Contributed by Marsha Baker*
Babies tell stories through their bodies. They grab with their eyes and hands. They reach with their mouths. They move toward excitement and away from danger. All of this, when things go well, happen in the “circle of security”(1) provided by the caregivers who love and watch over them.
Babies enter the world seeking a secure and protective relationship
It is a basic tenet of attachment theory that babies enter the world seeking a secure and protective relationship with an adult. Children can most fully explore their worlds when they can get supportive, nurturing encouragement and reassurance from their main caregiver.
When someone has experienced trauma in their own past, parenting a vulnerable and dependent infant may trigger unexpected worries, fears and intense reactions. Often the work of an Infant Mental Health specialist is to help parents reflect on their own pasts in the context of seeing the world through their baby’s eyes in order to provide that secure base and nurturing joy. Because the awful truth is that trauma is everywhere. And the hopeful truth is that relationships can be repaired – but repairing relationships takes a lot of educated support.
Rules to develop a safe place
In a past post, I mentioned a parent/child drop-in group that was developed to address the effects of multi-layered trauma on parents and young children living in the Little Village community. See article about it. The group met weekly, and after every group meeting facilitators met to reflect and plan. We developed a set of “rules,” some of which were highly relevant for the development of the Cairn Project. The essentials were:
Transition from Drop-In Group to Cairn Project Workshop
From our cumbersome beginnings (we would drag tons of materials and stress with technology), Corinne and I created a template for workshops that provided our own “Circle of Security” for participants. The workshop encouraged creativity, exploration and reflection and provided a place to celebrate and contain powerful emotions that were generated.
The transition from Parent/Infant Drop-In group to Cairn Project workshop was fluid. While both populations and activities were distinct, the overarching goals were similar - developing capacities, creating community, promoting emotional safety. A key difference was that workshops were a one-time event, and the meaning that participants derived from participating lay in their own stories, sometimes shared and sometimes not. This is why the installation of ALL of the rocks and tokens of light became so important. And this is why recording people’s stories began to take on a significance that we did not understand at the beginning of the project. Stay tuned!
*Marsha is a pediatric occupational therapist and infant mental health specialist. She earned her master’s degree in child development and certification in infant mental health from Erikson. Most of her career has been working with families of young children with a focus on nourishing the parent/child relationship. At the Erikson Institute, Marsha saw her work with families through a trauma lens. She recognized that the development of young children is affected by the experience of trauma around them.
(1) Link to Circle of Security International