Safe Spaces for Children…and Adults

I can hardly believe that the end of October is already upon us…October is the start of a celebratory time in my family: we celebrate my husband’s birthday, our ​wedding anniversary​ (20 years this year!), and now our ‘home-aversary’…one year in our beautiful, cozy home…not quite a year of teaching in this space, but a dream realized nonetheless. And, of course, Halloween, which we do celebrate, and happily, with a parade of trick-or-treaters that come to our door (if you celebrate Halloween and you’re near Tarzana, I’d love to see you at my door, and if not, I’d still love to see pictures.)

Speaking of Halloween, I really appreciate this ​short Instagram video​ from my colleague, Hari Gebler. (And for those who have given up Instagram (woot!), she simply reminds us to let our children show US what they are interested in or noticing about all of the decorations that are everywhere this season, and to keep things simple. Yes, I love that idea: Halloween is becoming as commercialized (has become) as Christmas or Valentine’s Day. You have years and years to get complicated with the holiday, but as always, for best results, follow your child’s lead). I’ve also written about Halloween ​once​ or ​twice​ before; enjoy!

Oh, and a quick heads up that Daylight Saving Time ENDS next week! It wasn’t on my radar and I wasn’t sure if it was on yours! Some parents like to start adjusting their child’s sleep schedule by 10 or 15 minutes, daily, starting on Tuesday of the week before the shift. That works for some families; others say the adjustment just takes a few days on the other end of the shift. Do what works for you.

And now, I want to share a little RIE in Real Life…what’s been on my mind this week.

One of the RIE’s basic tenants is the concept of creating a safe space for children: a place that’s safe enough that if you got locked out temporarily, your child would be safe…almost certainly upset and worried to have been separated, perhaps needing a fresh diaper, but safe: no broken bones or blood, nothing pulled down or over on them, nothing harmful they could swallow. And that’s what I strive to create here in my studio space in Tarzana (and out in the ‘wild’, too!) …it’s not perfect, but we also never leave children completely alone in this space. And toddlers being toddlers, there are definitely bumps and bruises, trips and slips, and even a bitten tongue or cheek here and there…all in the process of mastery over body and space. But there’s another component of safety that I bring to each class: emotional safety, and that’s on my mind today.

Children are free to share their feelings (which is a good thing, as they can’t inhibit them) without shame or shushing: I try to understand their points of view, and strive to never take sides during conflicts. You can often hear me say that “both children have valid points!” I help them work out their conflicts, offer solace and comfort when they are angry or sad, and point out when other children and parents are empathizing and holding space for children who are upset.

I do this because, well, as today’s ​Tao te Ching​ reading so aptly put it: “a problem is not an interruption to a serene and happy life. A problem is an ordinary part of such a life.” Or, as ​Magda​ would say, “In life, you are upset and then you are happy. You are challenged, you solve problems. You make choices, some are good, some are not so good, and hopefully, you learn from the choices that you made, the good ones as well as the bad ones.”

Life is both light and dark, and it’s our role to be joyfully present with children during the light times, and hold them close during the dark ones…showing them we don’t have to be afraid of our hard, sad, furious, confounding feelings. We can feel those feelings, and should, but we don’t have to be afraid of them.

This is what I offer to children, but this week, it came up again and again, that this is what RIE also offers to parents: emotional safety and security. RIE classes are a place to come where your parenting is not judged, your child is not judged, you are not judged. At the minimum. Yes, there are uncomfortable moments in class where parents stretch in ways they haven’t before: letting their child struggle, or feel the feeling when they slip off the box, or not get snack because they refused to put on a bib, or scream furiously while their parent ducks into the bathroom. But as parents look around the room, they are met with solidarity and support; empathy. And I’m fortunate to say that because of that there is this alchemy in almost all of my classes where we move beyond simple non-judgement and into mutual support and care. Parents share vulnerable pieces of their past and present, find connection, and learn and grow. I believe it comes from the mutual respect, authenticity, and trust that builds in each group. We can talk about hard things.

As much as it is a season of joy for me, it is a season of hardship for so many, as I alluded to in the preface to my email last week. But in my simple statement at the top of my email, I hesitated to get too specific about Israel and Gaza partially because I don’t know much about the history of the conflict (beyond the shocking atrocities that were committed by Hamas on innocent citizens), and I’ve seen how saying anything at all is polarizing. Nonetheless, I have friends and families who have friends and family in Russia, Ukraine, Israel, and Gaza, and I wanted to let them know I see them. But in my blanket statement, I left room for uncertainty, and in that uncertainty, I left room for tremendous grief and justifiable anger. And I’m sorry, and I hope this clears up my feelings.

But that’s not why I’m writing: instead, what resonates with me is the conversation I had with the parent who reached out. She felt safe to share her perspective with me: her hurt and disappointment. We were able to have a meaningful and deep exchange. I didn’t feel attacked or criticized…and that’s because this parent is someone I know deeply: she trusts me and I trust her. She was able to be vulnerable with her grief and anger with me, and I was able to be vulnerable with my sorrow with her. We talked about this hard thing, and we grew.

Thank you to this Mom for trusting me. And thank you to RIE for helping me hold space for parents to be vulnerable…and for teaching me to be vulnerable.