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Creating Safety

young adult woman sitting on floor with couches and a couple other girls in the background

Most parents know they are responsible for creating an environment for their children that meets their physical needs and keeps them safe from harm. Equally important, however, is a parent’s ability to create emotional safety within the parent-child relationship. When emotional safety is present in a relationship, ideas and feelings can be expressed with confidence. Those in the relationship feel physically safe, emotionally supported, and secure. When correction or challenging is needed, it is done with honesty and respect.

What does emotional safety look like?

Emotional safety involves having a level of predictability and consistency in emotions and behaviors. For this to occur, it’s necessary for you to have clear boundaries and expectations for your child. In addition, when the relationship is damaged, emotional safety requires that repairing occurs. Repairing the relationship includes listening, apologizing, and forgiving for both parties in the relationship.

The following are qualities found in emotionally safe relationships:

  • Vulnerability
  • Disclosure
  • Honest Feedback
  • Absence of or reduced defense mechanisms
  • A feeling of love and connection

How Emotional Safety Leads to Lasting Change

  • Love is the foundation of change. It promotes long-lasting change while fear promotes short-lived behavioral changes. Emotional safety is essential for your child to feel your love.
  • Spirituality fosters healing as we are able to connect with things larger than ourselves and with whom we can be accountable to. Lack of emotional safety impairs our ability to have faith in and connect with things bigger than ourselves.
  • Family is the most meaningful and influential relationship in facilitating healing. Emotional safety is a prerequisite for family love, trust, vulnerability, authenticity, and connection.
  • Positive values promote emotional safety when they are followed consistently. You may need to explore and reconnect to your positive values in order to rise above problem behaviors.
  • Internal locus of control means you are aware of how you contribute to the emotional safety your child experiences with you.
  • Self-esteem is the result of successfully living by internal control and positive values, which leads to greater levels of self-respect, emotional stability, and relationship confidence.

Each of these is a step in the process of change. Without emotional safety to pave the way, permanent positive change cannot occur.

How Do You Create Emotional Safety at Home?

Creating emotional safety in your relationship with your child requires you to model for him/her the very thing you are hoping to receive from him/her. This involves treating what he/she shares as important and valuable, and consistently supporting him/her. Your ability and willingness to look at yourself in your relationship with your child is a starting point in creating needed emotional safety in order to address behaviors, understand beliefs, and help facilitate healing.

Ways to Create Emotional Safety at Home:

  • Pay attention to when you find yourself using a tone of voice, displaying an attitude, or using language that is judgmental, overly critical, or otherwise emotionally unsafe. Acknowledge this and communicate your message again in a different way.
  • Practice empathetic listening. As your child talks to you, make responses (head nods, eye contact, etc.) that demonstrate understanding. Resist impulses to give advice or provide solutions. Express confidence in your child’s ability to solve problems and make good choices.
  • Together as a family, identify and describe at least one family pattern that results in one or more family members feeling emotionally unsafe. Discuss this with your family therapist.
  • As a family, identify a list of behaviors that are warning signs of an emotionally unsafe situation. Discuss action plans for how to do things differently.
  • Listen to and acknowledge feedback from your child or other family members without becoming angry, defensive, or argumentative.
  • Discuss the issue of control in relationships with your spouse or another adult you are close to. Talk about appropriate versus inappropriate control with children. What are the proper boundaries between a parent’s right to control and child’s right to self-control? When is control emotionally unsafe and developmentally detrimental?