4 Things You Can Do To Create An Emotionally Safe Environment At Home For Children
Did you grow up in a household where you could express your feelings? Did you grow up feeling safe to make mistakes? Could you approach your parents/caretakers without feeling judgement or shame? Could you share a story without being interrupted or hearing, “you are fine” or “it’s no big deal”?
Most adults I speak to, to be clear, they are mostly Momma friends, share that they did not grow up in a home where they were free to feel and express themselves. Mostly they share that in their households growing up, it was all about brushing things off, not being permitted to express themselves, their parent’s wanting them to feel “happy” and not talk about feelings, stuffing them away. Inevitably, this has caused many adults to begin learning how to express and label their feelings at a much older age.
It is quite possible that you grew up in a household that was emotionally supportive – and if so, I hope that you are able to pass that same support to your child(ren) and share your wisdom with your parent friends.
Scene: Your child is playing soccer and gets kicked in the knee by another player and begins to cry.
A: Tell them to walk it off and keep playing.
B: Give your child a hug and offer them ice for their knee.
I know we often want to say to our children: “walk it off’, “brush it off”, or “you are just fine”; teaching them resilience or toughness. However, in doing so, we are not showing our children empathy and comfort; something we hope they show toward other’s.
When we meet our children with toughness, we are trying to teach them to deal with whatever life brings their way. If this is how your child is consistently met when looking for support, it could cause your child to shut down and feel a lack of trust, safety and empathy. While we certainly have the best intentions, it might not be what your child needs from you at that time.
Then there is the other extreme – the parents/caretakers that swoop in and want to be the fixers and keep their child feeling happy at all costs. Whenever a difficult feeling arises, this parent immediately does all they can so their child only experiences positive feelings. This is a detriment to your child because eventually they will do everything in their power to seem happy or make you happy – not knowing how to cope with all that life brings their way.
We should all do our best to find our own personal comfort somewhere in between these two extremes. In doing so, we will be creating a supportive environment where our children are free to verbalize, process, and express all emotions.
We need to listen to our children and avoid constantly swooping in to be the “fixer” or be the “dismisser” (not a real word, but it sounds good). Here are four things you can do show your child you are present, supportive and attentive!
Tune in and listen. Listen to your child. Let them express how they are feeling without jumping in to tell them how they should be feeling or how to fix it.
Comfort. Provide comfort, if that is what your child is in need of.
Do not distract or dismiss feelings. Children are best at judging how something made them feel. Even if you do not agree with what they are expressing, do not dismiss their feelings. Also, try not to use distraction whenever they express a difficult feeling; it’s important that children learn from a young age to cope with those feelings. Brushing them off will make things more difficult to cope with later in life.
Be a role model. Express your own emotions, label your feelings, and talk about them out loud. Tell your children when you are feeling pleasant and unpleasant emotions. Do not stuff your feelings away and hide them from your children. We all have feelings and it’s important that our children understand that.
All children should live in an environment where they feel emotionally safe and supported, where their feelings are heard, accepted, understood and met with empathy. This will build a healthy home environment and strong family bonds built upon trust, safety and empathy.