Attachment Needs

The attachment needs on the circle are how we identify what a child needs emotionally. These emotions that we cannot see drive our behaviour. We learn this from significant others in our lives. We need to keep practising to identify what children’s needs are on the circle by not judging and feeling the emotion but by letting go and being with the child in the moment to co-regulate with them rather than try and control the situation. It is being intentional to be with the child as hands of support not closed hands of control. Hence we allow the child to try to be autonomous and feel safe and secure through our calm and trusting approach.

Finding the Needs

As we discussed there are 7 needs on the circle. Following is some information in relation to these needs. Below is a handout to help you to reflect in the moment in relation to the needs of the child and your own needs. Then utilising this information to see what your strengths are and how your own thoughts and behaviour may be affecting the outcomes and the attachment.

Watch Over Me

According to Coyne. J. et al. (2018). watch over me is a child’s need to know that his or her parent is present and available for the child as they explore the world.

Watching over me is not merely supervising children it is ‘being with’ in the present moment in non-judgemental ways where children want to explore and discover their world in independent and secure ways. Think back to when you were a child were you able to venture out safely and explore your immediate world to learn and experience it for yourself? Do you know allow children to do this or do you perhaps control your children’s exploration?

If we watch over children with fear for what might be or what might happen we instil this sense of fear in children as children sense these emotions and will respond in ways that may be too fearful to venture out themselves and then miss many opportunities. We can help children to explore when we challenge our own insecurities (if we have any). Be sure to reflect on how it makes you feel when your child or children in your care are exploring their world. Are there ways that you can reduce these fears? Writing them down and problem-solving them with others including children can be helpful. Perhaps you could complete a risk assessment of areas that make you feel uncomfortable and then eliminate and reduce any risks where possible.

Delight In Me

According to Coyne. J. et al. (2018). delight in me is a child’s need to feel that he or she is pleasing to the parent just for who the child is as he or she explores when on top of the circle and when on the bottom of the circle Delight in me is the child seeing nurturance.

Delight in me is mentioned twice, once on the top of the circle and then again on the bottom of the circle because it is important for a child to feel connected. It is a time to allow your child to see you are happy and contented that they are who they are.

We are hardwired for attachment with others and so having someone delight in us creates a special moment that someone wants to experience joy with us where we are able to share a smile and a laugh. Delight in me is not delighting in a child because they did something fantastic it is delighting in them because they are fantastic.

Who were some significant others in your life that made you feel special by just giving you a smile or sharing a laugh with you? What were there secure behaviours that made you feel good about yourself and want to spend time with them?

Help Me

According to Coyne. J. et al. (2018). Help is a child’s need for a parent to scaffold learning, pitching the parents help at the level required to build the child’s competence, navigating the extremes of taking over or leaving the child on his or her own.

Some people will tell you I am one of the most independent people. My daughter will tell you she is her mother’s daughter. I had this ingrained belief that to be strong I had to be independent. Later when I suffered trauma and chronic pain I soon realised I needed to rely on others and seek help at times and this was ok. I had to learn that just as important it is to show kindness and compassion to others it is important to receive from others. I needed to change my perspective to consider how people want to help others and we are making them feel good by allowing them to help us.

I believe how we help children is the start of them learning this balance between independence and interdependence, where they learn to be empathetic to the needs of others and provide help and support in line with others’ needs.

Reminds me of Jean Piaget’s theory of how children learn best when they are able to learn through play to be able to make sense of the learning and construct their own meaning. It is the adult who is observing or ‘watching over’ the child that gauges from observation of body language in particular, as to when a child may need help. It is then that an adult can gauge what the child can do with the help. This help between what the child can do by themselves and what they can’t do is referred to as the zone of proximal development. This is when we need to respect children and their rights and ask them if they would like help before they become frustrated and if they do become frustrated then continue to be with them to help them organise their feelings.

Enjoy With Me

According to Coyne. J. et al. (2018). enjoy with me is a child’s need to feel that exploration is a shared and enjoyable experience for the paret also.

It is a time we are available with our children to be interested in what they are interested in and we have fun, play and spend time with them and where we show interest in them.

This may be a challenge if we are looking at the time and the other things we need to do, such as the work related to our job or the chores in the house or taking children to curricular activities for example. It is important to make a conscious effort to enjoy with their child in their interests. This can be done during other moments. For example when driving in the car play a game or enjoy the time with them in the car or whilst making a bed or setting a table. Although truly being with someone to meet their need of enjoy with me is being present in their interest. It is getting to know your child and allowing them to lead where possible so that they may feel autonomous.

Protect Me

According to Coyne. J. et al. (2018). protect me is a child’ need to be protected physically and emotionally, allowing him or her to feel safe.

Fear is the real or imagined threat of harm. It can be physical, emotional or psychological. Our minds and ourselves can become afraid of almost anything. Fears can be displayed in our face through raised eyebrows that are pulled together with raised upper lid and tense lower eyelids and lips stretched horizontally back towards the ears.

We all have fears and/or have moments when we are feeling scared. Being scared could be physically safe in the moment but emotionally scared for the future. Children need to feel safe and secure to feel protected by having a trusting and committed parent/significant other.

