Safety: A feeling. Or as we call it, Felt Safety...
We all know about keeping our children safe: keeping a roof over their heads, putting food in their bellies, giving them lots of fresh water to drink, keeping the doors locked at night, not taking candy from strangers, washing hands. This is physical safety for sure, and we can help children know logically that they are safe.
But what about emotional safety? How do we help our kids know in their hearts- their whole beings - that they are truly safe? Pulling this off in these times of COVID-19 may seem like an astronomical task- especially when we consider the truth ‘you can’t give what you don’t have.’ What if we, the adults (parents, grandparents, aunts/uncles, foster caregivers- all of us trying to care for children) don’t feel safe due to the events of the world all around us?
First, we want to remind you it’s kind of like when you’re on a plane and you’re told, “if the oxygen masks drop, take a breath from your own oxygen mask before helping your child take a breath from theirs.” We’re suggesting you take a moment to remember what helps you feel safe- and do one, or some- of those things. Take some deep breaths, put on some soft music, light a candle, wrap in a blanket, talk on the phone with a friend, take a warm bath, have some hot tea - whatever it is. Take care of you.
Now, take some moments with your child and in addition to feeding them, clothing them, sheltering them: connect with them. Hug them, kiss them, stroke their hair, look in their eyes, get down on their level and look at them, directly in their eyes and tell them they are the most precious thing in the world to you. Sing with them, dance with them, play games with them, read with them, walk with them, run with them- through these playful ways of connecting, you will disarm fear! (Try it! It’s really hard to feel scared, sad, angry, frustrated, all of the things, when you’re singing at the top of your lungs and dancing like a wild person to your favorite dance music!) Also, keep established routines. This is important! If bedtime is usually take a bath, get into comfy pj’s, brush teeth, and snuggle in for a story- keep doing that! There is a feeling of safety in those day to day routines.
Connect with your child. Now is the time! The world feels scary right now. We want to do what we can to help our children- and us- feel safe.
When we connect with our children- through touch, through eye contact, through soft, soothing, spoken or sung words, through playing with them, and keeping our bedtime or other routines, we help children know- right to the depths of their hearts: they are loved, they are cherished, they are valued above all, and we adults will absolutely do our best to keep them safe from all harm. And, a bonus feature, through hugging, kissing, walking, singing, dancing, playing with our children- they feel safer, better, happier, and so do we.
Dr. Karyn Purvis said, “anything is possible when you connect with the heart of a child.” Even feeling safe in times like these. Anything is possible.
Lay a blanket on the floor and have your child lay in the middle of it. Each parent/adult/older sibling stands at the child’s head and feet and puts a corner of the blanket in each hand-making a taco-like blanket wrap around the child. Tell the child on the count of 3 you will pick them up in the blanket. Raise the blanket (taco style) off the ground and slowly rock the blanket back and forth while you sing the following: Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, what a special boy/girl you are, soft (insert color of hair) hair and pink pink cheeks, big (color) eyes from which you peek, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, what a special boy/girl you are.
Slowly bring the child back down to the ground.
Important key things: Before doing this activity tell the child what you will be doing to reduce any nervousness about trying something new-honor any requests to change it up if they feel timid and also try to make eye contact with the child while you sing this to him/her to maintain connection.
Written by Deb Levenseller, Clinical Director at The Maine Children's Home for The Connected Community @ MCH.