Desperately Seeking Certainty??

Today, I found myself in a small park with a playground. And a LOT of people. By a lot, I mean…a small group of people working out together, some soccer playing kiddos, people at picnic tables, dogs on walks, birthday parties, elderly folks walking…and so…many…children. Children on swings, children on slides, children climbing, children running, children laughing. Children…everywhere!

And you know, it was disconcerting…for me. Not so much for the children I was with, who made a beeline for the climbing structures as I nervously rubbed my small bottle of hand sanitizer like a worry stone. I just kept thinking…there are so many people here! I can’t remember the last time I saw so many people in one place!

The times. They are a-changing.

Which is a good thing…right? Well, yes and no… I got thinking about something I heard Dan Siegel say a little while back. I’m paraphrasing here, but he said ‘in our lives, we are taught to seek out certainty… but right now, that drive for certainty will certainly drive you crazy.’ In a constantly changing world, where the goalposts keep moving, holding too tightly to what you think should happen will wreck you. But let’s break it down a little.

First of all, it is true that certainty creates a sense of security. And certainty, predictability, is a stabilizing factor in our mental health. It’s a message I have heard over and over again from mental health professionals during this time…even when you can’t predict, say, when you’ll go back to your office and your children will go back to school, you can predict what you’re having for dinner and what time that will be. And one of the very first resources I found last year was an article from Beginning Well, emphasizing the importance of creating routines. Remember the sudden absence of structure? The loss and confusion so many of us felt? That article emphasized establishing things like wake times and bedtimes, meal times, work and play times…they had to emphasize them because we lost all of our routines when the bottom fell out.

Going further, in the mental health webinar I saw a couple of weeks ago, routine and structure were at the top of a 9 point list* of things needed to help preserve mental health and resiliency in times of uncertainty. Number 1! And they drove it home with this point: When the Red Cross comes into a disaster area…someplace that has been devastated by say, a hurricane…do you know the first thing they do? Re-establish schools. Yep. They do that so that the children will have a sense of normalcy again: that predictable routine is what helps preserve their mental health.  

If you’re a RIE parent, though, none of this should surprise you. Creating routines is part of the Educaring Approach. We emphasize the idea of creating routine and rhythm throughout not only your days with young children, but within the tasks you do with them. A predictable order to feeding, diapering, bathing, dressing, going to sleep…when you do these things in similar ways and in a similar order each time, your child begins to create a sense of security from that certainty and predictability. They know what’s coming, so they can relax, maybe be a little playful in their interactions with you. And certainly, that security builds into trust. As articulated so well in the book Beginning Well, “by building trust in these small and daily moments, you will help him to feel safe and secure with you in more critical situations” (p. 43).

And yes, those first weeks and months were rough for many of us as we sought to find our footing…but we did just that. For over a year now, we have been living in a state of uncertainty and unpredictability, and yet, as humans are apt to do, we found rhythm. Routine. But as the world starts to open back up again, our routines will shift again. Again, we’ll be seeking that comforting certainty in an uncertain world. So, what does Dan Seigel say we should do instead of seek out certainty when it’s scarce?

Slow down.

Get present with yourself, with your emotions, and those of your children. Let go of that need for certainty and try instead to simply be present. It’s kind of a magical thing…when you see and hear your child, when you show up for them in that way, they, in turn, see and hear you. They show up for you. And really, that’s what we all need.

*Wondering what those 9 points were?

  1. Structure and routine
  2. Consequences
  3. Parent-child connections
  4. Lots and lots of strong relationships
  5. A powerful identity/sense of self
  6. Feeling in control of some things
  7. A sense of belonging/purpose/spirituality
  8. Rights AND responsibilities
  9. Safety and support

The Parents’ Tao Te Ching
#15. Be Alert and Mindful

If you would be a wise parent
be careful in all you do and say.
Know that each action,
each word
has its effect.
Be alert and mindful,
living fully in each present moment.
Treat your children with courtesy
as you would treat a guest.
Be ready in a moment
to let go of one plan
and embark on another
if your inner voice so urges.
Have room within your heart
to hear the voice of both
your children
and your own spirit.
Do not expect fulfillment
from events or people
outside yourself.
Welcome and accept
things as they are.
Welcome and accept
children as they are.


Treat yourself with gentle care.
These qualities emerge naturally,
not by force of will.