By Dr. Kristi Wolfe
You’ve plugged the outlets, gotten rid of the poisonous cleaning products, and locked up the alcohol and medications. You try to do everything you can to keep your child healthy and out of harm’s way.
But have you considered all kinds of safety? The examples above are all about physical safety, which is where we tend to focus. It’s easier to understand physical dangers and also to come up with solutions to avoid them. Emotional safety is just as important, but it’s something we don’t always think about. Just like keeping knives and dangerous items out of your child’s reach enhances physical safety in your home, there are steps you can take to provide emotional safety in your home.
When people (of any age) trust that their feelings will be responded to with sensitivity and respect, they feel safe. They will be more honest and vulnerable with you if they know they are in a safe place. Think about how you act with the people you trust the most. You feel free to share your deepest thoughts and feelings and you value the feedback you get from that person. It works exactly the same with your kids or teenagers. If they feel safe with you, they will express their thoughts and feelings more, be open to conversations with you, and listen to your feedback.
However, if a child feels even a little bit unsafe, they may be more fearful of criticism or rejection from you. Again, think about when this has happened in your own life. Has someone created an environment where you felt unsafe expressing yourself? How did you handle this? You probably stopped sharing your true thoughts and feelings with that person.
If your child feels unsafe, they will not want to share their true thoughts and feelings for fear of being criticized. They may just tell you what they think you want to hear because they think this is the best way to keep themselves as safe as possible. Their feelings may come out through their actions since they don’t feel safe opening up to you using words. They will likely behave more defiantly, act more defensively, and seem more uncooperative. They also will probably not be as open to talking with or listening to you in general.