him and told him she loved him “with every ounce of my being” and was just trying to be the best mother she could. Sam hugged her back and said he understood.

“That was the last time I saw him,” she said.

She urged everyone in the crowd to love and cherish each other every day.

“There is no disagreement big enough to compromise our love for each other,” she said. “Be good humans. Be good humans.”  excerpt from "The Spokesman Review" 

It is easy to move to blame and anger in tragic situations. And, of course - justifiably - there is a need to consider how this happened and for responsibility to be taken by the appropriate people. To develop an understanding of what led up to this horrific act and how we can support other people from ever making the same decision.

Understandably, we are angry and feel protective of the victims. It’s hard to organize all the intense feelings it brings up. It’s hard to make sense of it and easy - with hindsight - to think we know how it could have been prevented. It’s safer to blame because then we don’t have to be as worried that it could happen to us, too.

Being a teenager is a complicated time. There are so many changes and a strong need to be independent while still being fairly dependent. It is also complicated to be a parent of a teenager. To watch your sweet, loving child become someone with rougher edges. To hang on to the hope that you’ve done enough, been enough for those edges to smooth back out over time.

Ami’s words to her son... I’m not sure I’m being a good enough parent to you, but I love you with every ounce of my being. Her message seems fitting for all parents and teens who are going through something difficult. We can’t help but think that if all teens were able to hear and feel this message consistently, things could change. For now, our hearts remain with all the Freeman families and the greater Spokane community. 

This is the first part in a series of blogs about the struggles of being a teenager and being the parent of a teenager.

It's All About The Quality of the Relationship Wed, 18 Oct 2017 11:32:20 +0000 Teenagers who struggle with being bullies or victims, who struggle with depression or anxiety, who struggle with aggression or violence all report similar thoughts and feelings: they are alone, they don’t belong, no one cares, it will never get better. Secure attachment helps protect against these thoughts and feelings. Forming and maintaining a quality relationship with your teenager through emotional regulation, taking charge and reflection may not prevent every tragedy from occurring - the issues involved are more complex than that - but it is a significant step in the right direction. It is a step each of us as parents can do and the ripple effect of it just may be enough to make some real change in your own community. 

In our previous blog, we shared a tragic event that happened in our own backyard. Whether your teenager has had to endure a similar incident at their school or they are dealing with more typical stress, he or she will tolerate it best when they have access to you: a strong, kind and committed parent. 


It is difficult to be a teenager. Teenagers’ brains give them conflicting information about being self-reliant while also needing to be quite reliant on parents. Hormones surge - making friends and dating more important than ever while also adding drama and chaos. The pressures to be available on multiples forms of social media, to deal with sexualized behaviors, to bully or not be the target, to make good decisions, and to perform well at school and extra curricular activities are massive.


It is also difficult to parent a teenager. Your sweet, loving child is now looks more and more like an adult but swings back and forth from making mature decisions to having complete meltdowns. From an adult perspective, being a teenager is much simpler than being an adult. So when your teenager becomes demanding or moody, it’s easy to see them as being ungrateful and exhausting.


In “Raising A Secure Child”, we speak to the quality of relationship frequently and there are three parts to focus on - especially when you are navigating the troubled waters of the teenaged years. First, emotional regulation is foundational. Teenagers’ moods fluctuate at an impressive rate. While we don’t have to Be-With them in every single emotion every single time, it is important for them to feel like they can bring all their emotions and we will stay tuned in and engaged (even when we are busy, it doesn’t necessarily interest us or we think it’s not that big of a problem). Although it may seem like they don’t care about us, they are highly tuned into us. If we aren’t interested in the small things they bring us, they won’t bring us the big things. 


When a teenager needs to talk to us, they may not give us direct cues. They may hang around us, they may get in our way a little, they may pick a small fight. Don’t believe the miscue! Find ways to gently invite conversation and connection. Don’t get intrusive but casually go about your business while showing your interest. Ask questions rather than make statements. Wonder about how that must feel. Avoid lecturing or telling them you know exactly how they feel. Teenagers need to feel autonomous within the connection, so listening will let them know you get it while letting them have their own experience. 


