Recently we received this excellent and thoughtful question from David, a long-time follower of Connected Families, about why we have “You are SAFE with me” as our foundational message for parents to communicate to children:
Why is ‘safe’ the foundation to work with? I feel like it is important, but why #1? When I think back to psychology 101, I remember Maslow’s hierarchy has it as a base to work off – toward self-actualization. And I know in Scripture God is giving us His peace, and His presence… but I feel like God doesn’t start with us in the message of “I am Safe.”
Thank you, David! A good and deep question, with a good and deep answer! We don’t have space for a theological treatise here, so we’ve broken it down into a few digestible chunks…
The brief practical answer:
Simply stated, we start with safety because we know that in order for kids to learn their best, their brains must be alert but calm. They must feel safe. Too many parents discipline their kids in ways that put kids’ brains on the defensive. The kids feel unsafe. When this happens, the learning they do in this brain state is self-defensive. The trust needed for kids to absorb their parents’ most important teaching is eroded. In our over 20 years of working with children and families, we know of no confident, courageous follower of Jesus who did not first feel emotionally safe with someone else.
The brief theological answer:
Theologically addressed, it’s a bit more complex. But we stick to safety as the foundation for spiritual growth based on early teaching from a trusted (we felt safe with him) mentor. He would frequently go into “dangerous” places to confront entrenched legalism in churches, fueled by the belief that “we are so alive because of Christ’s work on the cross that you could shoot our chest full of holes and not take away our life; that God’s presence is so safe and secure that no earthly danger can harm us. We are safe by faith!”
From this foundation of security in what Christ secured for us at the cross, we can go into all kinds of dangerous places in the world without fear. When believers embrace this security by faith, knowing they are safe in God’s eternal care, they can boldly pursue the “work God prepared in advance for them to do!” (Eph 2:10)
The brief research affirmed answer:
New research by Vern Bengston in his book Families and Faith: How faith is passed down across generations shows convincingly that when kids perceive their parents as warm, tolerant, accepting, open, and nurturing, their kids are far more likely to embrace the parents’ religious beliefs.
This research confirms our experience. The parents who pass their faith well consistently love well. They seek wisdom. They are slow to speak and quick to listen when anger flares. They win their children’s trust. They earn it humbly. They apologize well. They don’t impose their judgment but they encourage dialogue and negotiation. We call the combination of these things “safety”. We have yet to meet a parent whose grown kids would say their parents grew in these ways and who does not have the deep respect of their children, and whose children do not respect or embrace their parent’s faith.
Volumes could be written about these brief descriptions (and I wrote pages before narrowing this for ease of reading). In the work to answer I am more convinced than ever that if you want your kids to learn what you want to teach them, make sure they feel safe with you first.
Want to learn more about these concepts? Download our one hour recording of a Discipline That Connects workshop.