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Circle of Security: Interpreting emotional needs

picture for circle of securityv2.jpgReminders are a part of life. Timers remind us to take dinner out of the oven. Photographs remind us of special occasions. Grocery lists remind us of what we need to pick up at the store.

But what do we do with the reminders that make us feel guilty or angry or sad? What about those especially painful reminders of past mistakes that cannot be undone?

We’re supposed to try to accept our mistakes, learn what we can from them, and move forward.

This is not an easy task for any of us. But for Ashleigh, it seemed impossible.

Ashleigh’s eight-year-old son, Noah, has fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), a developmental disorder caused by exposure to alcohol in the womb. Noah’s disorder is reflected in the distinct facial features and challenging behaviours that characterize FAS. Characteristics that serve as constant and painful reminders for Ashleigh.

“When I see him struggle it reminds me that I did this to him. It’s like a knife in my heart.”

That pain also crippled Ashleigh’s ability to cope with Noah, leaving his considerable needs unmet and Ashleigh overwhelmed with guilt.

Meanwhile, Ashleigh continued to sink further into alcohol abuse, eventually ending up in a residential addictions facility. Her discharge plan from that facility stipulated that she participate in the Circle of Security (COS) program offered by Family & Children’s Services (F&CS).

Sheila Markle, Executive Director of F&CS, receives positive feedback from both parents and staff on this program. “The COS program is one of the best programs out there for building parents’ capacity to care for their children and repair attachment.”

Penny Anderson, a social worker at F&CS, agrees. “COS helps parents understand how important their role is and gives them the tools they need to identify emotional triggers and interpret emotional needs — both their own and those of their children.”

Sitting through the COS sessions, something clicked for Ashleigh. “I needed to come to terms with Noah’s FAS. I helped create the problem and I needed to deal with it. I wanted to be a better mom to Noah and what they were saying in COS just made sense to me.”

Ashleigh began to recognize how much Noah depends on her and how important it is for her to be a safe base for him. She learned to unravel and examine the dynamics of her relationship with Noah. She found herself reframing Noah’s “attention-seeking behaviour” as “connection-seeking behaviour.”

“Circle of Security helped me move through the guilt and focus on a new way to understand what Noah needs from me.”

Penny notes the major impact COS had on both Ashleigh and Noah. “Ashleigh used to lash out at Noah when he was aggressive and he would run away from her. Now when Noah feels overwhelmed or confused, he runs TO Ashleigh.”

For Ashleigh it all adds up to one of the most important outcomes of all, “The COS helped me take the steps I needed to take to be a better mom to Noah.”

How Our Agency uses a simple circle to help resolve parent–child conflicts

 

Click here to see how Penny Anderson, a Family Support Worker at Family and Children’s Services of Guelph and Wellington County, describes how Circle of Security makes lasting improvements in parent–child relationships

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