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4 Things to Know About Emotional Safety

Create the connection you crave in your closest relationships.

What is emotional safety?

Emotional safety. Does that sound like a lofty concept? Let’s break it down. Emotional is defined as relating to one’s feelings. Safety means keeping yourself or others free from harm. So, put them together, and what does emotional safety mean? When you’re emotionally safe, you’ve removed yourself as a barrier to others freely being themselves. Recent neurobiology research by Dr. Stephen Porges reveals that emotional safety is one of the most important aspects of connection in a relationship.

Here are some things to know about emotional safety.

Emotional safety comes from within. It starts with you. It consists of identifying your feelings and being able to feel them. 

Emotional safety means revealing your true self to another person. It is expressing who you are, including your hurts, fears, and dreams. It’s expressing yourself authentically, sharing dissatisfaction, fears, and insecurities, and having a conversation without it blowing up into an argument. It’s sharing without fear of shaming, yelling, or rejection.

We all need at least one person with whom we can be ourselves.

Ideally, marriage is a safe space for you and your spouse to reveal your true selves. Parenthood allows you to create a safe environment for your children to grow and learn who they are as individuals. And friendship is a space where you can be the most real you.

Why does emotional safety matter?

Emotional safety is essential in any relationship, whether romantic, family, friends, or co-workers.

When we trust that someone else can see, hear, and understand us, we relax more with them. We open up about who we are and feel connected. Emotional safety is reciprocal. When we are safe for someone else, we deepen our relationship.

When you feel emotionally safe, you are more likely to be your best self and contribute to your greatest ability. You are free to dream, collaborate, create, share, and express yourself. When we open up and do this in a safe environment, we invite others to do the same. 

In relationships, we need to feel safe before we can be vulnerable. Brené Brown says, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, accountability, and authenticity.” Safety creates a foundation for intimacy and closeness.

How do you build & keep emotional safety?

Now, we have a good idea of what emotional safety is. We can examine our relationships and see where it exists. But, how do we build it if it doesn’t exist? 

The foundation is trust. We can’t feel safe with someone if we don’t trust them. Building emotional safety requires building and keeping trust. Trust is a two-way street. It’s built with honesty, credibility, communication, and authenticity.

Another important piece of emotional safety is recognizing what not to do in relationships. We may not be aware of the subtle ways we cause harm with sarcasm, blaming, or shaming others. Instead, traits like respect, kindness, and appreciation foster safety.

Here are some actions you can take to maintain emotional safety:

  • Be consistent. Be there for your spouse, child, friend, or co-worker. When you are consistently present, others see you as reliable and trustworthy.
  • Listen actively. Listen to learn, not to respond. I often struggle with this. We have to slow down and listen.
  • Be curious, not judgmental. Be interested in what the other person is interested in. Ask questions. 
  • Lead with empathy and compassion. Feel what they feel and genuinely care about who they are and what they believe.

What happens if emotional safety isn’t there?

A lack of emotional safety leads to disconnection. Disconnection is a massive threat to a relationship. When we feel disconnected, we begin to feel lonely and distant, and the relationship can start to crumble.

If you feel disconnected from someone, try to find out what’s going on. It could be you. It could be them. If you can, talk about it and make a plan to rebuild your connection.  

Take steps today to create emotional safety in at least one of your relationships. Start by seeing if you’re in tune with your own emotions. If you are, make sure you’re maintaining it well. We all need emotional safety in our relationships.

Other helpful blogs:

How to Be An Emotionally Safe Spouse

Set your spouse free to be themselves.

You want to be your spouse’s hero? Their most trusted confidant? The one who supports them and helps them flourish? The one they share their wildest, most audacious dreams with? None of it happens if you aren’t the emotionally safe person your spouse needs. When you’re emotionally safe, you’ve removed yourself as a barrier to your spouse freely being themselves. With you, they feel safe to be transparent, vulnerable, authentic, flawed, and emotional. They’re free to be themselves.

Side note: Just because you’re emotionally safe doesn’t mean they will always feel safe. Your spouse may have their own barriers to work through. You can’t control that. But the safer you are, the more space and freedom your partner will have to clearly see themselves and even grow through their experiences. You’ll be the hero who stuck by them through their imperfections, missteps, and all.

How do you become that emotionally safe spouse your partner needs?

Be secure within yourself.

Start with loving and accepting yourself. When you feel comfortable in your skin, you’re more likely to be emotionally vulnerable

Show genuine curiosity about your spouse.

