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Circle of Security: The 7 Basic Emotional Needs

By Hillary Chaney, LMHP

 

Most of us have heard it said that “behavior has meaning.” What??? Could someone please explain that? Especially when our two year old is throwing a complete tantrum on the floor at Walmart…please, tell me what it means. What is that behavior telling us? That is the million-dollar question.

One of my areas of expertise is in Circle of Security Parenting, a training which is part of an international organization for moms and dads who would like to increase their understanding of and capacity to meet their children’s needs in the home. According to the Circle of Security, there are 7 emotional needs our kids (or really any human in our lives) are asking us to meet:

Watch over me, delight in me, help me, enjoy with me, protect me, comfort me, or organize my feelings.

So, what do these emotional needs mean? I am glad you asked! I will bullet point them for you with a quick example of each.

  1. Watch over me: This need means “keep an eye on me in case I do something cool so you can cheer me on, or if I hurt myself I know you will be aware and come help.”
    For example: If I am playing on the playground, sit on the bench and watch me, so when I get hurt, you will see the sadness on my face and you will come help.
  2. Delight in me: I LOVE THIS ONE! Who doesn’t love it when you make eye contact with someone and they give you the biggest, most proud smile because they think you are neat?
    For example: You kiddo has been playing in the living room while you are doing dishes, and you think how lucky you are to have such a neat kid, and at that moment they look at you and you both smile. Not because your kid just did something amazing, but because your kid IS amazing. Let’s just take a moment and think back to that time grandma, teacher, friend, or parent gave you that look. Bask in it. You! You are neat! Feels good, right?
  3. Help me: How obvious can we get here? This is when someone is obviously struggling with something and you give them just enough assistance to be successful.
    For example: if I fall, come rushing over to help me up!
  4. Enjoy with me: Doesn’t it feel good to share what we love with someone we love?
    For example: If your kid just LOVES playing with Legos, get on the floor with them and build something too! Play. Laugh. Smile. ENJOY!
  5. Protect me: We all get scared sometimes, whether physically or emotionally, and it gives us peace of mind when we realize someone will protect us from any harm.
    For example: UMMM, there is a boogie man in the closet and I need you to Karate chop him so I can sleep because you are bigger and stronger than me.
  6. Comfort me: My feelings are confusing and overwhelming, and I need to not feel alone.
    For example: You interview for a job that you do not get, and you feel like you are not good enough, you have been rejected. A hug from a loved one eases the very natural, unavoidable pain.
  7. Organize my feelings: Here it is folks, the Grand Torino of needs. The most confusing of them all. This is when I am acting out, and I have NO IDEA WHY. We see it in tired toddlers, hungry teens, or “tough” guys who don’t show emotion. This is an opportunity to ask, “Do you need a nap?”, “are you hungry?”, or “Was it a rough day at the office?”
    For example: You pick up your kid from school and they say things like, “Why do you drive so slow?” “Nothing ever goes right!” “You forgot to put an apple in my lunch!” “My math teacher just hates me!” on your way home. And, instead of commenting on your child’s bad attitude, you say, “Did you have a hard day?” and then the most beautiful thing happens, your child feels a connection. Like you get them. And sometimes, I repeat sometimes, they open up to you about their day and all of the difficult things they faced.

When these emotional needs are not met, behaviors escalate. It’s like when you are hungry and you go out to eat, but the waiter totally ignores you or takes your order and never delivers. You might start to get agitated, and then flat out HANGRY! Your behavior is likely to escalate, right? I know mine does. But when the need is met, and the food comes, you can rest easy and cool down. All you needed was a little bread.

Imagine for a moment if these 7 basic emotional needs NEVER get met. This is what we professionals like to call trauma. Trauma is a confusing topic because much of the population thinks of trauma as PTSD in war veterans or abuse victims. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder absolutely is trauma (it is in the name, after all). However, there is also acute trauma, or “little ‘t’ trauma,” which resides in most human beings, in those that have ever had a moment in their life that was scary or confusing, during which their emotional (or physical) needs were not met. That is pretty much everyone, myself included.