A second part of a quality relationship is Taking Charge. “Being the hands on the Circle is certainly about being available and sensitive to needs. Yet underlying this availability and sensitivity is our commitment to being someone our child can count on to be in charge. Sensitivity towards your child is essential, but Being-With the child does not preclude stepping in when he is just too little to deal with whatever is happening.” (“Raising A Secure Child”) Our teens will act as if they can handle everything and yet, of course, they can not yet handle everything. This is where some structure and boundaries can be very helpful to the relationship. 


It is not until we are in our mid-to-late twenties that we have full access to wisdom, perspective, logic and reasoning skills. Therefore, even though your teenager’s brain will tell him or her that they absolutely know what is best, they do not actually always know what is best. Set up family rules and boundaries around curfews, homework, family time, screen time, chores, etc. Decide and communicate with your teen about spot checking (or more) on their grades, cell phone, internet and social media use. While your teen may dislike boundaries, it supports a predictable environment that is easier to navigate. Having established rules will alleviate pressure on you as a parent because there will be a framework for you as well. There is a bonus… many, if not most, teens experience some pressure when it comes to requests for inappropriate pictures. Having an involved parent who occasionally monitor texts, internet use and social media means that teenagers have an “easy out” to not engage. Your teenager may act annoyed with you, but if he or she can turn down a request “because my dad/mom spot check my phone and I’ll get in trouble”, it’s a win-win for you and your teenager. 


Lastly, quality relationships involve reflection. Reflection means that you are willing to look at the interactions between you and someone else with some objectivity and perspective. It means you can keep yourself in mind and the other person in mind at the same time. When you do this with your teenager, your reflective ability will allow you to notice if you missed an opportunity when they were ready to talk, jumped to lecturing rather than connecting, dismissed a feeling or story, or should have stepped up to take charge and didn’t. When you notice it, then you can do something about it. “People who can’t admit their errors and work to repair misunderstandings and hurt feelings leave their partner feeling misunderstood - and alone. Children need to see those who raise them as simply human and simply flawed, with a willingness to reflect on their part in what goes wrong.” (“Raising a Secure Child”)


This is what Ami Strahan did for her son the morning of the school shooting. Without knowing it, they would be their last words: “They had argued the night before about typical teenage stuff, she said, but she worried she wasn’t being a good enough parent, the kind of parent that Sam needed. The next day when Sam came downstairs ready for school, she hugged him and told him she loved him “with every ounce of my being” and was just trying to be the best mother she could. Sam hugged her back and said he understood.” (Spokesman-Review)


Teenagers who struggle with being bullies or victims, who struggle with depression or anxiety, who struggle with aggression or violence all report similar thoughts and feelings: they are alone, they don’t belong, no one cares, it will never get better. Secure attachment helps protect against these thoughts and feelings. Forming and maintaining a quality relationship with your teenager through emotional regulation, taking charge and reflection may not prevent every tragedy from occurring - the issues involved are more complex than that - but it is a significant step in the right direction. It is a step each of us as parents can do and the ripple effect of it just may be enough to make some real change in your own community. 

A Parent's Story: I Can't Be As Overwhelmed As He Is Fri, 03 Nov 2017 12:31:40 +0000 A mom wrote to us after attending a Circle of Security Parenting class. Her reflections are powerful and she agreed to let us share them with you. When we share in our struggles and triumphs, we add to the collective wisdom of parenting with secure attachment in mind. 



“I made the biggest parenting mistake of my life this week, I think.” 



I am a single parent to a 5th grader. My son’s father and I have anxious personalities so our son was probably destined to be anxious. During the first few years of my son’s life, there was a lot of conflict which just cemented his anxiety. Eventually life calmed down significantly but by then, I was a single parent. 


I have some friends who live a little bit out of town. They are an older couple who could not have children so they adore my son and we spend a lot of time with them, especially on the weekends. 


One weekend, we were at their house and my son became very upset. He was having an anxiety attack and just kept screaming that he didn’t want to leave their house to go back to our house. I caved and agreed to staying there the whole week. I thought maybe it would help his anxiety and we had thought about moving closer to them anyway. It could be a trial run. 


