Raising a Secure Child: How Circle of Security Parenting Can Help You Nurture Your Child’s Attachment, Emotional Resilience, and Freedom to Explore

With the constant pressure to be a perfect parent, we risk missing what children really need for emotional security.

Home » Book Summaries » Raising a Secure Child: How Circle of Security Parenting Can Help You Nurture Your Child’s Attachment, Emotional Resilience, and Freedom to Explore

Karsen: From the Parents Club, I’m Karsen Kolnicki. This is your briefing.


Karsen: Today, we’re discussing Raising a Secure Child: How Circle of Security Parenting Can Help You Nurture Your Child's Attachment, Emotional Resilience, and Freedom to Explore. Written by Bert Powell, Glen Cooper, and Kent Hoffman.

In this title, the authors explore the Circle of Security parenting strategies. Today’s parents are pressured to be perfect, but in trying to do everything right, we might miss what children really need for lifelong emotional security.

Karsen: Vincent Phamvan on the key takeaways [pause] and what you need to know.


Karsen: Vincent, how do the authors suggest that you form a healthy bond with your child?

Vincent: It’s no secret that being a new parent can be challenging. It can be both rewarding and anxiety-inducing at the same time. Some parents are hard on themselves when they make a mistake or think they’re bad parents if they don’t meet their child’s every need.

New parents aren’t naturally childcare experts, which is why the authors put together this title.  They specialize in attachment theory by showing parents how to form healthy bonds with their children.

Karsen: Is that what the authors refer to as the “Circle of Security”?

Vincent: Yes, this is a chart that the authors use to show exactly what your child has while they’re with you or away from you. The goal is to allow them to come to you for comfort and security.

Karsen: When the authors refer to attachment theory, what is this referring to?

Vincent: Attachment theory is a psychological model, and many researchers say it’s the most important step to achieving a physically and emotionally healthy life. When babies are born, they latch onto at least one individual who they can count on to understand and respond to their needs. This is called secure attachment.

There was a British psychologist who noticed that children living in orphanages weren’t as happy, even though they were warm, clothed, and well-fed. They found that the problems were caused by the fact that they didn’t have a primary caregiver, and therefore had no one to attach to emotionally.

Babies need a reliable source of reassurance, encouragement, and comfort.

Karsen: It sounds like psychologists see a child’s secure attachment as the foundation of physical and emotional health. What happens when a baby’s lacks a secure attachment?

Vincent: The authors explain that it ends up causing stress and the baby produces cortisol, which is a stress-related hormone. This causes the body to slow down and become less effective. So with a baby’s metabolism slows down, for example, it causes an increase in abdominal fat. The immune system can also have a lowered ability to fight off viruses and diseases.

Karsen: And if a baby does have a secure attachment, what’s the long-term benefit?

Vincent: Research shows that if they do have a secure attachment, they have a greater ability to show empathy and form secure relationships as adults. Scientists believe it’s a strong indicator for a longer life. Those who are socially isolated are twice as likely to have a premature death.

Karsen: It can be hard to understand what children want, especially before they’re able to communicate their needs. How can parents understand when their children need to be comforted?

Vincent: That’s the reason the authors created the Circle of Security. It’s a framework to help parents build secure attachments, provide comfort, and to give autonomy at the same time.  It’s a circle because there’s a balance between the different components.

If the circle were a shape of a clock, the process starts at the 9 o’clock position, when children have a secure base to you. When they leave your hands and complete the journey around the circle, it allows you to help them continue feeling safe.

They can travel around the circle a few times a day or even a few times in an hour. But once they return to your care, there’s three things you want them to feel: protection, comfort, and appreciation.

Karsen: What’s an example of putting the Circle of Security into practice?

Vincent: Well, if you have a three-year old that goes with you to the playground, they might leave your side for a few minutes to explore, but after a couple of minutes, they may look at you for direction and reassurance or want you to explore with them.

The same could happen when taking your child to preschool for the first time. They might be nervous as it’s one of their first times on their own. To help your child feel safe exploring, you may want to come into the class to be a secure base until they feel comfortable enough to explore on their own. Even when they play with other children, the authors say you shouldn’t leave right away. Instead, it’s best to wait until your child looks back at you and sees your reassuring presence. Then you can leave without causing panic.

Karsen: That’s great advice. So the secure base is the 9 o’clock position, and the 3 o’clock position is when they’re exploring their environment. What should parents do while observing the exploration time?

Vincent: The authors say that there are four things you can do to support during the exploration time.

The first is showing that you’re watching what they’re doing. You want to support their independence by allowing them to climb, touch, and explore. You want to avoid helping them if possible because it’s the best way to support their independence.

Second, when your child achieves something like going down a slide or climbing onto the top of a ladder on their own, you should celebrate with them. This helps them gain self-esteem and confidence from their achievements.

Third, you want to enjoy activities alongside your children without directing them. When possible, you should join in the games and exploration.

