Imagine a toddler in the park: toddling along happily, arms stretched to the side, happy smile on his face. He seems to even forget his mom and dad are right behind him. He’s so enthusiastic! Then, a bird flutters up and it both excites him and scares him a little. He looks behind him, searching for familiar eyes, and gives a big smile at his mom, pointing at the bird.
All of us, no matter how old or young, have two basic needs: we want to explore the world, learn, and be independent. At the same time, we are dependent on others: we need love, support, trust, and security from other people. The Circle of Security® beautifully describes how of the needs for exploration and security are far from polar opposites: they are part of the same process. Let’s explore the circle!
The parent’s role is shown as two hands that serve as a “secure base” from which a child can safely explore and as a “safe haven” to which the child can return for comfort and support. The role of the parent is summed up as, “Always be bigger, stronger, wiser, and kind. Whenever possible: follow my child’s need. Whenever necessary: take charge.” When the parent serves as a secure base, the child can play, discover, and enjoy himself, while safe and secure.
When children run off to play on their own, this doesn’t mean that they suddenly don’t need their parents any longer. In a crawling infant, parents need to be there to make sure the environment is safe, to help when baby needs support, and share in their discoveries. A preschool child can go explore for longer and may sometimes seem to forget the parent. But they may suddenly shout out: “Daddy, look!” when they want to demonstrate a cool new skill on the playground. As children grow, their circles will extend and become larger; but they will always maintain the need to come back, share, and feel supported in their explorations of the big, wide world. Older children will mainly share through their stories and talking with their parents.
The bottom of the circle shows children’s needs for comfort and connectedness. Small infants will simply cry to show that they need closeness. Toddlers can decide to move closer to their parent, or put their arms up in a “pick-me-up” gesture. Preschoolers can be clingy sometimes, to the exasperation of their parents. But clingy behaviors show a need to reconnect until they feel sure that they are safe enough to go out on their own again. By getting comforted, children “fill their cup.” When their cup is full, the desire to explore and discover the world will naturally arise again. Again, the older children grow, the more they will seek closeness by using their words: sharing situations that made them sad, or trying to make sense of things that they struggle with.
The role of the parent is always to be a stable secure base and safe haven; to be stronger, wiser, and kind. Are we always able to do this? No! Parents, like all people, are not perfect. And they don't need to be. All that children need to develop a secure attachment is “good enough” parents that get it right most of the time!.