13 Feb 2019

You are the best parent(s) for your child(ren): Give them a sense of safety and security

Safety and Security?

This is Singapore! Yes, it is, and we are very grateful for the amazing degree of safety we experience here. Our children can walk to the store, take public transportation, use the school bus, visit the toilets -- once they are able, without a lurking fear of imminent danger to their lives and safety.

But there is more to safety and security.

Maslow's hierarchy places it as the very first item we need to live. Of course he was thinking of actual straw-wood-brick homes and most of us would not be struggling with this.

But there is more to safety and security.

To help us understand this need, that we all have through life, consider the following questions through the seasons:

Will I have friends?
Can I do this?
What grade will I get?
How do I know if I have done my best?
Does my colleague dislike me?
When will my boss appreciate my work?

These are real questions and concerns we have, and yet, most of us do not know who to share these concerns with or get help for them.

I imagine then that if we stretch this same concerns back to the earliest days of life, even a baby may experience such existential angst, just that all it can do is cry or fuss or fail to settle or become very clingy (wait, I know many adults who still do these!).

What can we do?

enter life, but are they ready? (Erin@Pinterest)

The phrase 'strawberry generation' was coined to refer to the kids who grew up in the 80s, but the term has stuck. Why do we have a strawberries growing in our yard? They bruise easily -- because underlying this sensitivity is a fear, an insecurity, a lack of safety. It's easy to be mad at them because they grew up in a time when we were prosperous. It feels like they turned soft and are entitled (we still say that now of the millenials). But perhaps as we consider the tips below, we will see how we indeed can raise such a generation when we are not careful.

For infants - 
have a stable routine, have a safe, clean, peaceful home environment where her needs are attended to as soon as possible. You cannot spoil an infant. Shuttling an infant between homes, keeping them up and tiring them out is a bad idea unless you enjoy a cranky child.
Infants come with genetic dispositions and some are more sensorial, sensitive and easily startled even. A good clue to this is to look at yourself and some close relatives. There is no point in complaining, just embrace that you chose to pass some genes down!

The good news is a secure child, with strong bonds (see previous post) becomes more teachable and resilient which makes growth and change more welcome. Thanks to neuroplasticity and the power of prayer, genetic dispositions are only half the story.

For children - 
stay within the safe zone for what fills their young minds and hearts. This means take your fights outside the home (yes, nearly impossible, but worth the attempt. Have date nights to keep track of your souls). This means be proactive about reading and watching good material with them.

A foundational quest of all children is to know if the world is safe, and if there are adults who will be there for them. Be with them and teach them how to navigate life in real-time. I am sorry that unlike work, children cannot process things with you at the end of the day. They just cannot live by an agenda like that. They have to learn what think, have words for their feelings, understand that they can overcome their own natural compulsions (to snatch that toy). Just saying "no", "it's wrong", or worse, labeling them "why you so selfish" is not helping them feel safe enough to grow.

Another area is to discipline your conversation. If you go complaining about everyone, bad-mouthing every authority, dissing others, or discussing apocalyptic news where your own fears are leaking, the child will find the world a scary place and will be inhibited from exploring its treasures. Young children can handle some of the stuff in the world and if they are at school, they will get to hear of it. But I can still remember how once when we were talking about ISIS, that my son grew suddenly very quiet. Unlike my daughter who is more logical, he is a creative and tends to be very graphical. I realised I needed to consider what purpose lay behind the discussion of world news and beware if they were ready to handle it.

Never give a child a smartphone with internet access. Install parental controls. You see, before the internet era, children had fears about imaginary ghosts, the fierce uncle or the weird person in the neighbourhood. All of these can be managed with a clear reminder from an adult or with the presence of an adult. With the internet, a child is standing on a highway with traffic coming from all directions! All they need to do is google. If you are not there, and you have told them to go to the internet for answers, they will, and a little information is a dangerous thing. They can learn nearly any wicked thing there.

I remember that when my children were less then eight, I banned the word 'stress' from my household. It's true we feel stressed, but it's so easy to become a shorthand they can use to escape from thinking harder about what they are feeling, and it tempts them to magnify their difficulties so that they are less likely to overcome them. Adults alas routinely use it as a cop-out.

For Teens -
You won't want to hear this, but teens consider us a kind of threat. Please don't get upset. If you pray for a jolt in memory, you will realise you felt the same. Teens need to explore their identity, and it requires them to challenge us. If our bond with them is good, it sits beneath all the storms like a safety net, so it's ok.

Teens feel unsafe and insecure when they cannot get answers. They also feel that way when they are socially inept. The antidote to this is extremely hard for parents at this point: we must not just love them, we must like them. Hard it is - we miss our cherubic younguns, they are hard to talk to, manage, relate with... yet - we have to look past their hormonal surges, changing bodies, voices and sucky attitudes to the person we always loved and always will.

My best ideas for this: cook their favourite food, keep up the hugs, have that regular awkward meal with them, welcome their friends home, find an activity you can do together and give them space to chill.

Teens are literally doing battle each day with their self-image, performance, friendships, infatuation, expectations laid on them, God... it is a tiring season of life. They will choose distraction any time. Yet they have to confront these issues in a way that is kind to themselves. Help them make their own choices and experience the consequences with them. This is to prepare them for life. Also, as a parent, sometimes the best thing you can do is to surround them with other young adults and adults.

judy foo

"He will be the sure foundation for your times,
    a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge;
    the fear of the Lord is the key to this treasure" ~ Isaiah 33v6

"Do not tremble, do not be afraid.
    Did I not proclaim this and foretell it long ago?
You are my witnesses. Is there any God besides me?
    No, there is no other Rock; I know not one." ~ Isaiah 44v8

The bedrock of all stability and safety is God Himself. 

I don't have all the answers.
I get lazy.
I am inconsistent.
I struggle with my own insecurities, doubts and fears.

So I model for the children that there can be safety and security - because God is real and living, active and working in my life.

So I gather them for prayer, family devotions, Advent and Lent - because a deep well is needed for such parches times.

So I talk to them and pray with them as they leave the home, when we snuggle in bed, when the doors finally open after they were slammed shut.

So I pray for them and record the God immortal, always wise, coming to save us and help us feel safe again.

And this song comes to me:

Immortal Invisible - hymn background & contemporary version

Immortal Invisible trad hymn version

God loves you and your parenting journey.
God loves your children.
And He is Strong, and Safe to go to.

Further reads:
Those Tough Teen Years