And lastly, when they aren’t strong enough to do something themselves, you can help. You can also help them do something themselves to encourage self-reliance.

Karsen: Okay, so show that your watching, then celebrate with them, join in exploration, and lastly, when needed, help them do something. These are the four steps in the exploration part of the circle. At the bottom of the circle is returning to the “safe haven.” What does that look like?

Vincent: There are another four steps that you can take at the bottom of the circle to help children return to their secure base.

First, you want to provide protection and help them feel safe. For example, making sure you’re on time when picking up your children from daycare.

Next, you want to show empathy. If your child was scared during school, you can offer comfort through your facial expressions, reassuring words, and gentle touch.

Third, when you see them, you want to smile and show that you’re happy to see them. This helps avoid feelings of being unwanted.

And lastly, you should organize their feelings. This includes using words to label the emotions that your child might be feeling. This could be done by saying, “it sounds like you may have been nervous. That’s okay and it’s normal to feel that way.”

Karsen: It can be difficult to do all of these steps perfectly as a parent. What should parents do when they make a mistake?

Vincent: Well, the authors say that mistakes don’t always have to be harmful. Everyone occasionally feels tired or stressed out, and when you’re feeling this way, it can be hard to always respond appropriately to your child. They called this “rupturing the circle.”

Karsen: When parents or a caregiver makes a mistake, what’s the best way to handle it?

Vincent: Well, the authors say that when you make a mistake, it’s actually a chance to improve the bond with your child if you’re willing to fix it. In fact, fixing a rupture to the circle may even be better for your relationship than avoiding the rupture entirely in the first place.

In order to repair a rupture, you start by acknowledging the child’s needs that you weren’t able to address and apologize. So for example, if you lost your temper with your child when they needed empathy, you can apologize and do something fun like reading a book until they calm down.

Karsen: And this would help him realize too that good things can happen after bad things, and even healthy relationships have mistakes.

Vincent: That’s right, and not making mistakes as a parent would actually set the incorrect expectation with the child later in life that they’ll have all of their needs met all the time.

The goal, instead, is to help children understand the full spectrum of emotions from fear to sadness to anger. By experiencing these different emotions, you can help them navigate how to handle these natural emotions while also showing them that emotions are nothing to be afraid of.

Karsen: There are certain emotions that can cause discomfort, so some parents may avoid certain parts of the Circle of Security. What happens if that’s the case?

Vincent: Well, the top of the circle is about focusing on encouraging your child to explore, which means the caregiver has to be comfortable with giving the child some emotional and physical space.

The bottom of the circle is about comforting a vulnerable child, which requires emotional and physical closeness.

And some parents put more weight on one side of the circle over the other. This can be dangerous because if one side of the circle’s needs is not met, the child can grow up neglecting this area of their emotional experience.

Karsen: So you’re saying that if a child doesn’t get attention when they cry, when that child grows up, since they don’t have experience dealing with tears, they can associate their own child’s crying with discomfort as well?

Vincent: Exactly, and it creates a cycle. The goal, according to the authors, should be to overcome these instincts to avoid the emotions that your parents may have passed onto you.

The opposite can also happen, where if you coddle your child at every turn, they end up not building resilience and could be over-reliant on appearing vulnerable when they grow up.

Karsen: It sounds like being aware of our own shortcomings can help us raise well-balanced children.

Vincent: That’s definitely the case. Since no parent is perfect, you’re not destined to pass on all your imperfections to your child. You can improve by recognizing your own tendencies.

When a child is asking for help, they’re asking to make a connection with you. When you’re aware of your weakness, you can work to fix them.

The authors say that as long as you’re present with your child and forgiving of yourself, you will be doing your best to help them grow up into confident, loving, and resilient adults.

Karsen: It sounds like the key takeaway from this book is that children can be emotionally secure when they feel safe and comfortable about expressing their needs to a caregiver. Then, when the caregiver encourages emotional honesty, this can lead to a healthy balance in self-reliance and comfort. Some parents have aversions to these needs because of their own childhoods, but acknowledging this and consciously acting against your natural tendencies can help correct the Circle of Security.


Karsen: That’s it for your briefing. I’m Karsen Kolnicki. See you next time.


Today’s parents are constantly pressured to be perfect. But in striving to do everything right, we risk missing what children really need for lifelong emotional security. Now the simple, powerful “Circle of Security” parenting strategies that Kent Hoffman, Glen Cooper, and Bert Powell have taught thousands of families are available in self-help form for the first time. 

You will learn: 

  • How to balance nurturing and protectiveness with promoting your child’s independence. 
  • What emotional needs a toddler or older child may be expressing through difficult behavior.
  • How your own upbringing affects your parenting style–and what you can do about it. 

Filled with vivid stories and unique practical tools, this book puts the keys to a healthy attachment within everyone’s reach–self-understanding, flexibility, and the willingness to make and learn from mistakes. Self-assessment checklists can be downloaded and printed for ease of use.

Leave a Comment