We pull up to the little league baseball field where I’m about to have three different kids with three different practices on three different fields. There are only two parents. But before I can barely shift the van into park, my 11-year-old son darts out of the van, grabs his baseball equipment and sprints to his field.
Why does this make me as a father smile every time it happens? It’s not because he’s a future major leaguer or that he is so happy to get away from us. It’s because he used to be an insecure kid, insecure about his baseball skills. He was unsure of himself, his ability to make friends on the team, and didn’t always handle the disappointment of striking out or misplaying a ball very well.
A child that feels secure feels loved and free to make decisions, form relationships, and solve problems. They also react well to emotional stress. How do you help your child to feel secure?
Be the Parent
As a parent, you are in charge—you are the authority. You set the structure and the rules in your home. You also demonstrate what love and relationship look like, but you don’t look for your child to validate you as a person or as a parent. Children feel more secure when they and the people in their lives have clear roles. When their parent is acting out the responsibilities of a parent, there’s clarity and order in your child’s life.
Set Limits and Boundaries
I have seven kids and they all seem to read from the same book that tells them to test the limits. Children are hard-wired to find out how far their parents will allow them to go. When a child doesn’t have any limits or boundaries, it may seem as though they are getting what they want. The opposite is the case.
Family experts agree that children feel safer when limits and boundaries are established and knowing that there are consequences for going beyond the boundaries. Your child learns what behavior is expected of them. A child who knows what to expect is better able to enter in and out of relationships with non-family members because they’ve learned to recognize what is appropriate.
Routines and Consistency
Predictability is great for children. This may come in the form of regular morning, evening, and bedtime routines. This also may be through family mealtime or family rituals. Your children will experience lots of change in the world they live in. Being able to look to the home for consistency provides security in what can be a chaotic world. Click here for great information on establishing routines and structure in the home.
Time and Affection
Laughing, playing, being silly, hugging, saying “I love you,” and just hanging out are key to helping your child feel secure. This helps your child know that they belong and have a place in this world because they have a place in their family. It reinforces that they are loved, that they have value, and that they are worth spending time with. Click here for ways to show your child affection.
My son has experienced a range of emotions playing baseball. There are times where he and a teammate didn’t get along and other times he has been frustrated because he was not hitting the ball well. We’ve talked. Sometimes, I’ve just listened. We’ve discussed solutions. But more importantly, as parents, we have learned to be available to help and support, not necessarily solve the problem. One of my favorite questions is, “What do you think is best and why?” The freedom to solve his own problems builds self-confidence.
We always aim to be available to help him think through the issues he encounters. And sometimes he makes the wrong decision—which gives us the opportunity to help him learn and grow. Your children will experience failure, stress, and a host of other emotions. You want them to feel safe to experience life and have the confidence to respond in a positive and healthy way.
Give Children Responsibilities
Children who contribute to the daily life of the family learn that they have something to give. The Center for Parenting Education says that children who have family responsibilities gain a sense of pride from knowing that they are capable of contributing to their environment. My 4-year-old has the responsibility of making sure everyone has silverware for each meal. It doesn’t have to be much and it can grow over time. My 11 and 13-year-olds are responsible for washing the dishes. They know that without silverware or clean dishes, the family doesn’t eat. They are contributing to the life of our family.
Know When to Seek Professional Help
If your child continually expresses an inability to feel safe and it is impacting their ability to cope, then it may be time to seek professional help. As a parent, sometimes we need the assistance of an objective professional to help us tweak our parenting to meet the individual needs of our children. It certainly is not a sign of failure to ask for help. Parenting to your child’s uniqueness can be challenging for sure.
As a parent, you can provide your child with a safe and stable environment to help them feel secure. Your child picks up on the cues you send based on how you respond to the stress of a pandemic like COVID-19 or the anger you may feel when someone you love is mistreated. Working to feel secure as a parent will only help you as you aim to help your child feel secure.