The need to feel secure and stable at home is important to everyone, but children especially need to feel this. Having a place where they are physically, socially, and emotionally secure is imperative for healthy development and a successful future. Children who feel a connection with their caretakers and their home go on to exhibit fewer at-risk behaviors later in childhood.
To establish a meaningful relationship with your child and prepare them for what lies ahead, you must provide them with a place that feels safe at all times. First and foremost is a child’s physical safety. In addition to providing a home free from neglect and abuse, it is important to keep children away from household dangers. These include open windows, electrical cords and outlets, hot surfaces, toxic substances, weapons and sharp objects. Check your smoke detector regularly and make sure your child knows what to do in case of a fire, earthquake or another emergency. Have an escape plan and practice it!
The key to creating a safe and open home environment for your child is about more than just meeting their fundamental needs for survival. Food and shelter form the foundation essential for nurturing a child. However, it’s sometimes easy to underestimate or overlook the little things we can do to offer an open and supportive emotional environment. The people and the world around us have an immense effect on us and how we grow. Building an atmosphere of openness and an overall feeling of comfort and trust is imperative for raising a happy, healthy child ready to take on the world.
There are many simple ways you can help make a child feel whole and happy in the home. Here are a few to consider:
Take a moment and think back to the last time someone yelled at you. How did it make you feel? It probably made you feel sad or angry or maybe even both. No one likes to be yelled at, and children are certainly no exception to this.
We all get things wrong sometimes or make a less than perfect decision. Children should be taught that it’s okay to make a mistake without worrying about feeling shamed or mad at. Shouting can cause fear and reciprocal anger in children and may adversely affect your future lines of communication with them.
The next time you find that your child is driving you up the walls or is constantly acting out, try speaking to them softly instead of raising your voice. This technique not only works to help strip away your anger or impatience, but it also gets them to listen to what you’re saying. If they pay closer attention to you, they’ll more easily understand why a certain behavior modification is necessary. Always let them know exactly what you expect of them in a clear and kind way. Speaking in calm, hushed tones can make them feel as if you’re treating them as more of an equal and will increase the chances of taking what you’ve said to them to heart.
Try having them repeat back to you what you’ve said to them; saying these expectations out loud will not only help them to remember what you’ve told them but will help them to do better next time.
Let them be kids.
Playtime is absolutely necessary for learning good motor and social skills. That’s not to say they should be free to hang off the ceiling fan or draw on the walls, but the freedom to explore their surroundings and express themselves in an appropriate physical way is crucial to proper development. Encourage their curiosity and creativity by allowing them to discover their world in a safe, controlled manner. Nurture their sense of adventure while making sure anything unsafe is out of the way. Take care to make sure any potentially dangerous items are put away (e.g. cleaning products, choking hazards, things with sharp edges, etc.) and allow them room to play, imagine, build and dream.
Contrary to what they’d have you believe, children don’t need boxes full of the latest and greatest toys and novelties – just a few special ones. Make sure the books, toys and games available to your child are age appropriate and interesting to them. Stimulating and engaging toys and activities allow them to learn better and grow.
Give them opportunities to play with other children too. Spending time interacting with their peers can be good for their social and emotional wellbeing. They’ll see how their actions can affect others and learn a lot about themselves in the process.
Read to them.
Reading aloud to young children is often cited as the single most important thing you can do to ensure they develop the language skills they’ll need to be an effective communicator later in life. You can start even before they can talk. Exposing them to books at a young age will better prepare them for school and grow their imaginations. An added bonus is that the intimacy involved in this activity can provide you and your child an opportunity for some prime bonding time.
Set good examples.
Children notice everything. They hear and see things we sometimes think they don’t. Always be aware of your actions and words in the presence of children. We may not think they are concerned with everything we say and do but in reality, they absorb much more than we sometimes give them credit for. These quickly developing little mimics look to adults for direction in life and setting a good example can mean anything from being honest and kind to others, to not smoking or eating healthy foods. Let them see you making good life choices and you can expect to see healthy growth and success in return.
We all face challenges in life and often we respond to those challenges in a negative way. When unexpected difficulties arise, it can be easy to forget but having a negative attitude will likely only lead to further negativity in the future. Don’t let it become a pattern. If your children see you respond to something negatively they will be more inclined to react negatively as well. Trying to look at the bright side and remembering to use encouraging words allows them to be hopeful. Even when disciplining, it’s important to always use kind words to avoid further feelings of hurtfulness or a lowered sense of self-esteem.
For patterns of good behavior to develop, be consistent in your approach to childcare. These strategies will do no good if a child is confused about what is expected of them. It’s important to know how they behave in external environments too so take some time to get to know their teachers, day care staff, or afterschool program leader – wherever they spend the most time out of the home.
Be honest and straightforward.
Phrases like “because I said so” or “those are just the rules” are unhelpful to a child trying to navigate the confusing intricacies of how to be a part of society. Explain to them why these things are important. Although it may feel easiest to rush through awkward conversations with your child, try to resist the urge to do so. Build your bond by leveling with them. They’ll respect you for it and relate better to others as a result. Children can ask a lot of questions, and none of us have all the answers. Don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know.” What’s important is to nurture their desire to learn about the world around them. Fuel their curiosity. Use these questions as an opportunity to bond with them and suggest you find out together. They’ll respect your honesty and begin to develop a love for learning and new knowledge that can last all their lives.
The importance of this can’t be overestimated. Hug. Cuddle. Show concern when they are upset and ask questions about why they are feeling that way. Talk to them about their day or things they like. Allow them to express their feelings and let them see yours. Showing your child that you love and care for them helps foster their ability to develop empathy for others. Displaying kindness and encouragement will allow them to build healthy, lasting relationships as they grow.
So much of a child’s success in later life depends on their early experiences in the home. Don’t just give them the basic tools they need in life. Give them the extraordinary advantage of healthy emotional development by knowing your unwavering support is there for them every step of the way.
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