Message from our Student Advisor
Relationships – Trust and Safety
Like any good team, the family unit needs to work together. The family team needs leadership, authority, rules, and role models. The leaders need to know their team, better than anyone else; looking for every opportunity to get the most out of their team members, playing to the team’s strengths, creating personal development, communicating effectively together and reflecting upon the team’s performance. Most importantly of all, the members of a team need to trust their leadership; know that they have their backs, that they will fight their corner, and they will be their champion.
We’ve heard of the helicopter parent, the snowplough parent or perhaps the lighthouse parent, the dolphin parent. However, in times of uncertainty, we need the brick parent (Treisman, K., 2016). The brick parent builds a stable home, with a secure base and offers emotional, physical and relational safety. They provide safe havens that children trust.
Parents are the children’s maps, their guides, their kaleidoscopes on how they see themselves, others, and the world around them. When leaders invest in their team members, they believe they are valued, worth something and have something to offer to the world. When new risks, uncertain feelings and times of vulnerability arise, the team members’ story is supportive, they are accepted and trust that they belong in the team – even if they fail or fall. They have the support. or safety net, of a leader they trust behind them. These experiences colour the children’s world, creating concepts of self-worth, and tell the story of how they see and manage their world around them.
To understand our team, we need to look through their lens, their experience and start to see how they see the world. When we do this, there is a shift in our language and relationships. In troubled times, we move from change from “what is wrong with you?” to “how can I help you, tell me more about what happened”… This change in relationship matters. As a society, we need to be more connected with the process, placing more value on the relationship.
Relational troubles need relational repair. We need to show children that relationships can be safe, parents can be trusted and even during ups and down, that relationships are worth investing in. Children need to be held in a relationship with an embodied sense of trusted safety. Without safety, everything else feels fragile and dangerous.
In times of uncertainty, you lean more than ever on your leaders, your safety net. When you are in shark-infested waters, without safety or a trusted source of support – you feel vulnerable. You could go into flight mode, but you believe you’ll never swim fast enough to get away. You could freeze – but that doesn’t end well. So, you fight – you become a shark, you act like a shark and attack back. Children are swimming in new waters – not our safe serene swimming pools they are used to but deep, dark water, unknown territory. Let’s not judge our team by their reactions or label behaviours – behaviours don’t define you; they help tell the story. If the behaviour we see as leaders can talk, if it has a function, what is it really telling us?
The children are not attention-seeking at the moment; they are attention-needing. Together we need to actively encourage connection, empathy, compassion, emotional expression, and courage – so that we consciously and deliberately, truly see what’s happening. As leaders of our team, as parents, we need to invest more heavily than ever before, cast out the safety net, trust in their journey and understand what their world looks like – demonstrate it is ok, that we have their backs. If we increase the safety and trust, then the fear, the threat of danger and the anxiety decrease. They need your safe haven.
When writing the book, ‘The Body Keeps the Score’ (2014), Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, a Dutch American psychiatrist who spent his professional life studying how children and adults adapt to traumatic experiences, identified “the parent-child connection is the most powerful mental health intervention known to mankind.”
We are all doing the best we can – we would all love to click our fingers and be our ideal self, all of the time. However, these times are new and uncertain for us all, both for parents and children, and we all have emotional needs; especially now. Be kind to yourself when you fail, we all fail often; notice these times add meaning, a time to reflect on, that failure does not define who we are and it provide an opportunity to grow.
Treisman, K. (2016). Working with relational and developmental trauma in children and adolescents. Taylor & Francis.
Van der Kolk, B. (2014). The body keeps the score: Mind, brain and body in the transformation of trauma. Penguin UK.