Comfort Me

According to Coyne. J. et al. (2018). Comfort is a child’s need for soothing and comfort from the parent when experiencing distress.

According to Oxford Languages, Google Definition Comfort is a state of physical ease and freedom from pain or constraint. It is the easing or alleviation of a person’s feelings of distress. We all need comfort when we are upset, whether that is from ourselves in self-soothing or from others supporting us to be soothed.

Comfort Me is supporting children to feel soothed by a gentle, kind and empathetic parent/significant adult.

As adults, there are different ways we can soothe ourselves that can be internal or external. External such as having chocolate ice cream or internal such as mindfulness and meditation practices.

Organising My Feelings

According to Coyne. J. et al. (2018). Organising my feelings is a child’s need for help in regulating intense emotions in which a parent supports by being present with the child’s intense feelings.

Organising my feelings is helping a child to regulate their behaviour through coregulation with an adult.

Imagine you are very upset about something. Let’s say it is an item that is pressure on you and you feel it is something you can’t replace or put a value on. You start to cry and start thinking about the person that gave you the item and memories come flooding in. A friend sees you crying and says ‘Don’t worry, it’s ok, you can just get another one, come on let’s go dancing.’ You start to tell your friend about what happened and your friend says, ‘You can buy a new one, or ‘If you looked after it better it wouldn’t have happened.’

How would this make you feel? Would it help you to be able to acknowledge your feelings and be able to regulate how you are feeling?

Sometimes we discount people’s feelings because perhaps we are trying to make them feel happy rather than seeing them sad. This could be because we view some emotions as negative or positive. Although emotions are not negative or positive it is how we deal with them in helpful and unhelpful ways that make a difference. We may do this because this is what we were taught to do and/or because these situations make us feel uncomfortable and this can be because we were taught to experience emotions in ways that are not so responsive.

Imagine the above scenario but instead, your friend listens to you and you feel a little better because you are able to talk about how you feel. This in turn then builds upon your relationship and attachment because you have been supported and are perhaps sharing personal information about your feelings that have meaning to you.

Children experiencing events in their life are learning how to regulate their emotions and behaviour. If we discount their feelings and then they are likely to react to our behaviour out of frustration rather than being able to respond to their own feelings and the other person because they are very upset about something. Hence they could become angry and yell, scream or be physical, or they could go within and say nothing because they learn that they are not going to have the opportunity to voice their concerns.

It is these moments where we teach children to react or respond that becomes embedded behaviour. Cultural practices can play a big part in how we respond to others and how we raise children. For example, when I grew up it was the norm that ‘men don’t cry and they don’t hug each other because it makes them soft.’ This could lead to men becoming angry and finding it difficult to have relationships where they are able to express their feelings. It is important to challenge and reflect on any bias or practices that may not allow people to organise their feelings.

Organising our feelings is supporting children through ‘being with’ them on the circle in a way that acknowledges their feelings and where they are able to learn to identify their different feelings. Acknowledging emotions can help children to learn empathy. For example, if a child hurts another child, if we ask the child how might the other child be feeling because they have been hurt, this can help them to start to think of others and the effect of their behaviour on others. This talking about feelings is the foundation for children to learn to express how they feel in assertive helpful ways for themselves and will most likely allow them to have more healthy relationships of attachment.

The circle of security categorises feelings and emotions into the following;

  • Curiosity
  • Joy
  • Sadness
  • Fear
  • Anger
  • Shame

When we are being with children and even other adults who may be experiencing strong emotions such as sadness, fear, anger or shame we are best to support them if we are calm. Not being calm is often caused by our own thoughts. This can be difficult and some mindfulness practices can help. This includes allowing the child time, time to sit, time to experience their emotions and when ready to talk about their emotions without judgement from the other person, this is where they need to be really listened to and not have their feelings discounted no matter how big or small we think they are. We don’t need to force discussion or control the situation. We consider children’s voices and ask them what they may need such as would you like me to sit with you or would you like a cuddle? Instead of don’t worry about it get over it or let’s go play in the sandpit you’ll be fine.

Think back to when you were a child and the above 6 feelings, are there any that your parents were able to ‘be with’ you or were there some of these experiences of feelings where they were not? Can you identify how this now affects your behaviour when your children or children in your care are experiencing these emotions? For example, if you were yelled at as a child then the anger you experienced from this could have made you react in anger or it could have made you go inside your shell like a turtle and now in relationships you are most likely to still behave in the same way. Another example might be that you send a child to their room or give them time out for their behaviour but this doesn’t teach them to talk about their feelings. We need to be the safe haven where children want to approach us.

Observe your child or children in your care and notice their big emotions and observe your behaviour in these moments. Are you reacting or responding by being truly with the child? Looking deeper are you able to guess what the child might need to fill up their own emotional cup? Do you allow children time to experience their emotions and allow them to problem solve with support?

When children and even adults are experiencing these needs on the circle they need someone to respond in respectful ways and where necessary take charge in kind respectful ways. they need to find a balance because if they are too kind it can become weak and if they are too strong they can become mean.