You’re in it to learn. You can talk to your spouse as if you know them and you know all the answers… or you can try to learn more about their thought process, how they see things and understand them better. Because you’ll never stop learning about one another.

Express honesty with humility.

Being emotionally safe doesn’t mean you don’t express your true thoughts, even when they are different or you disagree. You just express your thoughts with the caveat that you’re on the same team. You share with mutual respect and a desire for you to be on one page, not to prove that you’re right.

Ask, “What makes you feel emotionally safe with me?”

What makes your spouse feel most comfortable at being their whole self with you may differ from others. The fact that you asked with the desire to know should mean you’re willing to hear their whole heart. Don’t defend yourself. Just listen to understand.

Communicate with gentleness and gratitude.

Try making sure that every negative interaction with your spouse is balanced by five positive interactions. Get in the habit of being generous with your spouse just because. Be aware of how you speak to your spouse. Is your tone one of criticism and contempt, or one of kindness and love? An emotionally unsafe person will communicate using a tone that lacks love and gentleness.

Be Inviting.

You don’t have to be talking about serious topics to be inviting. Look forward to being with your spouse after work. Create opportunities to hear their heart and dream together. Remind them of the things you admire and appreciate about them. Invite them to be themselves. And show them that you love who they are. 

Emotional safety is a process that builds.

Being an emotionally safe spouse doesn’t guarantee there won’t be disagreements or that you won’t (at times) cause emotional pain to each other. In fact, being emotionally safe may increase your willingness to deal with those very things. 

You’re different people with your own thoughts, opinions, and ideas. Sometimes those differences clash, and one of you will say or do something hurtful. Suppose either person in your relationship has been perpetually unsafe. In that case, it may take time to reap the benefits of the newfound emotional safety. And that’s ok. 

Brene Brown says, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, accountability, and authenticity.” Imagine how your spouse will feel when you are being the emotionally safe spouse that encourages vulnerability, transparency, and beyond. 

Other helpful blogs:

6 Ways to Agree to Disagree With My Spouse

7 Ways to Increase Trust in Marriage

How to Build Empathy in Marriage

Understand Your Spouse and Deepen Your Relationship
***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear someone is monitoring your computer or device, call the hotline 24/7 at 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

In 2014, there was enormous outcry over video footage of pro football player Ray Rice knocking his wife Janay unconscious, then dragging her off an elevator. In the midst of the coverage, the Rices appeared together at a press conference. She clearly seemed to have no intention of leaving him. This set off a whole new barrage on social media asking why in the world she would stay.

In the U.S., it’s estimated that every nine seconds a woman is beaten. Moreover, research indicates that 85 percent of reported cases of domestic violence are by men against women. These relationships usually involve intense jealousy, controlling behavior, denial and blame, intimidation, coercion and threats, and isolation.

  • Approximately 50 percent of men who assault their partners also assault their children.
  • As many as 10 million children witness domestic violence annually.
  • Men and women engage in comparable levels of abuse and control, though women are more likely to use emotional manipulation. In contrast, men are more likely to use sexual coercion and physical dominance. (Statistics from Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network)

Dr. David M. Allen, Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, says it’s important to realize that not all abusers were abused as children. And, that many—if not most—people who are abused do not become abusers. However, child abuse is most likely the single largest risk factor—biological, psychological or sociocultural—for later adult abusive behavior.

According to Allen, significant family dysfunction is almost always present in a repetitive abuser’s background. Unfortunately, these dysfunctional patterns rarely stop when abused children grow up.

Why do people stay in abusive relationships?

Fear, reliance on the abusive partner, pressure and conflicting emotions are all reasons why someone would stay in an abusive relationship.

“The reason many of these victims stay is because they are brainwashed to believe that the violence is their fault. They may think they cannot survive without their abuser and that they are too stupid, too ugly or too unfit to be a good employee, wife, friend or mother,” says Dr. Charlotte Boatwright, President of the Chattanooga Area Domestic Violence Coalition.

So, what can you do if you have a friend who is in an abusive situation?

  • Recognize the abuse. Help your friend see that what is happening is not normal. Healthy relationships revolve around mutual respect, trust and consideration for the other person. Intense jealousy and controlling behavior, which could include physical, emotional or sexual abuse, all indicate an unhealthy relationship.
  • Support your friend’s strength. Acknowledge the things she does to take care of herself.
  • Help your friend with a safety plan. There are resources available in our community to help victims of domestic violence. Express your concern for your friend’s safety and the safety of her children. Encourage her to get help as soon as possible. Give her the phone number to the National Domestic Violence hotline, 1-800-799-7233. Assure her that when she is ready to leave, you’ll be there for her.
  • Be a good listener. Empower her through listening. Be nonjudgmental.

