What feeling safe 'really' means to your kids

You can make your child wear a helmet and teach him not to talk to strangers, but what does it take to make your child actually "feel" safe?

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  • When it comes to the safety of your child, you are, understandably, concerned about his physical well-being. You make sure he wears a helmet and looks both ways before crossing the street. You make sure he doesn't talk to strangers. But chances are your child is concerned about much different things — it's that suspicious vegetable or new school that makes him anxious.

  • Like most aspects of parenthood, helping your child feel secure is probably more complicated than you expected it to be. Use these six tips to give your child a safe, comfortable environment where he can flourish.

  • 1. First things first: create a safe home

  • Your child's sense of well-being is founded on physical safety, and that starts at home, so it's critical that you teach your child the fundamentals of home safety. This includes teaching him how to escape from the home in the event of an emergency. You may also want to identify a "safe house" in the neighborhood that your child can go to if he needs help. If you have a monitored home security system, make sure your child knows how to use it.

  • Takeaway Tip

  • After you've established emergency escape plans for your home, conducting a few practice drills will help your child feel less anxious. If you have a security system, explaining to your child how it helps protect him from intruders or fire dangers may help ease his mind — especially if he spends time home alone.

  • 2. Institute routines that help your child feel secure

  • Just like adults, kids fear the unknown. Instituting routines helps your child know what to expect. This helps him develop a sense of control over his life, alleviates anxiety and builds confidence. If your family isn't accustomed to routines, implement them slowly and start small. For example, sit down with your child and develop a simple morning schedule.

  • Takeaway Tip

  • Post your morning schedule on the refrigerator and use positive reinforcement to encourage it. Before long, your child will enjoy a sense of accomplishment and control that helps him feel more secure.

  • 3. Establish expectations that encourage responsibility

  • Establishing rules and expectations helps children develop a sense of responsibility over their lives, giving them a sense of security. Likewise, kids (and adults) living in chaotic homes where rules aren't enforced often feel frazzled, powerless and insecure. Even very young children can be taught the basics of keeping the house organized and abiding by rules. Call a family meeting and encourage everyone to help establish basic household rules.

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  • Takeaway Tip

  • After following the rules for a month or so, reconvene and ask your child his thoughts about which rules and expectations are working and which aren't. Amend your household rules if necessary.

  • 4. Make time to bond and reinforce your love

  • As a parent, you're constantly trying to balance a wealth of demands. Between working, running to the grocery store and helping with homework, it can feel like there's little time left for bonding with your child. But your warmth and positive one-on-one attention will help your child feel safe and secure, and it will lay the foundation for open communication.

  • Takeaway Tip

  • How you bond with your child depends on his age and personality. Your toddler may enjoy an impromptu book reading or just cuddling and singing songs. But you might have to schedule a time to sit down and chat with your tween or teen. Either way, it's important to make quality one-on-one time happen.

  • 5. Discover your child's fears by asking questions

  • Asking your child questions can help you gain insight into what makes him afraid as well as what makes him feel safe. His answers can also tip you off to potential problems (e.g. bullying, etc.). Older kids might not be as open about their feelings as younger children, so ask pointed questions. For example, instead of the typical "How was your day?" ask "What was the coolest thing that happened today?" Get creative when you ask questions to your elementary aged kids. Replace humdrum questions with fun ones like "Who did you play with on the playground?"

  • Takeaway Tip

  • No matter what age your child is, give him your full attention and use phrases like "Go on," or "What do you think about that?" to encourage your child to open up.

  • 6. Identify what comforts your child

  • Your 16-year-old may be going on 20, but there are still things that make him feel warm, comfortable and emotionally secure. He no longer wants a pacifier, but he might like listening to music, enjoying time with a family friend or eating homemade cookies. Take the time to learn what makes him feel good and help incorporate those things into his daily routine.

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  • Takeaway Tip

  • The things that make your child feel at ease changes as he grows and develops. Stay in the loop and you'll be better prepared to comfort him during challenging times.

  • Nothing beats spending time with your children and giving them a loving home to help them feel secure in their daily lives. As for parents, there are a variety of resources that can help give you peace of mind when it comes to your child's safety. Refer to the following resources when you need to know that your kids are staying safe:

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Elli is the head of outreach and community safety manager at SafeWise.

Website: http://www.safewise.com

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