Raising children is not easy and we all know there is no manual or instructions that come with children when they are born. Parenting is simultaneously one of the most rewarding and challenging experiences in life. Of the many things parents focus on, creating an emotionally safe space is among the most important.
Creating emotionally safe spaces for children gives them the freedom to express their emotions, even the big emotions, which is essential for teaching children how to process emotions and develop emotional literacy. An emotionally safe space in part means creating an environment where children have the freedom to explore their feelings. This can include actions like a daily feelings touch base where children can connect with parents to express what they are feeling and experiencing. It can be incorporated into the bedtime routine and something parents can do with children until they are grown up.
A safe emotional space can also be a physical space like a quiet corner or calming corner where parents and children can go to sit and talk and connect. In both the physical and emotional safe space, the key is listening to children and letting them freely express themselves. The most important thing is to be there, present, and listening. Children interpret and receive that parental engagement as supportive and loving.
Teaching children how to calm themselves down is a huge part of creating an emotional safe space. Showing them how to calm down, remain focused on things they want to achieve, and despite obstacles learn how to remain optimistic and hopeful are important parts of using a safe emotional space to foster emotional intelligence. When children are experiencing BIG emotions, sometimes before they start talking it helps to take a moment for some deep breaths before continuing.
Another preferred tactic of child psychologists is to have the child grab a favorite soft toy or a pillow, then lie down and place it on their stomach, so they can watch the object rise and fall with their breaths for a few moments before talking. In most cases, children can calm themselves down, because the focus on the item shifts their attention, and allows them to center themselves and better articulate and express how they are feeling.
Another tried and true method is to have your child write their feelings down in a shared journal where you can respond to their entries, and they can read and understand your thoughts. For many children, it is difficult to verbalize what they are experiencing and writing offers another safe avenue for free expression.
Sometimes the best thing parents can do is seek professional advice and input to identify ways to create a safe emotional space. For others, attending workshops and parenting classes such as the upcoming April 18-June 6 Positive Parenting Course can also be a tremendous resource. Seeking communities of parents in the same boat is another way to identify best practices in establishing an emotionally safe space for your children.