“Never underestimate the power and encouragement of a friend,” Boatwright says. “Sometimes all a victim needs is permission to seek help.”

Ellen Pober Rittberg is the mother of three. She had three children in three years and she spent 13 years representing young people as an attorney. Both of these experiences have given her insight into the lives of young people which led to writing 35 Things Your Teen Won’t Tell You, So I Will.

“I wrote this book as a message to parents that you can do this,” says Rittberg. “I think that it is probably the hardest time to be raising a teen. There are threats to their safety, head-spinning technological advances, they are encouraged to dress provocatively by celebrities who they see dressing provocatively, and peers are more important to them than family. The book is really a form of cheerleading in an informed, honest and positive way.”

Rittberg believes the biggest mistake parents can make is to trust their teen all the time.

She cautions parents that in spite of the fact that their young person seems really smart, their judgment is defective. Shes says they will make poor decisions because they are adults in the making.

35 Things Your Teen Won’t Tell You, So I Will is the manual I wish I had had when I was raising my teens,” Rittberg says. “I didn’t want to be preached to and I didn’t want to read clinical pieces written by educators, psychologists or medical doctors. I wanted to know the practical do’s and don’ts, the big mistakes to avoid, what to do when you are at the end of your rope and ways to enjoy the challenge of raising teens.”

Rittberg encourages parents to be open to the fact that they can learn to be a better parent.

“When I was pregnant with my first child, I read a ton of books because I didn’t know how to parent,” Rittberg recalls. “We need to continue exposing ourselves to information that will help us be better parents. Parents also need to consider the values they want to impart to their children and how they will be intentional about doing it.”

Here are a few of the 35 things Rittberg wants you to know about when your kids won’t tell you things:

  • You shouldn’t be your child’s best friend. We have a role as parents to be responsible and reliable. If you act like a teenager, your teen won’t respect you.
  • Your child needs meaningful work. Anything that encourages a healthy work ethic and sense of family duty is a good thing.
  • To know your teen’s friends is to know your teen. If you want to know what your teen is up to, get to know their friends. Make your house a welcoming place. You have to be there when they are there.
  • A parent should not buy a child a car. There are large consequences to buying your child a car. The largest is that the child who doesn’t earn a significant portion of the car will likely total it soon after getting it. When they have worked for it they will take better care of it.
  • Know your child’s school. School officials should know your face, what you do and that you want to help.
  • Curfews are good. As the old saying goes, nothing good happens after midnight!

“Parenting teens is challenging, but you can do it and be good at it,” Rittberg says.

Time for parenting 101! When David and Victoria Beckham were criticized by parenting experts for allowing their 4-year-old daughter to have a pacifier, David fought back. He took to social media to set the record straight.

“Why do people feel they have the right to criticize a parent about their own children without having any facts?? Everybody who has children knows that when they aren’t feeling well or have a fever you do what comforts them best and most of the time it’s a pacifier so those who criticize think twice about what you say about other people’s children because actually you have no right to criticize me as a parent,” said Beckham.

His response garnered over 600,000 likes on Instagram and more than 23,000 comments. Most of the comments encouraged him in his efforts to be a great dad.

Isn’t it interesting how people can take a snapshot in time and make assumptions that may or may not be correct?

The Irreducible Needs of Children: What Every Child Must Have to Grow, Learn, and Flourish,a parenting book by pediatrician Dr. T. Berry Brazelton and child psychiatrist Dr. Stanley I. Greenspan, lists seven basic needs of children. They are:

  • Nurturing relationships;
  • Physical safety and security;
  • Opportunities based on individual personality;
  • Developmentally appropriate experiences;
  • Rules and expectations;
  • A supportive community and cultural continuity; and
  • Future protection.

Anyone with siblings or children knows that, even when children have the same biological parents, their personalities can be as different as night and day, and their needs are not the same. A parent may not be able to turn their back on one child for a split-second without something happening, where another child entertains himself for lengthy periods of time. One child may be more outgoing than the others. Some struggle with what seems like non-stop ear infections while the others are the picture of health.

Engaged parents know things about their children that other people usually do not.

Have you ever been “that parent” in the mall, watching your child have a meltdown while feeling helpless and beating yourself up inside because you know people are watching and probably judging your parenting skills?

