Tuesday Topic: How do You Help Your Children Feel Safe?

It is early Tuesday morning and I am up while my family sleeps; how I love the quiet.  The challenge for my morning is that we have no water.  No water at all.

Last night Russ was giving Eby and Little man a bath, Honeybee had just taken a shower, Rusty was washing dishes, when all of a sudden the water slowed to a trickle and then stopped altogether.  Russ went to check the 1,000 gallon tank in our garage and found it empty — that was  a bit of a shock.  We are waiting to hear from the well repair people who we hope will be able to fix it quickly, but you never know about these things.

In the meantime, there is only a little bit of water to drink, no way to wash dishes, make oatmeal, flush toilets, or most important of all — make coffee!  Actually, I’m kidding a bit, I would take flushing toilets over coffee any day…but I sure wish I had a warm cup of coffee right now.

On the upside — well, there actually isn’t an upside to the lack of water, but I just looked out the kitchen window and the sky is turning orange.  I believe a beautiful sunrise is going to give me a little extra joy this morning.

On to our Tuesday Topic!  After reading your feedback on my First Anniversary post, I was pleased to see how many of you really enjoy the Tuesday Topics.  Some of you commented on the helpful community of readers here at A Bushel and A Peck, and I could not be happier about that.  I’m an extrovert and I love gathering my people together, whether it’s my family at the dining room table, my friends for a potluck, or all of you.  I love hearing your thoughts and opinions and learning from you!

This question came from Lisa in one of the comments on the Anniversary post; she asked it in the midst of a few thoughts, so I’m going to paraphrase her slightly.  She asked:

How do you help your kids feel safe so they can make progress toward attachment and healing?

This is a great question and one I know many of you can answer from your experiences.  Since this is our first Tuesday Topic in ages, let’s kick it off nicely.  Please take a moment to leave a comment, even if you think your idea is ridiculously simple.  It may be just what another parent needs to hear.

If you missed it, I published yesterday’s post late in the afternoon – I chose being a mommy over being a blogger and had a lovely day.  If you have children who struggle with anger, you may want to take a look.

The sky is getting brighter and I think I’ll go watch the sunrise.  I hope your day is off to a lovely start.

Happy Tuesday.

Lisa

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Let me introduce myself. Russ and I are the parents of twelve children by birth and adoption, and sometimes more through foster care. I'm the creator of One Thankful Mom which has been as much of a gift to me as to my readers. In 2011 I became a TBRI® Pracitioner* and have lived and breathed connected parenting ever since. I'm deeply honored to be the co-author, together with the late Dr. Karyn Purvis, of The Connected Parent; it is her final written work. I love speaking at events for adoptive and foster parents. I'm also the co-founder of The Adoption Connection, a podcast and resource site for adoptive moms. I mentor and encourage adoptive moms so you can find courage and hope in your journeys of loving your children well.

22 Comments

  1. Jamey
    February 1, 2011

    This is a small thing, but sometimes when I notice my daughter is just starting to slide down into whacky, and I'm trying to get necessary things done around the house it helps her settle down if she just walks along with me and we hold hands. Sure, it's kind of a pain to try and do chores with one hand, but she really likes it and it's better than either of us starting a tantrum. 🙂

    Reply
  2. charity
    February 1, 2011

    ahhh, so sorry about the surprise lack of water, best laid plans, eh…we keep soda bottles refilled with tap water in our basement for just such a "crisis", because, like you, i NEED to have the toilets flush with so many littles…we do have a huge water storage tank in the back, but it does sometimes freeze here in CO, and of course, that would be when the crisis would occur…hope you get to enjoy water soon, soon….i will have to think on safety…i think the most obvious, and least helpful suggestion, is presence…i ignored all the people around me and just stayed with my kids, for years….we didn't leave them at home, as little ones, and kept them in our room, and sat them on our

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  3. charity
    February 1, 2011

    laps, and took them to our adult meetings. not only did it teach them in every circumstance, we were there for them first, but it also taught them how to behave in every circumstance. in spite of all the shaking heads, we have wonderful, well rounded children, who now, as older kids and teens, sleep in their own beds (!), go to school and work, all by themselves, and are very secure in the world because they know we have control over our part of it. (i feel like i always need to add the disclaimer that these are things we have learned from the children who have been with us since birth, and not things i have had to work on with new children…one day, we will see how much applies to adopted ones as well.)

    Reply
  4. Kayla
    February 1, 2011

    The simplest "safe" tool I've used is a sing songy, completely made up song with only 3 words. "Conleigh's Mama's baby." With each of my kids, I have sung that song over and over and over, while rocking, while hugging, while staring them straight in the eyes. My daughter, in particular, would ask to sing that song. It was just a reassuring, easy to understand message that "I am loved and I am safe."

