There are basic human needs: clothing, food, and shelter. These are the essentials for survival. But there is another need that is just as foundational. It’s safety.
Our kids are continually faced with a great number of things that threaten to diminish their sense of safety in this world. They are growing up in a world filled with disease, wars and shootings. I want to spend some time in this post exploring the idea of safety from your child’s perspective and what we can do as Christian parents to help kids feel safe in a sometimes unsafe world.
And exercise to help you empathize
In order to help our kids in this area, we first need to know what it feels like to be a kid these days. Here’s an illustration to help you do that.
Imagine for a moment that you are alone in a foreign country and you do not speak the language. But you find a compassionate, kind-faced person who is willing to help you out. He lets you stay with him and helps you find food, clothing and shelter. You might still feel unsure about your future, but you feel hopeful. Someone is looking out for you.
But then imagine that this person, this life-line, starts to appear worried about something. He starts to rush around and emit a sense of urgency. He may smile at you, but you know that something is wrong. You can’t understand what he is saying in hushed corners, but you feel it. You don’t want to add to his obvious burden, so you smile, go about your business, and stay out of the way.
But you watch carefully, looking for any information to help you know what might be coming next. The uncertainty is hard. What’s even harder is that the person you rely on for everything is shaken.
This is what many of our kids have been feeling these last couple of years. Their parents and caregivers, the ones who make everything okay and give them solid ground, have been struggling. And this can unsettle their world. I don’t say any of this to lay blame on you or make you feel guilty. EVERY parent struggled. It has been unavoidable. The purpose of this imaginary exercise was to help you see, really see, what life has been like from a kid’s perspective.
Recognize the subtle signs of a child who feels unsafe
You may be thinking, “Nah. My kids are fine. None of the stuff going on in the world is really bothering them.”
Kids are extremely resilient. Early in my career, I conducted evaluations and treatment of children who had been victims of sexual abuse. I was repeatedly amazed by how resilient these children were in the face of such trauma. But just because kids are resilient (ie: carry on with life and function adequately) does not mean that they are unaffected. Let’s not confuse the two.
There may be some subtle hints that your child is struggling with a sense of safety and it’s important to be on the lookout. Maybe he wants to be in the same room as you a bit more. Or maybe he wanders out of his bed at night just to “see” what you are doing. Or maybe he frequently asks where all your family members are.
In and of themselves, these are not generally cause for concern. But it’s important to tune our eyes and ears into subtle changes like these.
Help your kids articulate feelings
One way we can help children in this area is to increase their feelings vocabulary and emotional intelligence. You can read more about how to do that here.
Monitor what you say and watch
You may think your child is obliviously playing quietly in the corner while you are on the phone or watching the news, but he may not be. Look around and pay attention to where they are and what they are listening to. By practicing regular empathy (how would I experience this if I were a child?) you will be better able to tune into your children’s safety needs.
Ask good questions
This is especially important if we have inadvertently exposed our children to a conversation or TV show that may be troubling to them.
You may ask something like, “I noticed you got quiet when I was on the phone with my brother. I would be happy to answer any questions you have about what you heard. Do you have any?” Or you can say, “I saw your eyes get wide when you saw that news story come on TV. How did it make you feel? I am happy to answer any questions you have.”
As adults, we too have been surrounded with events and news stories that can shake our sense of safety in the world. But as believers and followers of Jesus, we have access to hope in the here and now. We need to sink our feet deeply into the foundation of the truths of God and from that place of security and safety, share that hope with our children. The Bible clearly says that our hope in Christ is an anchor for our soul (Hebrews 6:19).
How can we do this? By using hope-infused language in our daily conversations such as:
“I know this is hard, but I also know that things will get better.”
“Today, I am keeping my eyes peeled for evidence of the goodness of God around me.”
“When I start to worry, I remind myself that God loves me and is on my side.”
This last point is probably the most important. If we do nothing else, we need to give our kids hope. Not in a “someday” kind of way, but in a “today” kind of way. God is still on His throne. He is still at work making His kingdom come. And if we look, we we will see evidence of that work. Even in the midst of trials.