Parents don’t agree on everything and they certainly don’t need to. But one dream that we all share is that our children enjoy emotional safety. I’m a parent, a grandparent, and an author of a parenting book, yet I’ve never let these words roll off my tongue. Still if I describe emotional safety, I think we’ll all agree that this is exactly what we want for our children.
What is emotional safety? It’s when our children feel free to be themselves. They can comfortably express their feelings and concerns, thoughts and interests. And they do this with awareness and respect for others.
Our children gain emotional safety through their experiences with others. When they feel loved, accepted, heard, and trust that their needs will be met, they develop a deep internal experience of safety.
After working with parents as a consultant and psychotherapist for almost four decades, I’m certain of one thing: Parents' attitudes—how we think about our children—is even more important than what we say to them. In my book, Bring Out the Best in Your Child and Your Self, I identify two key attitudes. The first:
Like all living things, children have a natural yearning to grow and mature, to develop their full potential. It’s a part of being human. We all have that inner force that compels us to evolve, to grow not only physically, but also mentally, emotionally, socially, and spiritually.
Children and parents want to respect themselves, to be contributing members of the family and society. We all want to find and express our best selves—to become all that we can be.
The fact that we often fall short—that children and adults can easily slip into unproductive behavior—doesn’t mean we don’t have that innate drive! It isn’t easy to express our full potential; we need all the help we can get. And that leads us to the second attitude:
They can’t do it alone. Children need us to recognize their yearning and to help them fulfill it. By definition, children are immature—works in progress—still learning how to handle their feelings, develop strength of will, and self-control. To support their natural unfolding, they need an environment based on mutual respect.
How can we create this environment? Let me count the ways:
The bottom line is known to us all: the best formula for creating emotional safety is for our children to see love in our eyes, experience it through our touch, and hear it in our voice.