The first morning we were up early heading into town for school and I knew it was a mistake. A really big mistake. Later that day, I called my friend who also knows Circle of Security. I talked to her about what happened and I was able to figure some things out.


Most of the time, I know I’m a good parent. I can support my son as he wants to explore. We spend a lot of time outside and he is a great soccer player. I also know that I’m good at hanging out with my son when he is struggling. When he feels sad or mad or frustrated. But, what I realized - for the first time ever - was that I have trouble with the Hands of the Circle. When my son gets really anxious, I collapse. I give in. I get weak. I do this about his bedtime, about getting up and going to school, about foods he does or doesn’t want to eat - about lots of things!


In talking with my friend, I realized that I still feel guilty about how our lives were when he was little. I feel guilty that I may have passed on anxious genetics. I feel guilty that he’s an only child. I feel guilty that I’m a single parent. 


And because of this guilt, when he gets anxious, I give in. I give him what he wants to help him feel better in the moment. I give in because when he feels better, then I feel better. The problem is that neither of us have to deal with the bigger feelings underneath it all and his anxiety just keeps getting worse.


I don’t “Take Charge in a Bigger, Stronger, Wiser, Kind” way in the moments of his big anxious feelings because it reminds me of other times I couldn’t take charge. It’s easier to justify it as I’m good at “Being With” him but it’s not “Being With” if I’m acting just as scared and anxious as he is. Kids need parents to not be as overwhelmed as they are. 


When I went to pick him up after school, I mustered up some courage and I said, “I made a mistake. I thought it would be okay to stay at our friend’s house this week but it just isn’t going to work out. I know that might be confusing or disappointing for you and we can talk about that. But I’m not going to change my mind. We will spend the night there tonight, but then we are back at our house after school tomorrow.”


To my astonishment, my son said, “okay, mom” and that was it. No explosion, no anxiety, no whining, no crying, no yelling. 


So, I’m going to try to have more of a backbone in these moments. To Take Charge when he’s anxious so he knows I’m there to help and to make decisions so he doesn’t have to. To be the parent and let him be the kid. Because he’s a pretty great kid. 

"We Were Wrong, Man" Wed, 10 Jan 2018 10:28:17 +0000 When a facilitator is preparing for a Circle of Security Parenting class, they hope to be able to offer something new and relevant to the parents.... To help a parent feel less overwhelmed or more centered and hopeful, to offer a sense of Bigger, Stronger, Wiser and Kind as the parents are learning to be the same, to model reflection and awareness so there is an environment open to discussion of all things parenting. Once in a while, there are magical moments where the people in the class - strangers before, but no longer - are the ones who provide the most important teaching.

Somewhere in the world, a Circle of Security Parenting class met recently. There were seven people. Most people had never met before and the class was pretty quiet in the beginning. Looking around the room, it didn’t seem like they had much in common.  

The facilitator knew that some parents had been referred by social services, some where there because of custody issues, some due to addiction issues and some found the class on their own. There were fathers, mothers, grandparents and stepparents. There was a wide range of formal education, income, ages of children, races and political beliefs.

The parents did have something in common, though: a commitment to their children. Each of them knew that they struggled with parenting in some way and they wanted their relationship with their child to be better. They were willing to give up their time and money to come to a class where they didn’t know anyone else. They were willing to be uncomfortable, to be vulnerable, to be open to learning.... All for their child.

As the class progressed, they each shared a bit more about their own lives. Things they struggled with, things they succeeded with, attempts that failed, attempts that worked. Conversations came easier but still everyone was a bit guarded.

The week came to discuss “Rupture and Repair”. Two of the fathers, in particular, seemed to struggle with the idea of doing a "Time In" with their children.

One father said to the facilitator, “When I was growing up, the choice was a belt or a switch. I get that that’s bad for kids. I know what it’s done to me. But now you are telling me that I can’t even put my kid in a time out? I can’t tell her to go to the corner and she can come out when she’s stopped throwing her fit? I'm supposed to just let her come and cry all over me? What is that going to teach her, huh?”

