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3 Ways To Make Your Child's Room Safe

Uncategorized Oct 08, 2019

I know this may sound obvious or you may instinctively think “Of course my child's room is safe” but let's break down why this is so important for laying the foundation of healthy character development and 3 ways you can make sure your child views their room as a safe place.

Before we talk about your child, think about your own safe space.  Where you can be yourself, take off your shoes, relax, and decompress.  For me, my house is my safe space.  I can shut the door to the outside world after a long day and know that I’m safe in my home.  I can control what comes in my home and what stays outside.  I know not everyone has this luxury and I am grateful to have the comforts that this provides.  Without this safety, I would feel anxious and without control.  We know the brain needs predictability to feel safe(1,).  Constant exposure to unpredictable threats leaves our body in a state of stress and defensiveness (2).
 
Children need to have a safe place just like you and I do and typically this is their bedroom.  It’s the place where they rest their head at night, can take off their shoes and be themselves with no judgement, expectations, or pressures.  A place where they can feel safe.  There are many ways that either accidentally or intentionally a child's room may become unsafe
Unsafe rooms:
Locked doors: If you use locked doors, where the lock is turned around to the outside, for any reason your child’s room is no longer safe for them.  There is a loss of control with being in a locked room regardless of the reason and if you are using locked doors for behavior management, there are better ways and more advanced tools you can use that do not require locking the door.  Don't beat yourself up if you've locked the door on your child.  It's a quick way to get behavior you want, so I get it, it works.  But it works for short-term only and has big implications for actually increasing negative behaviors, increasing anger, aggression, and anxiety, reducing your child's trust in you and ultimately making their room a scary and unsafe place to be.  If you need more tools for behavior management I would be more than happy to help with an alternative plan.   Disclaimer *Some parents use locked doors for sleep training young children.  This is your parental decision to make.  However, if you feel a pit in your stomach when you lock that door from the outside there are other resources available that allow you to efficiently and effectively sleep train your child without using locked doors

Long time outs:  While not as aggressive as a locked door, it pairs a child’s room with bad behavior. In a child's mind they go to this place (their room) when they are bad so now the room becomes a place where you go when you are bad not where you go to feel safe.  Children who are sent to their room for long time outs, usually go to these timeouts alone and in a vulnerable and distressed state.  Without the proper tools in their room to calm down, the room becomes a place of negativity. 
 
Excessive toys: Bedrooms filled with toys are overwhelming and overstimulating to children.  If the toys do not serve a purpose for calming your child down, then the toy should not be in their room or the toy should be out of site (in bins in a closet, under the bed, etc.)  I know that's a tricky one.  But if a toy in your child's room does not serve a purpose to calm your child down - it doesn't belong in their room.  Look for areas in your home where you can store excessive toys out of site or where they can be put away.  Most children will not come to you and say “Geez all these toys in my room are really overwhelming.  Can we get rid of some of these toys?”  But you need to.  Environments that are overstimulating create anxiety and they make us uncomfortable.  Take a look around your child’s room and if it seems like you can barely see the floor or if the toys seem overwhelming to you, then come up with a plan with your child to make the environment less overwhelming.   Stay tuned for next week when I talk about introducing calm down spaces and cleaning up the toy clutter.
Personal Space:  Children should be allowed to go to their room for personal space time.  You can require the door be open if you want to monitor, but everyone needs to have some alone time to process, think, and decompress.  If a child shares a room, make sure they have some time alone in that space.  Also be aware of taking conflict INTO your child’s room.  Arguing and yelling in your child’s room takes away the safety from the space. 
 
SAFE ROOMS:
1. Open doors with a Calm Down Area:  Safe bedrooms will have the tools and equipment needed to make sure a child feels safe. Think of going to the gym to work out and seeing that it’s just an empty warehouse.  You need the right tools for the space to be effective. Calm down tools may include books, journals, puzzles, music, and fidget items (stress balls, spinners).  Emotional tools may be pictures of friends and family. 
 
 
2. Label the Room as "Safe":  Use this common language with your child to remind them that their room is safe.  You might say something like, “Your safe space looks very peaceful when you put your things away” or “It’s nice to see you use your safe space to calm yourself down.”
 
3. Give Your Child Control in Their Room:  Your child can control what they do in their safe space (within reason!).  They can be daring, adventurous, and creative without judgment in their safe room.  I know for some it seems anxiety provoking to give children control.  It doesn't mean you lose control if you give control.  As much as adults like having control, so do kids.  But we don't often allow children to explore what it's like to have control.  Children who are given options, choices, and control, show a better ability to make decisions when given control as an adult.  Let your child control what colors to have in their room, pictures to put on their walls, and calm down toys to have.  
 
Here's a link for a recent video about this topic.  If you like the Raising Character content, you can subscribe to the YouTube channel for weekly videos and make sure to follow on Instagram @RaisingCharacter 
 

Let's raise children we'll admire as adults.
 
Maylin Griffiths, Ph.D
 
 
References:
1. Avery, S. & Blackford, J. (2016). Slow to warm up: The role of habituation in social fear. Social Cognitive & Affective Neuroscience, 11 (11), 1832-1840.
2. Wood, K., Wheelock, M., Shumen, J., Bowen, K., VerHoef, L., & Knight, D. (2015). Controllability modulates the neural response to predictable but not unpredictable threat in humans.  NeuroImage, 119, 371-381.
 
 
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