Parenting is complicated. It is easy to sit on the sidelines and judge, but when you are in the throes of it, it just isn’t that simple. There is no one cookie-cutter approach for every single child. Most parents are doing the best they know how to do. Being critical without being privy to the big picture is not helpful unless there is legitimate concern of abuse.

Every human being needs to know they are loved, capable, valued and safe. Children look to their parents and want to know if they love them and believe in them and if they measure up.

How parents express answers to these questions probably will look different depending on the child’s needs. Some may need a pacifier when they don’t feel good, even when they are 4 years old. Others may cross a clear boundary and receive a very loving, firm and needed consequence. From an outsider’s vantage point, it may even seem harsh.

Some parents really do need help with their parenting skills. However, it doesn’t seem like judging them publicly without knowing more details is the answer. Remembering that healthy parenting choices vary depending on the situation, the child and the environment can help foster empathy while avoiding a rush to unfair judgment.

How to Prevent Bullying

Everyone can make a difference when they speak out against bullying.

Paul Coughlin’s passion to prevent bullying comes from his own bullying experience while in elementary school. He understands how a campaign of cruelty can damage a person’s emotional and psychological well-being, not just in childhood, but often for life.

This knowledge, along with his passion, led him to start an anti-bullying effort called The Protectors, whose primary focus is on the potential strength, heroic desire and rescuing capacity of bystanders. Studies show that bystanders possess the most potential to transform an environment of bullying into one of character, freedom and justice. One study revealed that if only one bystander, whether popular or not, uses his or her assertive but nonviolent words in defense of a target, the incident of bullying can end 58 percent of the time within six to eight seconds.

How prevalent is bullying in schools?

  • One out of every four students report being victims of bullying during the school year. (National Center for Educational Statistics, 2015)

  • Of children who are bullied, 64 percent did not report it. (Petrosino, Guckenburg, DeVoe, and Hanson, 2010)

  • School-based bullying prevention programs decrease bullying by up to 25 percent. (McCallion and Feder, 2013)

  • The reasons for being bullied reported most often by students were looks (55 percent), body shape (37 percent) and race (16 percent). (Davis and Nixon, 2010)

According to Coughlin, an expert witness regarding bullying and the law, bullying is not about conflict and miscommunication. It is about standing in contempt of another human being.

“It is a myth that the bully has anger management problems,” says Coughlin. “Bullies are highly predatory people. Bullies tend to come from homes with coercive parenting styles where parents express disdain and contempt of people who are different from them. Young people learn through modeling, this is how you treat people.”

What can you do to prevent bullying?

  • Speak Up. If someone is bullying you, tell them to stop.

  • Bystanders are the best front line of defense. Stand up for the victim when you see bullying happen. Phrases such as, “Stop it, that’s wrong,” “Let’s do something else,” “I am going to report you” are powerful and can stop the bullying.

  • Schools can adopt anonymous reporting. One of the top five apps changing the world for good, as reported by CNN, is an anonymous reporting app called STOPit.

  • Take the incident seriously. Act sooner rather than later.

  • Don’t look the other way. When you know something is happening, report it.

“What’s really going to change bullying is when we change parenting,” Coughlin says. “As parents, we need to expect our kids to help someone in need. It needs to be part of your family mission and purpose. I have actually had this conversation with all three of my kids. I expect you to do something life-affirming. We don’t stand by and watch someone’s psychological flesh get seared from their body and do nothing.

“Research actually shows that when we see someone being targeted and you have the power to act yet you do nothing, our capacity for courage, sympathy and empathy decrease. We become small-souled. If we want strong kids, this is a pivotal moment. This is a tremendous opportunity for character development.”

Although it is not possible to prevent bullying altogether, there is no excuse for allowing it to continue if you know it is going on. Speaking up for yourself or another victim can make a huge difference both now and in the future.

When summer approaches many youngsters get excited and look forward to attending camps. And many middle-school kids are pleading their case for staying home alone.

But exactly how old is old enough?

Surprisingly, only three states have laws regarding a minimum age for leaving a child home alone. Basically, the parent decides if their child is mature enough to be unsupervised at home.

Many parenting experts agree that it’s not a good idea to leave a child under the age of 9 home alone.

But how do you know if your child is ready for the responsibility of staying home alone?

For starters, assess whether your child:

  • Is physically and mentally capable of caring for him/herself.

  • Obeys the rules and makes good decisions.

  • Responds well to unfamiliar or stressful situations.

