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Who had the Connect kit in their home, that magnetic one, with the balls and the sticks, the bits that always blocked the hoover!? It always fascinated me how each one of my children could make very different shapes, ones that got more convoluted, as time went on. There are so many popular toys, that we buy our children, toys that are good for improving fine motor skills, all toys that have connecting bits, Brio, Duplo, jigsaw puzzles, Lego, bits that all slot in and fit together. Did you watch your child get more confident with them, each time, building more and more complicated constructions? And then would say…”let’s tidy up now”, in my house, the beloved construction would be put on display for Daddy to look at but eventually it would have to be broken up and put back in it’s box. It could never be lasting.
We teach our children from a very early age to “connect”with the world and society first with toys, then with playdates, Playgroups, and Playgrounds. We buy them anything that can help with their insatiable curiosity about the world , books and magazines, kindles or tablets, games, construction kits, the list goes on.
We support their learning at school in whatever ways we can through family excursions, extra-curricular activities and more books, but sometimes in the busyness of life, the pressures of secondary school homework, and demands of our time as working parents, the quality of “the connection” between each other in our family unit can suffer.
In the workplace we as adults have to connect and network to grow and develop our careers, our businesses or charities to make them successful. But how can we as parents or caregivers meaningfully connect with our children to build secure and lasting relationships, ones that withstand difficulties and crisis’s, ones that are not broken , or put away in a box , and ones where relationships can be repaired at any age?
I have rebuilt my career post children working supporting adults and young people, firstly in the Charity sector, before founding The Weller Way. When I returned to the workplace , I had absolutely no experience of working with adults suffering from acute mental health problems or vulnerable homeless teenagers. But the one transferable skill I did have was that I am good at talking to people, but more importantly good at listening to people in an empathetic way to help make meaningful connection. Connections that were made by running therapeutic groups, teaching life skills, talking, laughing and sharing life’s experiences. On reflection this was proof to me that “Being With” and Time giving are the foundations of success.
The Care Act defines all services looking after or supporting service users that the over-riding principle must be promoting individual well- being and the approach be person-centred. These standards, a regulatory protection against abuse of individual rights throws up for me the great chasm between statutory regulation and the general assumption that we all know what we are doing as care givers to our children. But are we person- centred with our parenting? Do we consciously evaluate the individual needs and values of our children? I didn’t, I had a definite, peas in the pod, one style fits all approach, which helped me get through the demands of having a large family. If we have time to read the plethora of Parenting books and articles online, listen to podcasts from experts and seek advice from friends and family, it can result in feeling more confused than ever! What works for one child, doesn’t necessarily work for the other, but actually we don’t really need manuals, there is a more natural and instinctive approach that we can and should have confidence in, that is, viewing our child as “our” manual. This then helps enormously in seeing our child as a whole person with needs and values , children are hardwired from birth to seek secure connection and it is this need conversely, which when sensed to be threatened causes poor behaviour. It is often the perceived threat to security which is behind sibling rivalry too If we can consider the clash between needs and values within families when arguments ocurr, this is a great starting point for healing to prevent ruptures in the family and opportunities to improve connection.
But it is also important that there is diversity, it embraces differences, it embraces the “and” in our relationships and it embraces mistakes. The “and” being that no 2 people are the same and no 2 relationships are the same. But what I love about it the most is that it removes Shame, Blame and Perfection from the equation. Once you understand the model, the discovery that there is no “perfect” way to parent, but that the strength is in the “and”, the building of connection is something that we all instinctively crave.
So…how do we build connection when in reality we are juggling six million balls in the air, and trying to function on so many levels, as a professional, a partner, a parent , a son or a daughter, a friend, a club member, a team member, and an all singing, all dancing human being? We’re often still trying to figure out who we are, let alone psychologically analysing the character of our child and wondering why they are not a mini re-creation of ourselves? It is simply one equation : For children LOVE = TIME. Time that is prioritised, scheduled into the routine, and un-interrupted (both physically and emotionally). The over-riding conclusion from research is that it’s not the quality of the time i.e trips out etc, but the quantity of time. This is not to say that there is no room for spontaneity , spontaneity is a extra cherry on top always but it doesn’t provide security when the time giving is haphazard.
