No one is perfect—especially parents. But you can improve once you learn the ways you make your kid feel unsafe. We all make mistakes and I’ve made plenty over my eight years as a dad. I know my own dad and mom loved me, but I had a difficult childhood. My parents divorced when I was one and due to the tension in their relationship, I had no contact with my mom for 15 years. My dad remarried a lot. Inconsistency and unpredictability caused discomfort and anxiety in me.
Football gave me the firm footing I didn’t know I desperately needed. While I strive to give my four children a different childhood than the one I had, I have found myself doing things that make them feel some of the same lack of security I had growing up. In talking to other dads, it seems like I am not the only one. Here are 5 common ways dads make kids feel unsafe.
Children are unpredictable and their actions have consequences not only for themselves, but for us as well. That can make life stressful. All of that tension builds, leading us to overreact and sometimes explode. But volatility makes children feel unsafe. So in order to feel safe, they try to hide things that have the potential to upset you. This impacts whether they freely can be themselves around you. Ask yourself why you are upset. Is the reason you are upset about them or is it about your issues?
Bottom line: Control your emotions instead of letting your emotions control you. Before reacting, take a breath and think through your response.
2. Being Inconsistent
Being consistent makes you more reliable and trustworthy. When a dad displays inconsistency, the child has nothing to depend on. Dads need to show consistency in their relationships, their boundaries, and their discipline. Most importantly, dads need to be consistent with their word. If we say we are going to do something, we need to follow through.
Bottom line: What you say you’ll do may seem small or insignificant, but when it comes to following through on your word, nothing is small.
3. Having a Turbulent Relationship with Their Mom
In certain circumstances, divorce may be unavoidable. However, we need to recognize that your relationship with your child’s mother has a profound effect. While there are two parties involved, we need to do everything in our power to have a good relationship. If you are married to her, love her and work on your marriage daily. Be intentional about your kids seeing you love and care for their mom. Tell them why you love her. If you are not together, work with her as best you can to make your child’s world as stable as possible.
Bottom line: A good relationship with your kids’ mom makes your kids feel secure.
4. Encouraging Performance Based ValueWe want our kids to know that their value is not based on their performance.
We want our kids to know that their value is not based on their performance. But sometimes we say or do subtle things that make them think the opposite. This might be one of the ways you make your kid feel unsafe. Some of these include complimenting their achievements more than who they are as a person, getting mad when they fail, or upholding role models based on winning and worldly success.
Bottom line: If they believe they need to perform to have value, they will live with underlying anxiety, constantly trying to prove themselves.
5. Over-Criticizing, Under-Affirming
All kids want their dad’s approval. However, many dads only comment when their kids need to learn and improve. We see a teachable moment or an opportunity to help our kids get better, but often all they hear is criticism. Ultimately, it makes them feel like they are never good enough and potentially unloved if they buy into the last point.
Bottom line: Look for the things they do well and point them out, but also consistently affirm them as people.
Sound off: What can you do to provide a sense of security after you learn the ways you make your kid feel unsafe?