    Reply
  5. dorothy
    February 1, 2011

    For my kids 'safe' isnt the same thing as it is for me. Their fears don't seem based on 'bad guys' or 'monsters' but on unpredictible adults and their own inability to process situations based on limited comprehension. Safe for them means 'not scary' and scary most often means out of their control. Understanding what safe means to them was the first step in helping them to feel it.

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  6. Dawn
    February 1, 2011

    I think there are many ways to make your children feel safe. From having a consistent schedule, to being really honest with them, making them feel a part of your family as much as possible! This is a simple and probably silly to many idea, but every time we bring home a new child- we buy matching shirts and wear them out when we are in public. We try to take pics as soon as possible and put them up. EVEN when it is a foster care placement – we always add that for however long- they are safe and a part of our family as long as needed. Our children have always loved this because then they are "all the same". They wear the shirts with pride- I am part of this family. 🙂

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  7. Heather
    February 1, 2011

    I loved what Kayla said she does. Singing to her child, "Conleigh's Mama's baby." I think little things like this, especially when repeated over and over, help more than we realize. It lets them know that they are yours and that you accept them no matter what.

    Also, I think it's important for them to know that you will not only listen to them when they are expressing a need, but help them to get that need met. It's like Karyn Purvis always says, you need to give them a voice. Help them find the voice that they lost as a baby.

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  8. Lori (Maine)
    February 1, 2011

    As an adult who has gone through trauma as well as abandonment issues throughout childhood, I thought I'd add my two cents lol. I also want to say that I think you all are some of the best people I've never met (lol) in that you are all so friendly and supportive and doing everything in your power to help your children heal!
    Home was almost NEVER a safe place for me as a child. When I was really scared I would withdraw into a small space like a closet. Or I'd go out and ride my bike or be with friends if possible. A few things that made ME feel safe back then was an adult NOTICING when I was NOT feeling safe or regulated emotionally! Church and school helped me feel safe too.
    If I am having flashbacks or feeling stressed and not in a safe emotional place, I'll lay down and wrap myself rather snugly in a quilt which helps me to feel protected and safe.
    ASKING *I can see you are struggling right now. What can I do to help you feel safe and cared for?* is ALWAYS a good thing. And for some, safe touch goes a long way and reaches places that words often cannot.

    Reply
    1. Joelle
      February 5, 2011

      Thanks for sharing about what you do now to feel safe. I tend to feel ashamed of the things I want to do as an adult to help me cope–like that proves I'm immature rather than seeing it as a good way of taking care of myself. I like your idea of wrapping in a cozy quilt. I can imagine how helpful that would be. In the past I've overused sleeping to escape from life but finding strategies to overcome and move forward is a good thing. Thank you for reminding us of that. Even adults need help to get through tough times.

      Reply
  9. Megan
    February 1, 2011

    I laminated a family picture and my 5 year old keeps it in his back pocket. Whenever he starts to get anxious, he pulls it out and looks at it. Really seems to help him stay regulated. We also do the "matching" clothing…same colors or atleast something complimentary…I also love Karyn Purvis' "Let me see your beautiful eyes" thing when correcting…really helps my kids realize it's not going to escalate to something scary…

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  10. shannoncl
    February 1, 2011

    I'm going to really need these answers from other mom's as it is something we struggle with alot in this house. My 3.5 year old home for 1 year has real 'fear' triggers- One thing that does help and is a quite honestly a pain for my 'we'll see' and 'play by ear" tendancies- is to do the Dora the explorer thing. Break up the day into managable destinations or plans of 3-4 things. "First is School. Nap. Gymnastics Class" then we repeat and review after we finish each one. Sometimes he'll try to throw some controlling change ups- "No gymnastics. Swimming" But- i've learned, that I can not endulge- cause that makes him feel less safe- like he's in control or something and we totally regress. Does that make sense?

    Reply
  11. Angela
    February 2, 2011

    Thanks so much! I just printed this and the Mad/Sad to take to a friend who just brought home her son… She will be so glad to read them. Can't wait to see you in a couple of months!!!

    Reply
  12. ALicia
    February 1, 2011

    One of the things that made our son feel safe with me was play. I have gotten down on the floor and played, tickled, laughed, and pretended more in the last 8 mo. than I have in all my 14 years of previous parenting. Being fun and playful made me safe and lovable. Which lead to rocking, great conversations, etc…

    Reply
  13. learningpatience
    February 1, 2011

    Touch is a big one for my little guy. Another thing that came to mind was picking him up. One of the places he feels unsafe is in an unfamiliar place or with unfamiliar people – picking him up simply gives him the adult view, the bird's eye view – much different than staring at everyone's kneecaps and the undersides of stuff.

