P.D. Eastman published 'Are you my mother?' in 1960--a powerful story today and every day. In the story, a momma bird flies off to find food for her little hatchling. While she's gone the hatchling hatches. Finding his mother gone, the hatchling instinctively goes off to find her. He meets a kitten, a hen, a dog and others before finally finding his mother. As readers, we are relieved when he does. We instinctively want him to be safe and sound.
For many children that story doesn't end with relief. Whether children are in foster care, moving from household to household to see mothers and fathers or are having trouble settling down, they may be looking for something they can't find or even express. What happens when they don't feel 'safe and sound?' Well, they 'show and tell' their feelings. Meltdowns, poor sleep, nightmares, a thrown toy or a big cry are just a few ways children show us they are looking for relief.
We know from research on attachment -- the relationship between a parent and child as that parent 'tunes into' what a child needs, or what brings them relief-- that children recover from these big feelings with a grownup's help. When they don't, they may not know which grownup to go to. So, if you are a foster parent, stepparent or a parent looking to help a child manage big feelings, remember that consistency matters.
Whether you are the mother, father, grandparent, stepparent or foster parent here are some simple ways to help a child feel safe and sound:
Name the feeling. "Wow you look really upset. I can see you are really mad." "I don't know why you aren't very hungry. Maybe you feel sad." If a parent is in a different household, or not able to be with the child you could say "I bet you wish your (mom, dad) could be here today."
Ask what would help. "What will help you feel better right now" Then offer some safe and sound options like "Do you want to read a story, have a snack, cuddle, draw a picture". Do your best to offer options that show that you are there to be with them.
Take care of yourself. Upset feelings are catchy. Find ways to see past the child's behavior and remember they need something. Get some rest, support, talk things through with someone. Find someone who helps you feel safe and sound.
I'm here to help. Free coloring pages, MyFeelings! minis, Huggables and push molds all help children 'show and tell' about feelings in a safe and sound way. And the Nurturing the Spirit audio downloads help you find your safe and sound inside your body. See www.lovemyfeelings.com for more ideas and inspiration.