Before the facilitator could respond, another dad began to talk: 

“You know, man, I’m right there with you.

My parents were so rough with us that I don’t even like to be touched by people.

But what I’m figuring out here is... that this is what our kids need.

This is what we needed.

Hugs and love and hanging out.

Letting them feel things that I thought we were supposed to hide.

What I’m realizing here is..... we were wrong, man.

We were wrong.”

The class was very quiet and a few people had tears in their eyes. 

The first dad shook his head a little and after a moment, said, “Yeah, I think maybe you’re right. I still don’t get it and I’m not sure I want to, but I see what you’re saying.”

There wasn’t much the facilitator had to say. Both fathers had said it all. 

Time Out! Fri, 19 Jan 2018 10:33:33 +0000 Let’s talk about “Time Outs”. Most of us who are now parenting grew up with time outs or spankings of one kind or another. And, according to research, most of us now would prefer not to spank. Are “Time Outs” the only option? Are there any benefits or risks to them?

A “Time Out” typically happens when a child is having a big feeling (anger, sadness, frustration) with big behaviors (hitting, screaming, throwing). The parent usually says something like, “go to your room (corner, chair, bench) until you are calm.” Sometimes it’s a specific number of minutes, sometimes it’s a specific place, sometimes it’s up the parent when it’s over.

Time Outs are supposed to be better than spankings. Parents are showing they are in charge without inflicting any physical pain on the child and it doesn’t put the child in a bind where the parent is both the source of pain and the source of comfort.

Time Outs can also be effective in that it allows us, as parents, some time to calm down. Most of us have found ourselves in a standoff of consequences that has reached a point in which the child is punished for much longer than is actually possible for us to maintain! When we can take the Time Out to get calm, we are less likely to get ourselves into this situation.


However, we are living in a time when there is a renewed focus on the brain and how it develops. New information about the brain may have you re-thinking Time Outs....

1. Self-soothing requires a sophisticated brain.
There has long been this idea that children need to learn to self-sooth at an early age. Self-soothing is a very important skill set and it does begin in the early months and years of life. However, the ability to self-sooth, especially when very upset, can only occur in an older, mature, sophisticated brain. Infants and children are not able to regulate big emotions on their own - they learn to do it with you. When you hold your child, your regulated breathing and heartbeat begins to calm your child. With access to you, your child’s brain slows down the release of stress hormones and instead releases connection hormones. As you do this hundreds and thousands of times, your child’s brain will anticipate your comfort and just seeing you or thinking of you starts that soothing/calming process. Eventually, a child will be able to self-sooth (at least some of the time) because you soothed them so often.

2. Your child only has access to their own level of wisdom.
When any of us are very upset, our brains switch to only looking for safety. The part of the brain in charge of safety (the amygdala) becomes focused on fighting off or getting away from the unsafe thing. When your child gets this upset, your child has lost all ability to have wisdom about anything. At that moment, their brain doesn’t care about learning, or logic, or consequences because those parts of the wise brain (the frontal lobe) aren’t in charge or making the decisions.

Your brain, however, has had many moments of being able to re-tune into your wise brain in the face of something difficult. You have a fully developed frontal lobe that has had countless moments of predicting consequences, being flexible, calming down, being persistent, using logic and staying connected. Our children don’t. They learn from watching us do it. If they are pushed away from you during this important work, the only level of wisdom they will have access to is their own (which isn’t much).

3. They are learning to be angry at themselves or at you.
Usually, we put our children in a Time Out because we want it to be a calming and learning experience. But children’s brains are not actually able to connect the dots in the way we wish they could. This logical thinking requires a calm, integrated brain that has practiced this skill many times over. A child with a big feeling or out of control behavior will still be lashing out, even if they are quieter about it.

Truth be told, when a child is in trouble or has out of control behavior and they are sent off to their rooms or the corner, they are not thinking about the actions that got them there. More likely, they are thinking, “my mom is mean” or “my dad is stupid”. Or they might be thinking “I’m stupid” or “I’m bad”. Blame and shame tend to lead us only into unhealthy choices.


