Lynne Holdem describes it as the “magic of mammals.” It’s the attachment parents have to offspring, the subsequent nurturing and its ability to build lifelong security and self-confidence.
An early intervention parenting programme called Circle of Security, now being delivered around Taranaki, aims to build that attachment, those relationships – or ‘magic’ - between vulnerable young children and caregivers.
A $29,000 grant from TSB Community Trust will enable 30 parents/caregivers to take part in an 8-week course over the next year in New Plymouth, Stratford and Hawera. The courses are also followed up by monthly parent group meetings with facilitators.
Circle of Security is non-judgmental and different from many others, says Lynne, co-manager of Supporting Families in Mental Illness Taranaki. Based on years of research from an American model, it doesn’t ‘coach’ parents to be in charge of their children – a basis for other behaviour modification programmes.
Instead, says Lynne it helps them better understand the nuances of their child’s behaviour, and respond to that and form a stronger relationship.
“When parents are able to tune into their child’s behaviour and understand their needs then children are generally very co-operative. It’s exciting because the parents love it. They don’t feel they are getting told off or corrected. When you’ve had a hard life with a lot of issues and you are a parent you want the world for your child – but you might not understand the distress signals. These parents can be awesome.”
Insecure attachment happens in many different ways and is not an indicator of wealth or class, she says. For example, parents may encourage children to explore and be physical but be less tuned in when that child needs comforting; others favour closeness but because of their own personal experiences discourage a child’s independent or exploratory behaviour. “The programme helps parents understand this, understand their own strengths and a need to tolerate a sense of discomfort in themselves to help their child’s development.”
Feedback from the first two courses is heartening. Says one parent: “I am now able to see that being a Mum is a beautiful experience and by embracing it my children are feeling my love for them.” Others report fewer tantrums, less stress in their household; and describe it as a parenting group with a twist that “actually makes sense.”
Participants are assessed before starting the course and again when they finish.
Many are vulnerable families because of mental illness, addiction and other issues, and referrals come from other health providers such as Plunket.
“I think attachment is something that people don’t yet understand much about. It’s the magic that goes with mammals. We don’t think about it, we take it for granted, but there’s a science around it and a sound basis in research.”