  • Feels comfortable or fearful about being home alone.

When it comes to safety:

  • Is there an emergency plan and does your child know how to follow the plan?

  • Does your child know his/her full name, address and phone number?

  • Make sure your child knows where you are and how to contact you at all times.

  • Does your child know the full names and contact information of other trusted adults in case of an emergency?

If you feel confident that your child is ready, these tips can help him/her feel comfortable and confident about staying home alone:

  • Have a trial period. Leave your child home alone for short periods of time to see how they manage by themselves.

  • Role-play potential scenarios. Act out possible situations, such as how to manage unexpected visitors or deliveries and how to talk on the phone without revealing that a parent is not home.

  • Establish rules. Make sure your child understands what is permissible and what is not. Be clear about expectations concerning technology, having friends over, going other places, how late they are allowed to sleep, chores that need to be done and exactly what is allowed while you are away. For example, should they bake cookies in the oven when you are away?

  • Discuss emergencies. What constitutes an emergency in your eyes and in your child’s eyes? Would they know that an overflowing toilet is definitely an emergency? Have you established a code word to use for emergencies?

  • Check in. Have established check-in times in addition to random times that you call to make sure all is going well.

  • Talk about it. Talk with your child about staying home alone and encourage him/her to share their feelings.

Staying home alone is a big deal.

Even if you stayed home alone as a child, it is a new day and age. Your child may not be mature or confident enough to handle this type of responsibility right now. If not, look for inexpensive alternatives such as volunteering, community center programs or faith-based organization opportunities. Or perhaps a neighbor or fellow parent would be willing to help out.

Remember, although your child may seem smart, 9 is just 9, and 12 is not considered a young adult. The executive function of the brain, which is responsible for decision-making and self-control, doesn’t completely develop until the mid-20s.

While leaving your child home alone may seem like the logical and most cost-effective thing to do, preparing your child for this kind of responsibility takes time. It isn’t too soon to begin the preparation process.

Choosing a Summer Camp for Your Kids

Get those summer plans in motion with the perfect camp for your child.

Just hearing the words, “summer camp” can make people smile. Why? Because it’s hard to forget a summer filled with new friendships and learning new things. This is true whether it involves sports, cooking over an open fire, identifying wildlife, stringing a bow or shooting an arrow. And since school will be out soon, choosing a summer camp now can help you set those summer plans in motion.

The good news is, there are plenty of camp options for everything from the zoo, coding and nature, to scouting, sports and cooking experiences. And, many local organizations offer both day and residential summer camps. There’s something for every kid out there.

The camp experience can be good for kids in many ways. It may help them:

  • mature socially, emotionally, intellectually, morally and physically;

  • discover and explore their talents, interests and values;

  • build self-confidence and increase independence as they learn how to navigate relationships away from their parents; and,

  • try new things and develop leadership skills.

So, how do you choose a camp that fits your child’s personality and needs?

The American Camp Association (ACA) website has suggestions for you as you make decisions. Here are a few for you to think about.

  • What is the camp’s philosophy? Does it complement your parenting style? Is the camp competitive or cooperative?

  • What is the camp director’s background? At a minimum, a camp director should have a bachelor’s degree and camp administration experience.

  • What is the ratio of counselors to campers? Depending on the age and ability of the campers, the medium range is one staff member for every seven to eight campers.

  • How old are the counselors? ACA standards recommend that 80 percent or more of the program staff be 18 or older. Additionally, at least 20 percent of the program/administrative staff must have a bachelor’s degree.

  • How does the camp handle poor behavior and discipline? Positive reinforcement, assertive role-modeling and a sense of fair play are generally regarded as key components of camp leadership.

Another good idea is to research references and camp policies, such as visitation, dealing with homesickness or other adjustment issues.

If your child is camping for the first time, you’ll want to make sure they are ready. Just because you think they are old enough doesn’t mean they are emotionally prepared.

Remember to include your child in the camp decision-making process. If you choose an overnight camp, be sure they can spend the night away from home and can handle being away from you. (By the way, sleepovers at Grandma’s don’t count!) Discuss what to do if they get homesick.

Also, prepare them to meet people who are different from them. Let them know they will encounter bugs and other creepy-crawly things if camp is outdoors.

Each year, more than 14 million children go to camp. Parents say it greatly impacts their child’s ability to get along with others, willingness to learn something new and how they feel about themselves.

Summer camp can be a home away from home. And, when the camp is right for your child, it can provide great fun, lasting memories and personal discovery.