So are there any other options? Yes, of course!


Many attachment researchers are embracing the idea of a Time In. There are three steps to a Time In.

1. Time Out for the Parent (if it’s needed).

If you are not in a place of Bigger, Stronger, Wiser and Kind, then find a safe place for your child to go until you are. If they are smaller, put them in their room or bed. If they are older, you could go into another room. Soothe yourself.

2. Find your child and get as close to them as they will let you.

Your child may still be upset and if they are still feeling unsafe, they may not let you get too close right away. Stay as close as they seem comfortable with and as they calm down, then move a little closer. Eventually, sit with them or let them cuddle on your lap. Offer your wise, calm brain and your warm, caring connection.

3. Repair.

When you are both calm, let them talk to you about what happened for them. You may be surprised how insightful children can be. In as few words as possible, let them know what happened for you. Model apologies to them (if applicable - and so often it will be applicable!) and acknowledge your role in what went wrong. If needed, discuss consequences. Give your child a chance to come up with an option to “make things right” or give a choice of things that are acceptable to you.


Unconditional love is just that - it’s open to all conditions... all feelings, all thoughts all behaviors. When we put a child in a Time Out because they are feeling, thinking or doing something that we find unacceptable, we are also taking away some of our connection to them because of that feeling, thought or behavior. This could result in a child feeling as if our love is actually conditional on their attitude or behaviors, which would create many more problems.

Circle of Security Parenting helps us see the opportunities our children give us every day to Be With them all the way around the circle. It shows us how to support exploration and how to keep our arms open when our child is struggling in some way.

Using a Time In as another way to connect, teach and support your child will help your child develop in ways that promote security, tenderness, self-soothing and empathy. It will help your child’s brain develop in an environment of structure, patience, soothing and learning.

So, take a Time Out when you need it.... One just long enough for you to be able to turn back to your child with a welcoming, bring-it-on-because-we-can-get-through-this-together face. When you hang in there with your child, you are showing them how to hang in there with themselves. 

The Forever Empty Thu, 08 Feb 2018 14:50:07 +0000 A young mom asked me how to help to make sure her child didn’t have to go through some of the same pain she had. This mom had an especially difficult life but our discussion was familiar to me.

There is an American comedian who has a skit about “the forever empty”. He talks about how we are all using our cell phones and risking car accidents from texting and driving because the feelings of loneliness and sadness in “the forever empty” are so potent. 


When a young mom asked me how to help make sure her son had a better life than her, I thought of the forever empty. I thought of the emotional cup we all have inside of us and I talked to her about this cup. I asked her who filled that cup up for her. She said, “no one… there’s just this big void.”


Gently, I asked her how she manages to deal with the pain of that big void and she listed out all the things she has done to hurt herself in an effort to not be in so much pain. 


We all do this in one way or another and to some degree. When our emotional cup isn’t full enough and that forever empty starts creeping up, we do all sorts of things to temporarily fill up that void. Some of us use alcohol, or drugs, or drama-filled relationships. Some of us use food or sex or gambling. Some of us try to get someone else to take the pain away and some of us hide away from everyone until the pain isn’t so intense. 


Here’s what I shared with the mom: the anecdote to the forever empty is the bottom half of the circle. It’s snuggling. It’s cuddling. It’s holding. It’s connecting. It’s safety. It’s protection. It’s Being-With. It’s soothing. It’s delight. It’s love.  


It’s putting down the phone and looking at someone while talking. It’s working through a conflict even when it makes you nervous and uncomfortable. It’s offering the protection of boundaries and structure. It’s being flexible and wise. It’s being kind and loving. 


The void gets smaller and more manageable when we have experiences of being with safe people who care about us. People who turn toward us even when we worry we are being too much for others. People who tell us the things we need to know about ourselves with gentle compassion. 


