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By: Mozelle Forman, Lcsw

As parents, we conscientiously plan and prepare for our children’s physical safety by childproofing the house, taking them to doctors for check-ups and vaccines, and making sure they wear seat belts and bicycle helmets. Yet many of us do not recognize and plan for our children’s emotional safety, which addresses the needs of their souls. We were created as two entities – body and soul – and in order to fully protect and safeguard our children’s wellbeing we should be planning for their emotional safety as well.

What is an emotionally safe home? It is an environment that allows every family member to feel cherished, appreciated, respected, and loved. It is a home where we can live free from criticism. People erroneously believe that if they constantly criticize and point out the faults of others, the others will change. In actuality, constantly reminding your spouse or child of their faults will not encourage them to change; it will persuade them toavoid you.

Criticism is painful, and our brain is wired to avoid pain. We can understand this in the physical sense. If we touch a hot iron our nerve endings register the heat and our brain sends our hand a message to move away. Our emotional wiring runspretty much the same way. If we feel criticized (an emotional pain) we will tend to move away from the source of that pain. This looks like kids giving you a dead stare or rolling their eyes. Sometimes it looks like an older sibling hurting a younger sibling or a spouse leaving the room in the middle of a conversation. In whatever form it appears, recognize these behaviors as attempts to end the pain.

Creating an Emotionally Safe Home

Another element of an emotionally safe home is one where parents set limits on certain behaviors. In order for children to function in the larger world, they must learn to socialize appropriately. If they are allowed free reign of the home, acting out and bullying their siblings (or you), they may find that in the real world that kind of behavior lands you in the principal’s office or causes constant fights with peers. While children should be encouraged to express their feelings, they should also be taughtthat certain behaviors are not permissible. They can feel free to say “I am angry” or “I feel sad” while understanding that hurting others or breaking something is not allowed. Children who can cope with frustration and anger feel better about themselves,as they have stronger self-esteem and are not overwhelmed by powerful emotions.

An emotionally safe home allows us to feel in our essence, the core of our being, that is all good. Our essence is our compassion, kindness, sense of humor, our creative and artistic nature, our passion for the things we believe in, our tenderness, generosity, intuitiveness, and our ability to recognize when others are in need.

Dr. Carl Rogers, a psychologist, coined the phrase “unconditional positive regard” which is affection and approval from the important people in our lives – mostly our parents, and later in life – our spouses. Positive regard allows us to enjoy the respect of others and gain a sense that we are valuable and valued.

Focusing on the Positive

When we live in a home that is accepting of us, including our mistakes, we develop a positive sense of ourselves, seek out new experiences, and have the courage to attempt to learn new skills. If our home is focused on the positive, even when there is a need for correction, children will feel encouraged rather than discouraged, and helped rather than criticized.

Stress to each child their uniqueness – something that makes them special. And don’t forget your spouse. He or she too needs to feel appreciated and special. Greet your spouse and your children with smiles – before they have had a chance to do anything wrong, set the tone with a smile that says I am happy to see you, you are cared for. This creates the rebound effect: when someone is feeling appreciated and respected they tend to be appreciative and respectful.

So, the path is very clear. Creating an emotionally safe home is not as simple as putting on cabinet locks and door guards. To create an emotionally safe home: encourage your children, appreciate your spouse, and allow yourself to set limits that protect your time and energy. It may sound daunting, but the minute you make the decision to protect yourself and your family there will be no stopping you.

Mozelle Forman has been in private practice for 20 years.
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