When I was in 3rd grade I walked up to Joanna (my best friend since pre-school) at the playground to swing, and she told me that she was no longer my friend because she had found “cooler” friends. My emotional need was NOT met, and I realized that people could leave me. They could ditch me for something better. (Go ahead, wipe the tear from your eye.) Joanna did NOT delight in me. She did NOT enjoy with me. And no one was there to comfort me or organize my feelings on the playground that day. Ever since, I have been afraid of losing friends. Still to this day that feeling manifests in me when I keep my distance for a while before letting someone in. Sometimes it looks more like being a people pleaser so that people don’t leave me. Trauma. I was “little ‘t’” traumatized, and I know this because it affected the way I behaved and STILL behave. My behavior has meaning!! I am asking people, “please don’t leave me” by being a people pleaser. Or, “show me you are invested so that I can open up to you” when I am keeping my distance. BEHAVIOR HAS MEANING!!!!

When our emotional needs are met, we are secure in who we are and in the people around us. When these needs are not met, we start to question ourselves and the people who are supposed to care for us. And although we may originally have a hard time feeling loving toward the toddler throwing a tantrum in Walmart, if we look at behaviors through the “trauma lens,” we start to have empathy for the behaviors we are seeing. We create space to realize that somewhere along the line, a need was not met, and that person became scared, confused, or traumatized.

This just scratches the surface of what Circle of Security Parenting curriculum has to offer, and does not even touch how complex trauma can be—but these principles can be applied in any type of relationship at any stage of life! If you are interested in learning more about the Circle of Security (in an individual or group setting), I encourage you to contact us.

Finally, if by reading this you felt that, in fact, you experienced some trauma that you have not yet worked through, reach out! Trauma is so common, and we at Hope and Wellness are here to help.

To make an appointment at the Hope and Wellness Center, call our office at 402-639-2901 or email hope@hwcomaha.com.

 

Photo by Senjuti Kundu on Unsplash

 

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Attachment in Adoption: Practical Ways to Spend Meaningful Time

By Becky Smith, PLMHP

Becky Smith lives in the Omaha area with her husband Eric and their four beautiful children. She is a graduate of Grace University with a Master’s in Clinical Mental Health, and now practices therapy at CityCare Counseling with a focus in adoption issues. We are thrilled to share her perspectives as an adoptee and a professional who specializes in adoption issues with you in this guest post on the intersection between adoption and mental health.

 

The very beginning of my life involved a lot of life changing people, I think. As a kid I sometimes imagined ninjas and princesses involved in my adoption…who knows? Maybe I was an heir to some Korean throne?

There were a lot of  “someone’s” involved in the first six months of my life in South Korea: Someone maybe helped to convince my biological mother not to get an abortion. She then did decide to abandon me somewhere, but someone had to have either taken me from her arms, or picked me up from the police station where I was found and taken me to an orphanage. Someone must have taken care of me in that orphanage. Then someone had to have picked me, for some reason, to go to foster care. Did I raise my baby arm in the crib? Who knows. Then somehow, someone picked me to become adopted. My adoptive mom and dad picked me to come home from Korea to Wisconsin. There were lots of hands in getting me home; I believe there was one giant, gentle, sovereign hand especially, the hand of my Father, my Savior. As for the other hands of “someones,” I will probably never know who they were, but I have a heart of thanks for them. After coming home, I grew up in Wisconsin, with parents who loved me and love me unconditionally, my older brother, dogs, music, teenage drama, ups, downs, and everything else in between.

When asked to write this blog about adoption and foster care, I excitedly sat down at my computer and started to think about from which perspective to write. I soon found myself staring at the blinking cursor as my mind wandered in so many different directions; so many choices of what to write about and from what angle to give voice. There is the birth mom perspective, foster parent perspective, adopting older kids, adopting internationally, adopting kids from places of abuse and neglect, the adoptive parents’ perspective, the kid adoptee perspective, the adult adoptee perspective, the list goes on.

I decided to go with the perspective of the role I have tried to take since getting my Master’s in Clinical and Mental Health: the “mom and a counseling professional who wants to support adoptive families” perspective.

First, I will say that as a mom of four biological kids who are all in their teen years, I think momhood can be one of the most difficult and isolating times of life. Or not. As new biological moms, we quickly realize that we have never “given of ourselves” like we have when babies come out of us and then literally use our bodies to stay alive. We can start to feel like a cow very easily. I know I did. It becomes our responsibility to find the support we need, and receive that support as best we can. As adoptive moms know very well, there is a similar yet different type of “giving” when your child first gets home to you; one that may not be through breast feeding, but that is just as loving, just as intimate. It often looks like compassion shown when tantrums are thrown because a small child does not know whom he or she can trust. You constantly work to show compassion, working your empathy skills, working to show love, working to understand a completely new person. Now do not get me wrong, sometimes there are no tantrums and connections are made easily. But sometimes that is not the case, and if that is not the case, the adjustment is a difficult road that requires support.

