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Meet the parenting program that could change your world

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How many times do you recall from your childhood being told ‘It’s not that bad’, ‘Stop crying’, ‘You’re overreacting!’.

As a psychologist, I can tell you that I see in the counselling room the damage this can do across a lifetime. Adults young and old suppressing feelings and needs in relationships (and life) to the point they are so incredibly depressed and unhappy they finally see a professional. Often, people disengage from their emotional selves, pushing loved ones away when they need them most and even explode with anger because so much resentment has built.

Sure, mental health isn’t black and white, and people’s brains are different. However, a lot of the suffering I see in my therapeutic work can be linked to behaviour patterns in relationships. Patterns of people-pleasing, not asking for help and not telling people how they feel for fear of being dismissed, shamed or rejected.

Enter: the challenges of parenting. Most of us know the exact ways we want to parent our children differently to what our parents did with us (and, of course, the good things we want to retain), however, when it comes to the emotional struggles we inevitably have with our children we may be surprised to see familiar patterns.

Unfortunately, just wanting to do things differently doesn’t always translate into our parenting behaviour as we are complex emotional beings. Sometimes, we also see the pendulum swing too far the other way and we can either be too firm or too permissive also leaving our kids without the emotional support they need. That’s the thing about becoming a parent—you unknowingly bring all of your history into your relationship with your children.

Before I became a parent, I was armed with a six-year psychology degree, and at least five years of working therapeutically with clients. If anyone was going to be ready for the transition to parenthood it was me! I felt ready to manage all the emotions that come with parenting, mine, my child’s…I was ready.

Then, after my first daughter arrived, I realised my education had failed me! The gush of motherhood absolutely flooded me with love—but along with it came overwhelm and (the unexpected!) self-doubt. I was completely blindsided. I wondered how others coped with the transition to motherhood. Here I was so privileged in so many ways and I was barely keeping my head above water emotionally. After my second daughter arrived, I knew it was time to do something different.

I’d heard about the Circle of Security course, an internationally-recognised, research-based course run free in the ACT through ACT Health and Marymead and occasionally privately through psychology practices and I thought I’d go along, even if just for professional development. So I signed up, albeit with low expectations.

I thought it would repackage what I already knew about child development. To my surprise, the eight weeks doing this program changed the future of my relationship with (both) my daughters, increased my enjoyment of parenting and altered the path of my career.

It changed the way I saw my daughter, the way I interpreted her less-cooperative behaviours, or her being upset about things that didn’t seem like such a big deal—to me. Circle of Security really helped me to see her respectfully as her own person, with her own valid responses to things without trying to change what she was feeling.

I often see older well-intentioned adults trying to distract a crying baby with silly faces or toys so they smile—let them cry and be comforted appropriately! Research has shown that parents who relate to their children this way go on to have more fulfilling relationships with their parents and others across the lifespan. These things eventually impact the way they as adults see themselves and their feelings as they get older.

Learning how to see our children differently is part of the journey, and to see our own behaviour in our relationship with our children—rather than focusing on just what your child is doing.

Only then can we really see what we are doing and not yet doing in our parenting. You can’t learn this program in a book. What makes it so powerful is that it’s a reflective paced program over eight weeks and is sensitively facilitated by a trained professional. Change happens when you put yourself outside of your comfort zone, be vulnerable and try different things.

Here’s a high-level overview of the Circle of Security takeaways.

  • Seeing behaviour as connection seeking rather that attention seeking
  • Holding a sense that your child is good even when they are ‘misbehaving’
  • Responding to anger and strong emotions (yours and theirs!)
  • Letting go of labels like- ‘needy’ demanding, attention seeking, a problem child
  • Learning about and managing your emotional triggers
  • How to find that balance of being firm and loving
  • Considering a parenting approach without punishments and time outs

Previous parenting trends were based on compliance and doing what you were told and we have a generation of adults still suffering the mental health consequences from a one size fits all parenting approach.

This is why programs such as Circle of Security are so important for parents in this generation. I truly believe we have the potential the change the future of mental health in our country starting with having secure relationships with our children.

To book into an upcoming program contact:

  • Marymead
  • ACT Child and Family Health
  • Corinna Chambers Psychologists Woden

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