Prior to having a child, I had no idea what ‘type’ of parent I would be. There are all these words you hear: attachment, free range, tiger mum, helicopter. Could I do cry it out? Do I really want to ‘wear’ my child all the time? How will I respond to a stage 4 supermarket meltdown?
In the early sleep deprived days, you don’t have time or inclination to think about anything beyond working out how on earth to feed them and how to make the screaming noise stop long enough to get a few hours shut eye.
My mum, however, had lots of thoughts about what type of parent I should be. Over the last 10 years, she has retrained as a clinical psychologist and with her previous 30 years experience in teaching, has a pretty keen knowledge and interest in child behaviour. One of the courses she did was ‘Circle of Security’ which she rabbited on and on about (sorry mum). So one day, mainly to get some peace, my husband and I sat down with her to learn.
At the time our little baby was only a few months old and to be honest, most of it flew over my head. It’s hard to understand behavioural concepts and how you’d respond to tantrums when the child in question is sleeping innocently in your arms.
However as my daughter has grown, I’ve realised what I learnt has shaped the parent I’ve become so far. The premise of the ‘Circle of Security’ is about providing your child with an environment to promote secure attachment. Their website says:
“Decades of university-based research have confirmed that secure children exhibit increased empathy, greater self-esteem, better relationships with parents and peers, enhanced school readiness, and an increased capacity to handle emotions more effectively when compared with children who are not secure.”
My interpretation is that your relationship with your child is on a circle. You send them out to explore the world but remain present by watching over them, helping them, enjoying their exploration and encouraging them if that’s what they need. This is called the ‘top of the circle’.
When they’re at the ‘bottom of the circle’ and they need to come back, you are there for them and welcome them back. You provide them with the loving security of a hug or some time with you and help them to understand their feelings. Then when they’re ready you send them out again and the cycle continues. Going out and coming in on the circle allows their confidence to grow and their self-esteem to flourish knowing that always their parent is there.
It sounds like pretty basic stuff but it’s amazing how difficult it can be to fulfill. For example, I realised pretty early on that my challenge would be the top of the circle. I would find it difficult to let her explore on her own because underneath it all, I’m a worrier. I could easily become a helicopter parent and I don’t want to be like that. I don’t want to project my anxieties onto my child.
As I know this is an issue, I stop myself from following her around when we’re at playgrounds (as long as it’s safe to do so). When I actively sit back, I’m amazed at what she can do. My little toddler is so adventurous, she isn’t afraid of climbing to the top of the playground equipment and sliding down the biggest slide. She will run across a huge park without fear.
However she never does this without always checking we’re watching. She knows that she can explore her world because her mum or dad is watching and waiting for her to come back.
Depending on whether you believe in nature or nurture, she could have always been this type of person. She probably gets her adventurous spirit and lack of fear from her father. However for me, having this broad style of parenting has given me a manual of sorts. It’s given me a foundation to realise the type of parent I want to try to be.
To be honest, I’ve decided I don’t like those stereotypical parenting labels. I’ve learnt that I don’t have to be a ‘type’ of parent, instead I pick and choose the bits from all that suit my family best. However I’m hoping that by learning how to read my child and myself, I’ll end up with a secure and happy kid. At the end of the day, that’s what we’re all hoping for, no matter what road we took to get there.