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Making Your Home a Safe Haven

Laying a secure foundation for children in times of uncertainty.

Source: Mikhaylovskiy/Adobe

For families in America and around the world, these are unprecedented times. People are being asked to engage in “social distancing” to help stay safe. Parents are being asked to keep children at home as schools are canceled, and restaurants, museums, stores, and other forms of entertainment are temporarily closed. As your family hunkers down, now is the time to make your home feel like a place of safety and comfort.

Here are some key considerations in laying a secure foundation for your children.

Start by Acknowledging the Issue

Parents must both acknowledge that this is a difficult time and that there may be a natural tendency for increased tension in the home. Parents and teens alike may be nervous about what’s going on in the world. Tension increases when people are nervous and many of us tend to take our frustration out on loved ones. To top it all off, people generally like their space. So, when they don’t have as much space as they’re used to, it may become an additional source of tension. That’s why now is the time to model resilience, to show flexibility, and to tap into the power and strength of family connections.

Be Intentional in Creating Peace in Your Home

When you’re stressed, it is natural to reach out and “vent” to people you love. But when modeling how to get through stressful times, you have to be intentional because there are forces that are out of your control.

Resilience is about taking control of that which you can. Take advantage of this time at home together to teach about the importance of family. Talk to your kids honestly. Say, “The world is spinning right now. For that reason, we are going to make our family and our home a safe haven. That means we’re going to go out of our way to be kinder and gentler. We’re going to draw strength from each other. We’re going to talk about how we love and care about each other. And we’re going to let those little things go that sometimes get on our nerves. We are going to create peace in our house, and we’ll get through this together.”

Model Emotions for Your Kids

Children and adolescents watch their parents’ actions closely. They may gain their sense of safety from what they witness. But it's not only our words that are meaningful. It's also the tone and body language that accompanies those words. What that means is that if you're trying to create a safe haven at home -— a calm amidst a storm -— you might need to first create a private space for yourself to express your own concerns and emotions. You do this so that when you are with your children, you can convey the calm that usually comes after you’ve let out your own feelings.

Let Teens Express Their Feelings

It’s normal for tweens and teens (adults too!) to express anger, confusion, or fear about constantly changing situations, plans being altered, or events being canceled. Remind them they are resilient – that they will make it past these challenges. Don’t belittle their emotions. Hear them out. Don’t tell them, “It’s not that bad.” Instead say, "I know this is frustrating but we’re going to get through this." Don’t say, “It’s not important to talk with your friends. There are bigger things going on!” Instead consider asking them, "How can you stay connected with your friends during this time?" Just as adults are having online work meetings, encourage your teens to stay in touch with friends and family by phone or the internet. Honor their disappointments. And let them know this situation is temporary.

This is a chance to model that emotions are good and healthy. If your kids are anxious, use this as an opportunity to hear them out and to keep in mind that anxiety may be about the unknown. If you hear them begin to catastrophize, creating the worst-case scenarios in their minds, remind them to live in the moment and gain all the information they can.

Use Information to Help Curb Anxiety

Accurate information can reduce anxious feelings. Use the time together at home as a chance to talk with your child about the importance of credible information. In times of crisis and extreme stress, there’s often disinformation and inaccurate or sensationalized hype.

Start a conversation by saying, "Let's find out what's accurate right now. Let's go to a source that we know we can trust." Not only will this enable you to get the information but you’ll model this lifelong protective behavior at the same time. Don’t keep your TV tuned into the news 24 hours a day. Instead, limit your check-ins to a few times a day. Consider looking at credible sources such as the CDC website, your public health website, or other local government sites.

Teach Children to Protect the Vulnerable

While you are maintaining your safe haven at home, there’s an opportunity to teach about those outside the home. We must protect the vulnerable within our communities. Work together to consider how to support those people who may need focused attention in your area. They may include the elderly, those with chronic diseases, and others.

Check in to make sure they are okay. Call them on the phone, email them, or visit them while talking outside the home. Start with the people in your neighborhood or block. Help make sure they are taken care of and well-stocked with food and medicine. If you have extra supplies, consider dropping some of them off on your neighbor’s doorstep or at a local shelter. Help your children to know that in stressful times there is nothing more powerful or protective than human connection.

In these uncertain times, thoughtfully strive to make your home feel safe and secure. This will lead to meaningful engagement together as a family now and prepare your children with a critical lesson that will serve them throughout their lives.

Remember that laughter, hope, and kindness are healing.

This article was co-written by Eden Pontz, Executive Producer, Center for Parent and Teen Communication.

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