woman smiling at adopted son

When you bring a child into your home, whether it is through birth, foster care or adoption, your initial goal as a parent is to build a trusting relationship. A primary way you can do this is by helping this child feel safe.

One would even say that the concept of safety is a key pillar of the foundation for building trust. Parents, often instinctively, do many practical things that foster a sense of safety involving meeting physical needs, such as providing food, hydration, clothing and overseeing hygiene issues.   

But children need not only to have their primary and physical needs met; they need to learn an internal sense of emotional safety. Infants learn that they are safe by being provided for and having repeated positive interactions with caregivers. For a child, the concept of safety is not learned through a rational list of provisions but is developed based on how safe they feel on the inside. Our brains are wired for this concept also known as “felt-safety.” It’s not a rational knowing that one is safe, but rather it is the inner experience of a child. This is especially important to understand when the world around us is always changing, unpredictable or chaotic.  

Safety is the most basic task of all. Without a sense of safety, no growth can take place. Without safety, all energy goes to defense.

Torey L. Hayden

Understanding Neuroception

There is a concept called neuroception, which is a term for how the primitive brain is constantly scanning for safety. Neuroception dictates what the brain constantly assesses inside (the inner experience), outside (situations) and in between (relationships), looking to see if people and situations are safe. This is sense is heightened when safety has been breached in the past and can be exhausting for children. Additionally, if you have a child who has experienced any kind of stress or trauma, the nervous system can misinterpret the information, and their actions or response to certain situations can seem inappropriate or dramatic.  In these cases, taking appropriate measures to help your child feel safe is imperative.

7 Ways Parents Can Help Children Feel Safe 

1. Offer affirmation. Let them know with your words that you love them, they are valued and that you will do your best to keep them safe.   

2. Give your affection. Offer physical touch, stroke their hair, give gentle hugs and kisses, and hold their hand while you are walking.  

3. Be calm. Make sure your words, actions and body are all giving off the message that you are a safe person. If your child is having a meltdown, bring your calm to their chaos.   

little girl with Down syndrome laughing with parents

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4. Connect with your child. Get down on their level and listen to what they are saying. Let them know they are important to you and worthy of your time and full attention.  

5. Name their emotion. If children are having a difficult time, you can narrate what you are seeing so that they can begin to connect their feelings and responses.  Watching videos made for kids on topics like safety can help open the conversation.

6. Be playful. Have lots of daily playful interactions, such as singing, games, dancing and reading. This helps to disarm fear and build connections. Make sure to keep distractions to a minimum so you can focus on your child and really be present.  

7. Provide structure and boundaries. Predictability makes the world less scary. Children feel safe when they know what is going to happen next. Our kids need to see parents as stable and predictable people in their lives.  

Remember children are sponges. Being a constant in their lives and offering them love, protection and hope can significantly help children feel safe and secure.

adoptive parents receiving parent counseling with their adopted child

Receive Post Adoption Coaching & Education

All parents encounter challenges as their children grow up. And sometimes, issues may arise that leave you uncertain as to how best to respond. But not every issue requires therapy or counseling. The PACE program is here to help during those times.

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