Everywhere I turn there are news alerts and articles about how to protect children physically. How to keep them from being hurt. How to keep them safe in school, on their bikes, in the car. Important and necessary, yes. But it makes me wonder why we don't focus as much attention on children's emotional safety. Why aren't we just as vigilant about their emotional well-being, their spirit, their "beingness," their "I AMness?"
I see an urgent need to direct more energy into this phase of our children's development. It's important to encourage parents to be more aware of and invested in what's going on inside their children. It's also crucial to keep in mind that everyday interactions have an impact on our children's emotional well-being.
How can we make emotional safety a priority?
1. Allow your children to ask questions and offer a different perspective without evaluating what they are saying. Especially don't shame them or make them feel guilty.
2. Allow your children to express emotion, even when this involves uncomfortable feelings such as sadness or anger.
3. Allow your children to have their own life. Don't ask them to take on your dreams.
4. Get out of teaching mode, be quiet, and listen.
5. Touch them lovingly -- hugs, hand holding, massages, or an arm around the shoulder.
6. Trust that your children know who they are, and above all don't tell them who to be.
7. Trust that your children are innately good.
8. Teach your children to believe in love, not fear.
9. When it's necessary to allow your children to fail so that they can learn life's lessons, be their greatest cheerleader and supporter as they pick up the pieces.
10. Remember that bringing up a child means teaching, understanding, respecting, communicating, and listening. It doesn't mean instilling fear.
11. Put the phone down and shut off the computer so that you can offer your undivided attention.
12. See your children, and let them know you see them. Offer smiles, eye contact, high fives, thumbs up, fist bumps -- whatever works.
13. Make the house, or at least a space in the house, calm and peaceful, so that when quiet is needed, it can be found.
14. Allow your children to be children. Don't burden them with adult problems and issues.
15. No more over-scheduling your children. Let them play!
16. Don't place conditions on your love, and stop saying, "I love you, but...." If you say, "I love you," end it with a period.
17. Get out of the past, but don't jump into the future. Focus on today and this moment.
18. Love yourself, heal yourself, nurture yourself, make yourself a priority, deal with your issues, ask for help, and don't be a martyr. Like it or not, you are your children's role model for emotional safety.
Instead of focusing on doing, our focus needs to be on being. We can help our children embrace who they are so that they trust themselves. And we can help them accept what is so that they more easily flow with the ups and downs of life. It's simply a matter of reexamining and redefining what it means to feel truly safe, inside and out.
Cathy is the author of Living What You Want Your Kids to Learn: The Power of Self-Aware Parenting and the co-host of Zen Parenting Radio. Follow Cathy on Facebook and Twitter.