    So sorry to hear about your water – NO fun! Keep us posted.

    Reply
  14. lisa
    February 2, 2011

    first, thank you lisa!!:) you are incredibly generous and thoughtful, i stand in admiration, as you have such a full plate and still have time to minister to all of us! secondly, i agree with lori, this is some of the best people i have ever had the honor of interacting with, i wish we could all have coffee once a week 🙂
    finally, i love all of your answers and thoughts, so compassionate and loving and practical easy small steps that i am sure make a big difference in all of our children's broken hearts. God blessed me so greatly, the day i found a bushel and a peck.

    Reply
  15. Heidi
    February 2, 2011

    I'm loving all of these! In the next few weeks I will most likely begin working in a very close/contained home like environment with young girls rescued out of sexual slavery. One of our first priorities is to create an environment that feels/is completely safe. I am so blessed to be able to transfer a ton of the great advice from this post (and many of the others) that I believe will really help the girls!

    Reply
  16. Leah
    February 3, 2011

    Maintaining a solid routine all week long that includes regular food intake, exercise and cozy time helps keep everyone feeling safe. Food is huge and I've notice that eating out or moving meals back an hour decreases safety big time. We have a family moto: "No matter what you do, no matter what you say…It's you and me together…forever…because we are family!" We say this often with special family hand motions so we can say it to each other w/out words in public settings or from across the room. We wear matching clothes too much but everyone seems to love it for now….well, except for my sweet husband. Enforcing the family values and rules is another big one. If I'm lazy and ignore a disrespectful action or an unkind word I can expect a major decrease in felt safety which usually looks mad or angry. I hear my little one's saying "are you still in charge, will you still protect us?"

    Reply
  17. Messica
    February 3, 2011

    My little girl gets anxious for any number of reasons, and one thing that helps her is when I describe what's going to happen during the day. It starts to sound downright silly, the way I repeat and rehearse what we'll do and see, but it helps her feel in control. I think it also helped her learn to talk and label things quickly. She also seems to feel safer when I tell her the possible outcomes of things, like, "We're going to stop by so&so's house for a few minutes. She might be home and we'll go in, or she might not be home, and we'll head back to our house, and that'll be okay."

    Reply
  18. sleighs79
    February 3, 2011

    The most important things we do here involve touch – I try to take the time as soon as I see the crazy cycle beginning to just sit and hold him. Just a few minutes, but enough that he can regulate and we can both be on our ways. Also, rocking has helped immeasurably! (Thanks Rockin' Mama Challenge) Like Megan, I also bequeathed a family snapshot. Unlaminated, though, and it's looking kindof ratty. He pulls it out when he's feeling especially anxious and rehearses the names of everyone in the family. Over and over and over.

    Reply
  19. Tami
    February 3, 2011

    A number of years ago we were given advice to help our daughter feel safe when I had to leave her for a couple of days on a trip. I was advised to give her an item of mine (something that mattered but wouldn't be the end of the world if it was lost). I asked her to take care of it for me while I was gone and told her that she would need to give it back to me when I retuned from the trip. Somehow this gave her reassurance that I was coming back.
    Just this past week, probably six years after this first trip away, my husband and I left the kids with the grandparents for a couple nights away. As I was saying goodbye, she asked, "What do I need to take care of until you get back?"

    Reply
  20. Bethel
    February 4, 2011

    I tell my sons often, "I love you and I'm never going to leave you." Especially when their behaviors are really ugly and they're pushing me away, but I also use it when they seem to be calm and regulated. It's often met with nasty words or screaming. But, I've started noticing that my younger son (5 yrs) is now repeating those same words to other family members. He sat down next to my raging 6 year old the other day and said, "I love you and I'm never going to leave you." It's become a mantra in our house. In my quiet time with the Lord this morning I found myself thanking Him that He loves me so much and is never going to leave me. 🙂

    Reply
  21. frumadsen
    February 4, 2011

    Wow – what great comments!
    My two cents would be about the older sibling (I have one though birth, one adopted and I'm pregnant with number three). When I have to spend a lot of time and energy with the baby and often have to tell him to wait, I take the time to tell him stories about when he was a baby. Stories about what he was craving in my tummy, what he liked to play as a baby, the way I'd hold him, what made him laugh. He's beaming when I tell those stories. It reminds him he has been small and special too – and still is.

    Reply

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