Having a place for psychological safety is particularly beneficial during times of stress. Autumn is a season of many transitions that generate anxiety for children: new schools, new classrooms, new teachers, new routines, weather changes, etc. This is a prime time to proactively support our children emotionally. Here is an idea…
Have you wondered why children love to build forts? They love playing in enclosed spaces: camping tents, tree houses, closets, nooks and crannies. My own two children played inside of a 3’x 3’ cardboard box with their two cousins (all 4 between the ages of 3 and 9), for hours over weeks. Let’s rewind back to being snuggled in a loved one’s arms in childhood, and further, to the comfort of the mother’s womb…a heaven of physical and psychological safety.
Social science has shown that humans need shelter and physical touch for psychological comfort. Loving touch from parents enhances a child’s brain development and self-esteem (read here), and infant monkeys in a seminal psychology experiment (read here) preferred mothers who provided physical comfort over mothers who provided food. Could enclosed, cozy places provide us with that sensation of being held that we associate with safety?
I propose that enclosed cozy places symbolize for children the love of caregivers, and the safety of their homes, which is the source of calming down for infants, and later a tool for self-soothing of difficult emotions. Most curricula for social-emotional wellness used in early childhood education centers recommend having a quiet/cozy corner for children to calm down, to either manage or prevent emotional meltdowns.
Most children intuitively seek these enclosed, quiet cozy spaces, unless they have over-sensitivity to touch or claustrophobia. As parents and caregivers, we can enhance their emotional coping skills by inviting our children to build forts/homes together. We can ensure that our homes have pre-made cozy corners for calming down, or designated spots where it is safe and non disruptive for children to build their own homes/forts, even without our assistance.
While we accompany our children in building forts of emotional safety, we too can benefit from reducing our own stress with a dose of snuggling, laughing, and relaxing! Enjoy!