In my experience as a counselor, I have noticed the importance of time for connection. When committing to counseling, we commit ourselves to time. In the area of adoption, I think one of the biggest difficulties is also TIME. It takes time to create attachment opportunities, to show compassion through eye contact, to show support through words, to get to know one another. This time of parents building connection with their children, this is the place where I want to encourage something I have come to believe both as a professional and as a fellow mom: No parent was ever meant to be alone while navigating through the area of attachment. Get connected. Ask a professional therapist for help in finding resources, ask your local church, ask me. Connection to supports and educational groups is the best choice you can make while processing everything you are going through as an adoptive family. Connection for you as the mom or dad is vital, so that you can feel like you have capacity to connect with your child.

As an important side note to successful connection,  is so important to get educated about brain development when talking about adoption and foster care. Instead of me trying to summarize, please do yourself a favor and click this link! The book that this link mentions, The Whole Brain Child, is also worth the read, especially for those of you who have adopted children from a background of abuse or neglect. I also love the easy way that the author explains the complexity of the brain.

I want to finish with some good ol’ bullet points of great ways to spend your time with each other. One of the easiest and best ways to build connection is through play. They say that it takes about 300-400 repetitions to teach something, it takes about 20 repetitions to teach within the context of play. If you have a child who came to you later in life, after years in a different family or in an institution, there are certain building blocks of connection such as eye contact, healthy touch, soothing and comfort that were likely not present in their lives. Showing, modeling, and practicing these important building blocks through play can now help connection. The following games include ones I found online and ones I made up myself, which highlight healthy touch, eye contact, asking instead of telling, and accepting decisions:

  • Face paint with your kids. You face paint them, they face paint you. This is a great example of something that involves eye contact and healthy touch.
  • Play Hedbanz; let this game encourage eye contact.
  • Draw letters on each other’s backs and guess what letters they are; let this game highlight healthy touch, soothing voice. Maybe something to put into the bedtime routine to help calm them at night.
  • Get a “yes” jar. Everything about this jar is a “yes”. This helps to build trust. Here is a link to where I found this game: The Yes Jar.
  • Nerf-Shoot-Ask game:  Write down a bunch of questions, some silly, some fun, some serious. Put the questions on slips of paper and fold them into a grab jar or container. The child gets to pick a question out of the jar and read it to one of the parents. The other parent is standing somewhere with a cup or basket, waiting for the child to try to shoot the nerf gun dart at them and the parent will try to catch the dart. The child reads the question, then accepts the answer that the parent gives by saying, “ok.” Then the child asks. “May I shoot the gun, please?” And they try to make it in the basket. This game highlights ‘asking and accepting decisions.’
  • Brush hair while watching a movie, gently and with touch. This encourages healthy touch and feeling physically soothed.
  • Do each other’s nails.
  • The Progressive Picture: Each family member is allowed to draw on the same piece of paper  for 1 minute  (or whatever time fits your family). Go around the family twice, or an agreed upon number of times. This is a not a pre-planned picture, which can encourage creativity and laughter together. It is also something to display on a fridge that represents your family. Art is an amazing tool that helps externalize feelings.
  • Purposefully leave the dishes, leave the laundry. Snuggle on the couch under a soft blanket together and take turns reading a book together or read the book to your child.
  • Practicing re-do’s in life: have a family night that is sort of like charades, practice what it looks like to NOT show respect, then practice the opposite. Example: “I’m staying up later! I want to finish this game!” versus “Mom, can I stay up for 10 more minutes please? I would love to finish this level of this game!” Talk about the bravery and courage it takes to ask for something that you do not know you will receive.

 

Author’s note: Once a month, there is a group that meets at Waypoint Church at 1313 N 48th Ave, Omaha, NE 68132. We meet the THIRD FRIDAY of each month from 9:30am – 11am. This group is open to all. Please know that we share our stories with one another and pray for each other in this meeting. We are a small group at this point, usually about 5-10 moms. Our hope is that we would deeply know one another, our adoption and foster care struggles, and deeply love one another. Everything shared is expected to stay within the group, confidentiality is highlighted. The comments I have heard from this group are things like, “I felt so alone; it was so good to just hear others’ struggles in adoption.” “It is so nice to share with those who ‘get it.'” “I feel better. Nothing has changed in my circumstances, but I feel much better. I’m glad I came.”

 

Photo Credit: Daniela Rey on Unsplash