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My Kids Aren't Safe?

The Background

I vaguely remember reading things about children feeling ‘safe’ when I was in the throes of chaos and focusing simply on getting through the day. Meals, clothes, a roof over their head, and driving them everywhere…isn’t that safe enough?!?

Sadly, I wasn’t really getting the point!

Apparently applauding them for doing well or protecting them from painful things or even ensuring their laundry is clean and folded aren’t the criteria for helping children feel safe in the world. It turns out safety is more about our children knowing that they are in our minds and heart regardless of what’s happening.

Oh, come on,” you’re thinking, "of course they know I love them.”

Yes, but let’s focus on the "regardless of what’s happening" part. This includes helping them feel secure enough to have those really big emotions when they’re in a challenging situation or to make mistakes without risk of judgment, punishment, or shame. I know, I know. Not straightforward. Lo-and-behold, it is our job–no, our responsibility–as parents to cultivate this visceral feeling of safety.

Make a Moment

Judging, and sometimes even shaming, can slip off our tongues disguised as encouragement to behave better.

  • “Why can’t you just be a nicer sister; all she did was borrow a book.”

  • “What are you doing? We have to leave in five minutes, and you are still goofing around!”

  • “Oh, come on, you’ll be fine. You’re a big boy. Look at your brother; he’s already inside.”

  • “OK, fine! You’re making me crazy! Here, have your ice cream. Just stop yelling!”

When I realized that helping my children feel safe was on my "to-do list," I found that simply noticing what was going on (relatively easy) while consciously keeping my judgment to myself (very difficult) was invaluable in helping me assess the situation and provide that sense of safety.

  • “I’d be furious, too. She took your books without asking.”

  • “Your backpack is still not packed, and we have to leave in five minutes.”

  • “There will be a lot of new people in school. It’s okay to feel overwhelmed.”

  • “I can tell that you are upset that you don’t get to have ice cream right now. It doesn’t seem fair. I’ll stay right here while you are being upset.”

Why It Works

It's not rocket science, it's relationship science. When it comes to raising children, prioritizing their emotional safety is essential. First and foremost, this is the first step to the rock-solid bond you are looking for. And, by creating a safe space for them to learn and develop, we're laying the foundation for them to grow and be the best version of themselves.

When our children’s bodies and minds experience that safety, their brains actually do a better job of listening, empathizing, and cooperating. Fact. In “my-kid-won’t-listen-to-me” speak, this means that when children feel safe, they are more likely to do the chores, sit down and do homework when you ask, and control their impulses.

And it’s not just about good behavior. Being able to feel safe with other people is the definition of mental health. These safe connections are fundamental to our children ultimately living meaningful and satisfying lives.

Your MicroStep

Dial into what is going on while also actively not judging. When in doubt, prioritize a safe environment for your child—it's the foundation for your relationship and their growth and development.


Look for easy opportunities to validate and let them sit with it. Complaining about doing chores, the awfulness of online school, wanting to be outside instead of sitting at computer, not getting the grade he wanted. The message your child will receive is: I trust that you can handle the situation, the emotion, the disappointment; I believe in you. Read that last part again: I BELIEVE IN YOU.

Got 10 minutes!? Consider "special time" where they get your full-on uninterrupted attention for 10 minutes - just once a week to start.

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