Throughout my years as a parent, teacher and counselor God has repeatedly used the animals in my life to illustrate, explain and clarify issues of human behavior. This is not at all to imply that I think animals and humans are equals, just that God uses the animals as a teaching tool for me.
Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about a child’s need for safety and trust. In attachment theory language, the child needs a caregiver to act as a secure base from which the child can explore his world or return to when things seem overwhelming or scary.
My rescue cats beautifully illustrate this point. When they first arrive at my refuge many of them are wild and scared. They’ve been abused, abandoned or neglected. Now everything they need to thrive is being provided. There is plenty of food and fresh water; they are offered shelter and lots of love and attention. Their new environment offers safety and protection from predators. The problem is, they don’t know this. They run and hide. They hiss. They spit. They growl. Some of them literally starve themselves to death rather than risk trusting me or their new environment. Those that do risk trusting find they can count on the food and the love and safety. They meow a welcome to me when I come to play with them. They seek me out to sit on my lap and snuggle.
Children are much the same. They thrive when they feel safe and have their needs of food, shelter and love met. When instead they are ignored, criticized, or abused they hide from the good that is available to them. Some of them react by withdrawing because they are sure they don’t deserve to be cared for. Others react by becoming aggressive with an “I’ll hurt you before you can hurt me” attitude. Still others become people pleasers trying to do and be what others want while losing their sense of self in the process.
As caregivers of children we can check to assure ourselves that the children in our care know we are big and strong enough in a loving, nurturing way to help them find a balance when emotions within or the world without threatens to overwhelm. They need from us a sense that we welcome their coming to us while at the same time encourage their exploration and independence.
Some of us may not have had this secure base experience ourselves and struggle to relate in a healthy way to our children, spouse, friends and God.
We may not have a clue of how to provide a safe place for our children or how to feel accepted ourselves. It’s never too late to learn. Please give us a call at Lifetouch if you would like some assistance in this area. We’d love to talk with you and encourage you on this wonderful journey of love and acceptance.
By: Linda Ozier