Helping our children to really feel safe: Developing “Felt Safety”, part 2 . . .
In my previous blog I shared the story of Samantha, who had just come into foster care from a chaotic and abusive living situation. She is now safe and protected with her new foster parents. As I shared, it will take a while for Samantha to really feel safe in her new environment. Here is how Samantha’s foster parents can help her get to a level of really feeling safe—“Felt Safety”
* Samantha’s foster parents, Mr. and Mrs. Jones need to make Samantha’s daily routine as predictable as possible. They can give her visual reminders, like a visual calendar to help her concretely see what the day will look like for her. This will help lessen her level of anxiety about the unknown.
* Mr. and Mrs. Jones can consistently give Samantha gentle “heads up” alerts to upcoming activities. When one of them has to leave the house for a period of time they should also explain where they are going and when they will return.
* Mr. and Mrs. Jones should always follow through on promises. A child like Samantha has undoubtedly had her heart broken many times by people in her life not fulfilling promises to her. The Joneses should always “say what they mean and mean what they say” to Samantha.
* The Joneses should be careful not to expose Samantha to sensory overload. Too much loud noise or too many busy activities in one day could overwhelm her. They need to be sensitive to what her “sensory limits” are. Many children in foster care can have sensory challenges due to delayed development from the trauma they’ve experienced—even before they were born.
* The Joneses should help Samantha identify what people around her are safe. Children who come out of chaotic and abusive backgrounds often have difficulty recognizing people who may harm them, either emotionally or physically. The message Samantha should receive from her parents is (1) Safe people will care about you, (2) Safe people will listen to you, (3) Safe people will not hurt you, (4) Safe people will not threaten you, (5) Safe people will not tell you to keep a secret from your parents, and (6) Safe people will not touch you in ways that are scary and hurtful.
* Finally, Mr. and Mrs. Jones should always be cognizant of being approachable for Samantha. They should get on her level physically when talking with her, using a calm and warm voice. As a male, Mr. Jones should especially be aware of this.
Parents, felt safety takes time and patience on your part for the child in your care to warm up to you and really experience that inner “gut-feeling” of felt safety. Be patiently persistent in your efforts and you see those efforts pay off.