We fill the void with alcohol or food or drugs or drama when we can’t fill the void with a loving other. True cup filling is so much more than the temporary filling - a quick fix that actually makes the void bigger and deeper and more intense. In some ways, it’s similar to anxiety: when you avoid safe things because they make you feel uncomfortable, it helps for a moment. But then the anxiety comes back, growing stronger with each avoidance and finding new things to worry about. So it is with the void: when you avoid true connection through an unwise choice, the void grows stronger, deeper and more consuming. 


So, I spoke with this mother about finding safe people who will fill her cup. About finding people who will be part of her tribe. We spoke about danger signs of unsafe people and how to begin to trust her gut. To set boundaries. To trust that one or two solid people is much better for her than dozens of unreliable people. To experience the bottom half of the circle with trustworthy and consistent people. 


Most importantly, we spoke about filling her son’s cup....finding multiple times every day to snuggle him, cuddle him, talk with him, hold her arms open, make eye contact, delight in him, hug him, protect him. To consistently be available to him on the bottom half of the circle. Because in the filling of her son’s cup, it just may be that her forever empty will also feel a little less lonely.  


This blog was written by a COSP contributor. Katie Jessop is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and has a private practice in Spokane, WA. She and her husband have three children, ages 1, 5, and 18. 




Parenting Is So Inconvienent Fri, 23 Feb 2018 13:02:36 +0000 Inconvienent moments pop up often when you are a parent. So can love, delight and connection. 

One of the parts of parenting that I didn’t anticipate was just how inconvenient it can be. In theory, I knew getting ready in the morning would take longer, scheduling would get more complicated, sleep would decrease and grocery budgets would increase. 


In practice, the sheer number of inconveniences each day is a bit mind-boggling. 


It is astoundingly inconvenient to look for the missing shoe every single morning, or to change a blow out diaper just as you were getting ready to finally walk out the door. To make sure lunches and extra sets of clothes and backpacks all made it into the car. To fill out countless forms. To schedule countless appointments. To make countless meals. To clean up countless toys. Homework. Ugh. Homework. 


And, sleep….that lovely distant memory of something I desire so deeply and yet will elude me for the next decade. I have been woken up by hungry babies, scared toddlers, accidents, nightmares, fevers, kids crawling into bed, kids crawling out of bed, kids’ legs on my face or elbows in my back, worry for teenagers out with friends… Saying sleep deprivation is inconvenient is the understatement of parenthood. 


And thank goodness for those friends who can commiserate. The ones who are also up feeding babies at two in the morning, liking posts on Instagram and texting profound truths when it seems no one else in the world is awake or could understand. The friends who would never make you feel bad for losing your patience when your child refused to put their shoes on and get in the car. The friends you put as emergency contacts. The friends you only see briefly at soccer games and car pools. The friends you love to be with but never actually get to see. The friends you plan to reach out to again when the kids get a little older. 


A few months ago, I thought my appendix was rupturing. Before children, I would have simply called my husband at work so he could drive me to the hospital right away. After children, it required an hour’s work of organizing who could go where and what would they need before driving myself to the hospital while calling my husband at work to meet me there. Even emergencies feel inconvenient as a parent. 


Then, alone, sitting in an uncomfortable hospital bed, I found out that one of my friends passed away. A friend with three boys like me. A friend who messaged at two in the morning because she saw that I had just liked something on her FaceBook page and we were both awake feeding babies. A friend who commiserated with me. A friend who celebrated with me. 


I had thought we would have time for girls weekends when the kids were older. I thought we would have more time to share parenting struggles. I thought I would have more time to tease her about how much her husband still clearly adored her. 


I thought there was more time. 


My friend was one of those really beautiful people. You know, those ones who are so good looking that you think they couldn’t possibly be nice, too? But she was. She was one of the most joyful, kind and genuinely happy people I had ever met. She and her husband were still goofy-in-love and she was devoted to her children in all the best ways. 


In life, my friend had moments of struggle. She questioned some of her decisions, she got frustrated with the children, she had disagreements with her husband. She knew the inconvenience. She was like all of us.

In death, I think one of her biggest regrets would be all the ordinary moments that she will miss. The after school hugs. Wrapping her baby in a towel after a bath. Comforting her toddler after a bad dream. Seeing her oldest have his first crush. Kissing her husband before work. 


