Today, we’re excited to offer a guest post from Dr. Sarah Gray of the Yale Child Study Center. Dr. Gray has been All Our Kin’s partner in developing our Circle of Security Project, which is a pilot project that guides providers in a deep exploration of their relationships with children. In this post, Dr. Gray explains why secure relationships are so essential to children’s development and how the Circle of Security model can help providers build stronger relationships with children in their care.
I am delighted to be writing in with a “guest blog” post about All Our Kin’s exciting Circle of Security project. My name is Dr. Sarah Gray, and I am a Psychology Fellow in early childhood at the Yale Child Study Center. I have had the pleasure of supporting AOK in developing and implementing the Circle of Security Project. All of us working on the project are very excited about working with participating providers on learning about secure relationships with the children they care for using the Circle of Security – Parenting program, which we just began in early October. Let me tell you more.
As Dr. Alan Schore has said, “we’re all hardwired for relationships.” We come into this world as babies ready to connect with adults – in fact, needing to connect with them for our basic survival! In our earliest years, from our earliest caregiving relationships, we develop our internal sense of security and safety in the world – knowing that our needs will be met, that we’ll be fed if we’re a hungry infant or helped to sort out a toy dispute if we’re a toddler in distress.
Decades of research have taught us that children’s secure attachments in early childhood are related to many outcomes that family childcare providers describe as central to their goals for the children in their care. Research has shown that children with secure attachments perform better in preschool (O’Connor & McCartney, 2007), get along better with peers at school (Cohn, 1990), and have higher self-esteem (Kim & Cicchetti, 2004).
Critically, research has shown what we know intuitively: that children can form secure attachments not just with parents but also with child-care providers. Secure attachments are more often seen in high-quality early care settings (Booth et al., 2003). And guess what? Secure attachments are more likely in in-home programs than in center-based care (Ahnert, Pinquart, & Lamb, 2006). Provider’s sensitivity to children’s’ needs is a strong predictor for child-provider attachment quality. Indeed, there’s evidence that high-quality child-teacher relationships can make up for the risk for behavior problems at school entry that insecure parent-child attachments place on children (Buyse, Verschueren, & Doumen, 2011). So, if we know secure attachments with childcare providers can be so important, how do we go about supporting sensitivity and security for young children and their providers?
Circle of Security – Parenting (COS-P) is a program that offers what the program developers call a “roadmap to security.” The program has been designed to teach caregivers about young children’s attachment relationships and how to better understand young children’s challenging behaviors and their need for connection. Initially, COS-P was designed for use with parents, but as our providers know, they often spend as much time with the children who are in their care as parents do – and the research cited above shows that security in teacher-child relationships matters, too.
We’re offering COS-P to a total of 35 providers in 5 cohorts in the New Haven, Bridgeport, and Norwalk areas, and groups are being held in English and in Spanish. During our weekly groups, which will last for eight weeks, we watch videos designed to teach about attachment and security – and use those videos as springboards to discussions about caregiving relationships, challenging behavior, and how to understand and respond to children’s need for connection. In the first weeks of the program, we’ve found that providers have been excited about what they’re learning and eager to learn more.
This project grew in part out of providers’ interest in learning more about social-emotional development. At this year’s annual conference, 127 providers completed surveys about AOK’s programming. The topics most frequently endorsed by providers as of interest included “discipline methods for problem behaviors” (61% of providers) and “how to build relationships with challenging children in your care” (58% of providers). We hope that Circle of Security will provide us with a shared language to continue to talk about building nurturing relationships for all of the children in All Our Kin’s network.