This post is the first in our new “How-To’s and Tips” blog series. It’s inspired by two recent news stories.
First, actress Sandra Bullock announced in People Magazine that she has adopted a second child – a three-and-a-half-year-old girl – to be sister to the son she adopted several years ago. Her choice was to adopt through the foster care system, in part to bring attention to the thousands of children in need of a stable, ‘forever’ home.
In the People interview she stated that she knows it will take special awareness and effort to assure that her daughter and son feel safe and secure, given their adoptive backgrounds.
The second inspiration for this post is far different than the sweet story about Bullock and her generous choices for building a family. At the same time this article was on newsstands, airwaves were broadcasting another story: The mass shootings in San Bernardino. It’s become unfortunately routine that in these situations news media begin running stories on how we explain these kinds of events to our children.
It seemed to me that it would be a good time to offer some tips on creating an emotionally safe environment for kids. Do you have any tips and techniques that have made your children safe and happy? Please share them in the comments. Your questions are also welcome.
1. Really listen. Make sure that what you think is going on is accurate, and that what you think you heard is actually what they’re trying to communicate. Without checking that out you risk reacting to something that you perceived, but not what they were trying to tell you!
2. Be consistent. Think about it. What if every day you went to work you never knew how your boss would behave or react. How productive and positive would you be if you were always looking over your shoulder or walking on eggshells to avoid unexpected negative reactions? Kids feel safe when they know what to expect from you.
3. Model loving behavior. If your home is built on an emotional foundation of generosity, respect and responsibility, your children will feel lovable and worthy of respect. They will also understand that we must all take responsibility for our own actions and behavior. This foundation will allow them to explore the world with confidence. It will also enable them to recognize the negative – and evil – things that some humans do without feeling that their very world is being threatened.
4. Manage your own anxiety. Children are sensitive creatures. If you exhibit anxiety or other negative emotions as you deal with life, they will definitely take this in. No child feels safe with a parent or parents who exhibit anger, aggression and fear. If you can’t manage your own negative emotions in the moment, get some professional help and stop the generational dysfunction you probably carried from your own childhood so that your children can be emotional free and safe.
5. Face reality. If you see troubling behavior in your children and your loving reassurance doesn’t get them through it, reach out for help. It’s there in abundance if you seek it.