It’s so much easier at work…..At the hostel, we always asked clients what groups, workshops, or education programmes they would like. More often than not, the answer came back….baking cakes or Art. Why was it always the same answer, and then it struck me, it’s participation, it’s fun, it’s non -confrontational, non- threatening, it’s not talking about emotions, its doing, its “Being with”. And then ….boy, the most interesting, revealing conversations would just naturally occur.
I ran a Scrapbooking club, it was the most popular club with the girls, creating a visual record of their baby and their friends but also a discovery that they had a story to tell, a story that could be re-framed, and a story that need not define their future. Often it came with a revelation that they could complete or finish something, a completed scrapbook that they were so proud to keep and show people which boosted their self esteem. But it was always in those sessions, when I was often allowed to hear what was really going on in their lives, when they felt safe enough to talk about it. With teenagers, it’s often when you are sitting side by side, in the car, watching a film, or out for a walk that they start to open up.
When one of my sons was little, he showed a keen interest in Lions and Tigers, his bed was covered in soft toy lions and tigers, and his head was absorbed with interesting facts he had gleaned from all manner of animal information at his disposal. He was obsessed with them, but did I ever talk to him about why he loved them?, did I ever ask him what was the most interesting fact he had learnt about them? I employed all these skills at work, but it has later dawned on me to question if I did that enough at home. It is worth asking ourselves: How often do we prioritise time to really enter and join in with our child’s world? How often do we commit time in sharing each other’s day and participating in learning opportunities from those moments?
As consumers we love discovery, a new hobby, a new way to keep fit, a new fashion brand, a new cook book, a new walk, a new destination to go on holiday, the list is endless, there is global choice and something for everyone. Different approaches to fitness, different approaches to therapy, what suits one person, doesn’t suit another, but what is important is that there is the diversity of approach so that no one is excluded. The approach to Parenting called The Circle of Security is a visual model to promote connection and the building of secure relationships. I don’t hold it in competition to other approaches, the more interventions and opportunities out there to help, the better. But where it differs and what is at it’s core, is that it is rooted in Scientific evidence about how connection through attachment is built. The Harvard Grant Study began in 1938 to determine what makes humans thrive and flourish. It has followed 268 Harvard undergraduate men for 75 years, and has unsurprisingly concluded that the warmth of relationships we experience in childhood has the most consequential effect on our future mental health and ability to “succeed” , by placing our relationship with our children as the most determining effect on their well-being is an obvious conclusion and something that most of us already know, but what it adds is that the experience does not have to be perfect for it to be enough. “Enough” creates a stable sense of self worth, which builds emotional resilience because life has value, therefore we’ll try again when life throws us curveballs. For those men in the study, who didn’t fare so well, it was documented that where they had developed a meaningful relationship later in life, they were able to perceive themselves as having a higher self worth and experienced much better mental health. This then supports the premise that it is never too late to build connection. Much research, spurred by the Grant study also evidences that behavioural management is successful and naturally occurring through the quality of the relationship, rather than needing to use a punitive or authoritarian style approach to control behaviour or strategies such as Time out for children, that re-inforces dis-connection.
When I was trained by the psychologists who created the Circle of Security model, I was so excited by Glenn Cooper’s words, that “what we hope for parents is that they can discover that there is no such thing as perfect parenting but this approach helps us become good enough.” The discovery through his words that we can’t spoil our children emotionally, it just can’t happen…I felt thoroughly empowered by and ready to empower others with this knowledge.
I wish I had known about The Circle of Security when I was a new Mother, I wish I knew then what I knew now about Parenting. I wish I knew then how to truly connect, discovery is never too late, and it has inspired me to help in any way I can to help you re-connect with your child if you are experiencing difficulties in your relationship.
I will be running more Circle of Security taster workshops in the next few months .Please email me firstname.lastname@example.org to register your interest.