By Becky Cerling Powers
“I can’t allow you to talk that way to anyone in this house,” I remember telling one of our young guests years ago after I heard him belittling our daughter.
“You see, this is a safe house,” I explained. “You can come here and be safe. I won’t allow anyone here to hurt you deliberately or call you names or put you down. But if it’s going to be safe for you, it has to be safe for everybody. So you can’t do those things either. I will not allow you to destroy the safety of this house.”
A few years later that boy moved in with us for a couple weeks during a crisis in his family. He needed our home to be his safe retreat more than either of us could have guessed that day I corrected him.
We all need a safe retreat, a place where we can relax without fear of attack. Home should be that safe place, but establishing an emotionally safe home takes thought, diligence, and self discipline. Here are a few ways for parents to make their home a safe retreat:
Guard your tongue. Belittling comments, name calling, mockery and put downs are all taboo because they tear people down instead of building them up. My mother used to tell us children, “You don’t hear your father or me talk that way to each other, so you can’t either.” Adults must control their own tongues before they can expect children to learn to do it. When parents slip up, using words to belittle or attack family members, they need to apologize. This gives children a good model for dealing with their own passionate or thoughtless outbursts.
Ban TV programs that base humor on insults and put downs. These situation comedies teach children the lie that it’s “cool” to use humor to belittle other people. The truth is that belittling people makes them avoid you, and it destroys your ability to form trusting relationships.
Avoid shaming or humiliating children in front of others. Whenever possible, correct children in private. Adults resent a boss who chews them out in front of everybody instead of drawing them aside for a private rebuke. A child’s dignity should be protected in the same way.
Respect children’s privacy. As children develop a sense of modesty (usually around age 7 or 8), allow them to dress and bathe in private. Knock before entering older children’s rooms (try counting to 10 to wait for a reply before assuming no one is in). Don’t read diaries or personal mail without permission.
It’s also important to try to provide a place where a child can be alone with his or her thoughts. Solitude is vital for emotional health, and some children need more of it than others.
Respect children’s personal property. Some parents figure that anything that belongs to their children is really theirs, so they can borrow it without permission, lend it out, and generally do as they please with it. But respect is a two way street. If you want your children to learn to respect your property, you must respect theirs and insist that siblings respect it, too.
Listen actively. Give your children time blocks of focused, undivided attention. Let them know you are paying attention by looking directly into their eyes and by responding to their words and feelings. Draw them out by repeating back to them what they begin to communicate: “Boy, that really made you upset, didn’t it?” Children will be more willing to listen to what you have to say about a subject after they are certain that you have really listened to and understood their viewpoint.
Encourage your children. Notice what they do right, and say something positive about it. Recognize and praise the small steps they take on the way to achievement.
Use common courtesy. Watch your tone of voice, and develop the habit of saying “please” and “thank you” instead of snapping commands. Greet children pleasantly when they get up in the morning or return home after an absence. Say good-bye when they leave the house.
Teach the Golden Rule by word and example. Treat children the way you want to be treated yourself, and help them think through the process of treating each family member the way they themselves like to be treated.
©Becky Cerling Powers 1993