"Daddy, can I tell you something?"
Telling the truth can be very difficult, especially if it potentially lands you in hot water or goes against the grain. We know that as adults, but imagine the terror a child must feel in this situation. No matter what type of relationship a parent may have with their child, for a kid to be honest in a moment that may lead to punishment or conflict, it can be a daunting task to gather the courage to speak the truth. Despite the potential consequence they face, the possibility of disappointing their parents is a fear we have all endured.
We can make that process a lot easier for them by creating a safe space. I love my children (three boys under the age of eleven) and I feel that love reciprocated. They are very honest with me and share, I think, almost everything. I do know there are times when they wish to ask a question, share a sentiment, or reveal something that they believe I may not like. In those moments, I can see them choke up or worry about how I may respond.
My boys know that if they tell me the truth, I am more likely to hear them out and less likely to get upset. In honesty, I support them. When they lie to me, that is a different situation where trust is lacking and needs to be built. Lying produces frustration, on my part, not of the action they are lying about but because of the lying itself. So, I gave them a safe space and instructions on how to use it.
I gathered my boys in the front yard near the fig tree. It is a beautiful, calm, and serene spot that highlights our little home. I told them I wanted to share something pretty cool. I explained; this tree was to be our safe space. If they ever needed to tell me something, ask an important question they didn’t want brothers or maybe even Mommy to hear, reveal a secret, or open up about something that was bothering them, this is where we would go. I told them all they needed to do was simply come to me, gently grab my hand, and lead me out front to the safe space. There, they can share whatever they want without the fear of me responding in surprise and listening to what they have to say.
You see, this safe space serves two functions. First, for the children, they have a place they can use as a shield to share tough information. They can use this shield to make it easier to approach their parent to share vital and important access to their life. It allows them to prepare, build up their courage, and endure. Second, for the parent, it gives us a heads up that something serious is on the way. From the time they grab your hand to when you realize where you are being taken, you can prepare yourself mentally and emotionally for whatever your child may be wanting to share.
It gives the parent time to brace themselves for impact. It lets us control our emotional response before it even happens. The outcome is beautiful. The child has the ability to express something difficult and release emotional stress and the parent has the opportunity to show up for their child in the best possible way; with love and compassion.
In implementing this safe space, a few things happened that are worth noting. One, the kids used it openly and immediately. They would bring me out to the tree to talk about their brothers, wanting their own space (we live in a small home and they share a room), and the oldest expressed how he desired more responsibility. Second, the disastrous expression I was bracing myself for ended up usually being something that was of little concern, easing their hearts when I expressed all was okay. Lastly, as they continued to use the safe space, they needed it less and less. Instead, they simply would approach me and ask if we could talk privately. I would exit the room with them and hear what they needed to share.
The safe space is a simple and easy solution to give children the opportunity to open up and share their feelings. As parents, we want our children to be honest, open, and vulnerable when dealing with us. Our children want us to listen and hear them as individuals. We want our children to feel comfortable in their own skin and safe to share anything they want. But that is difficult to do, even as an adult. So why not give them a special designated place to make these life lessons easier?