EMOTIONAL SECURITY IN CHILDREN

We all are likely to benefit from increased levels of emotional security. Emotional security is a rather nebulous concept that includes how we feel about ourself, how good we feel in relationships with other people who are important to us (eg family), and how confident we are that things will turn out well for us.

Probably all of us feel some elements of doubt in some of these areas, and especially children - if they are able to think in these terms.

One of the main functions of a family unit is to foster feelings of emotional security in children, and often much of the irritating or negative behaviour seen in children can be removed through actively raising the child's levels of emotional security.

This is an easy claim to make, but often in actuality a harder thing to achieve. Following are some techniques that have been tried and found useful in raising the level of emotional security in children.

1. A very successful technique is to set aside 3 to 5 minutes every night for the child. After the child has gone to bed, mum or dad (take turns) should go in, turn off the light, and sit on the side of the bed in the dark. The child is in the security of its own bed, with a little body contact with the parent, and no eye contact, because it is dark. Then the parents should just talk about their own day, share some of the things that happened. No questions, and not asking the child to talk. When the child learns that this is a regular occurrence s/he will initiate things and feel free to share, and topics involving emotional stress are likely to come out.

2. When the child makes a statement to you (eg "I hate school"), try not to block, or answer the comment. Try to extend the comment. The child may not really realise the feeling behind this statement, and you may never find out unless you can get the child to clarify it. One technique that can be effective, is to hand it back to the child in a questioning way - (eg "You hate school?") to which the reply may be - "no just the teachers" - so you say, "You hate all the teachers?" "Well, not all, mainly Mr Jones" etc.

3. The question "Why" rarely achieves anything with little children. Seldom can they provide an adequate answer to such a question, and so effectively they are cornered. Try to avoid "why".

4. Also try to avoid the words "NO" or "WRONG", especially when the child is attempting to do something (eg reading). "Almost right" or "Not quite but getting better" are likely to keep the child interested and keen to try. The words "NO" and "WRONG" are likely to make a child give up as a failure.

5. Try to let your children know that they are good at things, that they are nice people, and that you like them. Generally we tell our children when they fail, when they annoy us, or when we feel let down by them, but we don't let them know the good things. Many children thus get the impression that they are failures and develop a poor self-concept.

6. Right handed children like to sleep on the right side, or on the stomach with head to the left shoulder. Left handed children generally sleep facing the other way. Try to place your child's bed so that in the natural sleeping position (according to handedness) s/he sleeps facing the wall.

This tends to give the child added security, and often has the effect of eliminating problems with light sleepers as well as nightmares and bed-wetting. Placing a child's bed at right angles to a wall, extending out into the room, is best avoided with children who are light or restless sleepers, as it provides little or no security to the sleeping child.

7. If a child needs a nightlight, try a blue or green bulb rather than a red one. Blue and green are pacifying colours, whereas red is stimulating.

8. Try to accept your child's reality. If the child is upset or scared about something, irrespective of how irrelevant or trivial it may seem, accept that this is the real feeling of the child. Rather than dismissing the complaint or saying that it does not matter or not to be silly, ask what the child is feeling and then help to go through these feelings so that the child can either accept or work around the worrying feeling.

9. If possible, try to set aside a short amount of time on a regular basis, in which your children can have your undivided attention perhaps ten minutes straight after tea, or may be while doing the dishes. This may help avoid the repetitious 'in a minute' response which we constantly find ourselves giving to our children.

10. Read to your children. Younger children (2 - 6) enjoy and benefit from favourite books being read and re-read to them numerous times - so that they learn the whole story by heart and can "read" it back to themselves just by looking at the book. Older children (7 - 10) benefit from having something interesting read to them by a parent, so that they feel they are sharing a common interest with the parent - maybe historic stories or children's encyclopaedia stories.

11. Fool around with your children. Let them see that adults can laugh and play, can be silly, as well as being serious.

12. Consistency on the part of adults is of prime importance. If you act consistently the child will know where it stands. If not, the child will be confused, and become unpredictable as well. Always do as you say. Do not threaten punishment unless you are willing to carry it out, otherwise you lose credibility. The same applies to offering rewards.

* Overheard one child to another: "Don't do that to the bee, Reid, it won't lay you any more honey".

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