Felt safety is trauma lingo for helping a traumatized child feel safe so he can heal.
When a child feels safe - "Parts of the brain which control higher learning can operate. Children who feel safe are free to heal and become secure, trusting children. Providing an atmosphere of "felt safety" disarms the primitive brain and reduces fear. It is a critical first step toward helping your child heal and grow.
When Fear Is In Control
A fearful child focuses strictly on survival issues like:
- hunger and thirst
- escaping scary situations
- making hurts stop and go away
A scared child cannot grasp:
- discussions, sermons or lecture
- complex reasoning, logic or stories
- Philosophical discussions or abstract concepts
- solving puzzles or mathematics
The primitive brains fight, flight or freeze response can make a child....
- run away and hide
- lash out physically or verbally
- get angry or cry
- stonewall and become unresponsive
- try to control the situation
Remember: fear will bully your child into poor behavior
- taken from disarming the fear response with felt safety
I came across the above information as I was pondering the concept of felt safety. Dean and I tend to neglect this aspect of parenting when things are going well. We forget that felt safety is partly why things were going as good as they were.
Two of our children tend to become ornery when their sense of safety is violated. It seems like such a simple thing but the hard part is figuring out where/when/why they are feeling unsafe.
Birthdays and holidays are biggies for undermining felt safety. Routine's are disrupted and there are extra treats, gifts and attention all things that a child without a trauma history would enjoy, perhaps even thrive on. But for our children they bring fear because their routine, knowing what will happen next, is what helps them feel safe.
School trips, weekends with friends and large family gatherings bring about large doses of anxiety because they don't know what will happen next. Even if we knew exactly how each event would pan out and could tell them so, they wouldn't feel secure because their early childhood experiences proved that mom and dad are not trustworthy.
Here are some ways we promote Felt Safety:
- keeping our schedule's low key when possible
- celebrating birthdays with just our immediate family
- limiting toys that are overstimulating, such as those with lights and sounds
- filling our son's plate so he is not overwhelmed with all the choices and trying to decide how much of each thing to take
- keeping our voices calm and not reacting when they tell us something that horrifies us (this one is a work in progress)
- a hug or slight squeeze on their shoulder as we pass by them - a reassuring touch can lessen their anxiety
- reminders of how to conduct ones self in a given situation. If you are kind others will usually react accordingly etc.
The other week I got a call from school. It was Kiana. She had something she had to tell me right away. I was puzzled because what she, "Had to tell me," was a situation she created in her mind to convince the secretary she needed to talk to mom. As Dean and I talked it over later we both felt she called because she was feeling anxious. She needed to talk to me to make sure I was okay which in turn would mean she was okay. I felt bad for her because I knew what triggered the whole thing. The evening before she had been very nasty and pushed me until she saw my tears, then she panicked. Unfortunately in her panic, she acted worse than ever because she wasn't feeling safe and she ended up having to go to bed early because both Kiana and I were too upset to work through things.
Joseph needs things to be low key all the time as his brain damage is such that he is unable to regulate himself. This results in what looks like a very boring life for him but in reality is about helping him feel safe. He knows that some things are too stimulating and as he doesn't like how he feels inside after participating, he won't even ask to join in. Other times he will ask but when we ask, "How do you think it would make you feel if you did xyz," he no longer wants to do what just moments before looked so enticing. We have found that if he feels safe in knowing you will require him to follow the rules and have the ability to enforce them, he is able to handle things that otherwise are too much for him.
How do you promote felt safety at your house, especially over the holidays?