I think she would gladly choose to come back for even the most inconvenient of days. 


Inconvenient moments still have possibility. Looking for the missing shoe could turn into a moment of adventure. The diaper change could suddenly turn silly and delightful. Lost backpacks might become an inside joke by the time your child heads off to college. The meals and forms and appointments could later be something that connects you to your child when they are overwhelmed with your grandchildren.


This is not to say that there is no room for impatience or frustration or being overwhelmed. But I feel my friend’s presence the most in those moments. It helps me feel impatient and somehow grateful. Frustrated and still connected. Overwhelmed and, yet, present. 


I get to have all these inconvenient moments with my family. 


They are temporary and they are the parts I will miss when my children are grown. 


They are the parts that my family would miss if I am no longer here. 


Life with children is so much more inconvenient than I ever imagined. And it is exponentially more precious, amazing, wonderful and healing than I imagined. It is the ordinary moments that really makes it all so extraordinary. 


My friend’s life and death has had an incredible ripple effect… as would all of ours. I cherish the gift she left me because it helps me be with my children more often than I would have otherwise been. I am slowing down to experience more moments with my family. Inconvenient or not. 


Katie M. Jessop, MA, LMHC has a private practice in Spokane, WA. She and her husband have three children ages 18, 5 and 1. 


Diluting the Power of Connection Fri, 09 Mar 2018 08:50:09 +0000 Even though technology has offered us many advantages, humans have stopped looking at each other as often. We have eye contact that is filtered through our screens and we are missing out on the information we receive when we look at real-time, live, in-person faces. 

Recently, I had a very candid conversation with a 17-year-old male about what it’s like to feel lonely and what makes him lonely. He said he doesn’t feel lonely very often because as soon as he does, he takes out his phone to look at it. He said that it probably wasn’t a good thing to do but he seemed to do it often anyway. ‚Äč


“I check my phone all the time. Like, I’ll just be sitting there and I’ll feel this need to pull it out and see if anyone has sent me anything. If I see that there’s a notification, I’ll feel great! Like I matter.

If there aren’t any notifications, then I feel awful about myself. I know I shouldn’t base how I feel abut myself on whether or not someone has sent me anything, but I do.”


He went on, “I mostly use SnapChat. It’s stupid really. I’ll take a picture of my face and send it to thirty people. Then some of them will take a picture of their faces and send it back to me. If I get a couple back, I feel awesome. But it’s dumb, we’re just all sitting alone, sending each other pictures of our faces.”


We sat quietly for a moment because I was struck by how profound his words were and how accurately he described the bind of the connection-not-connection that technology seems to offer us. 


Then I asked him, “what do you suppose would be different about your life if you could look up from your phone and see someone’s face in real life… someone who showed you how glad they were to see you?”


He hesitated because he didn’t have an answer at first. 


Then he said, “I think I’d be…. happier.”


In that moment, I realized that even though technology has offered us many advantages, humans have stopped looking at each other as often. We have eye contact that is filtered through our screens and we are missing out on the information we receive when we look at real-time, live, in-person faces. Technology has diluted the power of connection. 


Our children are hardwired to look at our faces thousands of times each day. It gives them information about who they are, what they are worth, if they are loved, if they are a priority. Eye contact, delight and responsiveness create brains that are primed for security, confidence and optimism. 


When our children don’t have access to our real-time, live, in-person face, they will make do with technology. They will turn to phones, computers and tablets to fill the gap that is missing from a present and interactive relationship. Technology doesn’t fill the void completely…. but something is better than nothing. 


As parents, we are going to, of course, be distracted often. Work, chores, meals, bills and other commitments will have to take priority at certain times every day.


I wonder, though, how often my children look at my face while I am busy looking a screen. I wonder how many times they tried to get connected with me but I didn’t respond. I wonder how many times they walked away and used something else to fill the void that I unintentionally created in that moment. 


I wonder how many times I have looked at my phone when I felt lonely. I wonder how many times I haven’t even noticed. I wonder if I would feel happier too if I engaged with my phone less and people more.