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Actions Speak Louder Than Words in Raising Secure Children

Your actions, and those of your children, can really make the difference between insecurity and security.
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In my last post, I explained how the words that parents use with their children can influence how secure they become. Words are powerful to be sure, but, as the saying goes, actions speak louder than words. To foster a healthy sense of security in your children, your actions, and those of your children, can really make the difference between insecurity and security.

Your children getting lost may provoke the most disturbing feelings of insecure attachment in your children. It encompasses every bad message about insecurity: I can't trust my parents, I'm not capable, and the world is a dangerous place. As a consequence, we prepared our two daughters, Catie and Gracie, for their first forays into the world beyond my wife, Sarah, and me with several routines and rituals.

We set reasonable limits far beyond any that we expected them to exceed. This boundary, for example, the sidewalk across the field or the top of a hill on a hiking trail, sent them the message that we were aware of and ultimately in control of their journey. We also told them that they always had to be in sight of us, sending the message that we could respond to their needs immediately. Finally, as they moved away from us, we made sure that, when they looked back at us, we made eye contact with them and offered a smile, reassuring nod, or wave, communicating the message that we were attentive to their security.

Here are ideas about routines and rituals from other parents.

Bob and Maria loved taking their three children to carnivals, amusement parks, concerts, and the like. But because they were "playing a man down" in keeping track of their children, they were always worried about losing one of them. During one visit to a county fair, their worst nightmare was briefly realized; their middle boy wandered off and was lost for about 15 minutes, the worst quarter hour of their lives. Fortunately, a concerned parent had seen him lost and crying and comforted they boy and had him wait with his family until Bob found them.

After they concluded that keeping their children on leashes wasn't realistic, Bob and Maria decided to figure out a way to make getting lost less scary for their children. Maria's initial reaction was to tell their children to ask the nearest adult for help. But, while searching on line for more information, she came across an article that warned against this approach because not all adults could be trusted. The writer recommended that children should ask for help from an adult with children or people in uniform, for example, a police officer or an employee with a badge. From that point forward, when they arrived at an event, Bob and Maria established the routine of pointing out people their children could turn to if they got lost. Bob even had the idea of writing their names and mobile-phone numbers on cards and putting them in their children's pockets so, if they got lost, they could hand the information to an adult who could then call Bob or Maria and tell them how to find their lost child. These strategies not only gave their children a greater sense of security, but it sure allowed Bob and Maria to relax a bit more too. Of course, their first goal was to not lose their children at all!

Debbie wanted to ensure that her two sons, Kenny and Jed, felt secure enough in themselves to be proactive if they got lost. She started a bedtime routine when they were each around three and a half years old that involved singing songs to help them memorize their address and her phone number: "My name is Kenny (Jed) Smith. This is my address. 421 West Hill Rd. Green Valley, California." and "My name is Kenny (Jed) Smith. This is my telephone. XXX-XXX-XXXX" (I changed address to protect their privacy). Within six months, both boys knew the ditty by heart and Debbie felt confident that, if her sons got lost, they could tell someone how to find her.

Rita and Sam accompanies the catchphrase "Hold it!" with the routine of their daughter Emmy always having to hold onto either the railing or their hand when ascending or descending the stairs. In fact, Rita and Sam have made it a family routine in which they too have to use the catchphrase and abide by the routine. So Emmy gets this message of security through many conduits including the catchphrase, the routine, seeing her parents do both, and her own experience of navigating the stairs safely.

Tanya, whom I mentioned in my previous post and whose catchphrase is "Family forever," also has a ritual she uses with her children to further ingrain that message. After dinner, they sit down on her lap and they all sing "I don't need anything but you" from the musical Annie. Tanya believes her children are getting this message through several powerful conduits. They are getting the message through the lyrics. She read somewhere that singing taps into another part of the brain than just saying words, so the message finds another location in their developing brains. And holding them while Tanya is singing communicates the message of safety and security through physical contact and emotions.

In sum, I recommend that you be aware of how your actions impact your children's sense of security and be sure that most of your messages nurture security in them. Even more powerfully, I encourage you to look for ways to proactively create routines and rituals that give your children consistent exposure to healthy messages of security.