Creating Felt Safety
Do you feel like some of your child’s fears are a bit irrational?
My daughters were terrified of dogs and mascots for the first few years after we returned from Ethiopia.
As moms our job is to work to create felt safety for our children. You may be 100% confident that your child is safe. You may try to reassure them of this. However, what our kiddos really need is for us to arrange our own behavior and their environment in such a way where they feel safe in their bodies, their environment and in their relationship with others.
These little brains are taking in so much and constantly comparing it to their past so they can make an assumption about what could happen next.
Because dogs typically did not live inside as family pets in Ethiopia, my daughters associated dogs to being dangerous and wild. Eventually after repeated experiences of petting dogs from behind a fence or gate, they began to create a more positive association to dogs.
When my daughters first saw a person dressed up as a mascot like a giant gorilla, or eagle, they screamed. They had never seen anything like this before and didn’t have a category in their brain to put this creature in. My job was to help them get as far away from the mascot as soon as possible.
Creating felt safety might look like you giving your child a granola bar to hold while they wait the 15 minutes for dinner. It might look like giving them a nightlight or leaving the hallway light on.
When our girls were younger, we kept a toddler bed mattress under our bed so when they would wake up in the night with a bad dream, they could sleep next to our bed. I think sometimes just knowing that bed was there for them provided a sense of security.
Even as our children have been in our care for many years they still may occasionally be triggered by certain experiences, people, noises, or places. We may see them act out around these triggers. We can remind ourselves that their brains are just trying to protect and keep them safe. First, we must work to create a sense of felt safety for our child and then the behaviors can be addressed.