Sending Subliminal Messages of Safety and Worth

Imagine if your alarm clock were set to a radio station that played harsh music at full blast to wake you in the morning. Your first moments of the day would send your body into fear mode. Your heart rate would increase as your muscles readied you to run or fight.  Those first moments of waking affect the tone of your morning or maybe even your day.

In the same way you set the tone of the morning for your child. You could walk into the bedroom and yell, “Get up. You’re going to be late. Shoes, teeth, homework bag. Chop. Chop.” Your child’s body startles awake, heart beat increases as muscles ready for running or fighting. Or you could wake your child with a soft voice and a warm, welcoming expression that respects her sleepy state, yet is positive. “Good morning. It’s time to wake up and greet the day.” Your child’s first thoughts and feelings would then be, “It’s mommy/daddy” and a feeling of safety would result.

Sometimes when we are tired, rushed, overwhelmed or depressed we can get into a pattern of using a negative or not positive tone of voice whenever we talk to our child. We may not even be aware of this. Try recording your voice during an interaction with your child. Ask yourself, is this the voice I intend? Is this the voice I want linked with the word mommy or daddy? Would you like it if your partner or friend talked to you in this tone? How would it make you feel if they did?

Stephen Porges, a research scientist and university professor, tells us that our nervous system evaluates risk and danger in the environment. The vagus nerve quickly reads cues from others from vocal tone and pitch, posture and facial expression to tell our bodies whether we are safe or to ready our bodies for survival. Reading a feeling of safety turns off our defenses and increases our feeling of safety. Feeling safe promotes relationship connection, mental and physical health and allows us to grow. When a child doesn’t feel safe his/her body is expending that energy on getting safe, not on development.

Check in with your voice and face throughout the day before you interact with your child. A sour face and voice may send the message, “I don’t enjoy you” or “You are a burden”. While a warm gaze and smile says, “I love you and you are special to me”. So take a deep breath, smile and wake your child respectfully, “Good morning, Sunshine.” This warm tone of voice, with eye contact and a smile is like a kiss your child can carry to remember you and the feeling of safety throughout the day.