SALT LAKE CITY — I was recently reading David Richo's book "Triggers: How We Can Stop Reacting and Start Healing" and was impressed with what he calls the five A's. These are 5 elements of a secure environment, which create a place where children (no matter their age) can feel safe and secure in the world.
The five A's are: attention, acceptance, appreciation, affection and allowing.
In his book, Richo encourages readers to examine their own childhood and see if these five factors were present while you were growing up. If you were lacking in one or more of these elements, he says it might have created some shame, fear or feelings of inadequacy that you battle with today.
The truth is no parent ever does these five things perfectly, so we all feel unsafe in the world to some extent. Just take stock of which elements were missing in your childhood and think about how you can give yourself that element now. As an adult, you have the ability to heal yourself of anything you missed out on. All five elements are things you can give yourself every day.
Understanding Richo's five elements can also help you consciously parent your own children better and create an environment where they grow up feeling safe and secure. As you read about the five A's, don't focus on the ways you might have failed to give them to your children in the past; you have been doing the best you could with what you knew at the time. Instead, focus on what you can do today to make your child feel safe and "good enough."
You will also find that your spouse or significant other wants and needs the same five elements each day. Consciously focusing on giving the five A's to everyone in your life could drastically improve all your relationships. Every day, ask yourself: "What can I do to make the people in my life feel some attention, acceptance, appreciation, affection and allowing today?"
Everyone wants to feel seen, heard and known. We all need to know our loved ones see us, but without judgment or criticism. We need attention that isn't about monitoring or watching for what needs correction, but attention that is just honoring our right to be the amazing human we are, exactly as we are.
Children: Your children need to have you ask questions about how they feel and what they think; they need you to take the time to actively listen and strive to understand and know them. You might want to consider setting aside one-on-one time with each child, each week, just to listen and ask questions. Taking them for a treat or meal is a great time to do this.
Partner: In a personal relationship, you might also set aside some time to give your partner your undivided attention each week — time where you ask questions and listen so they feel seen, heard and understood weekly, too.
Everyone wants to feel accepted as "good enough" as they are right now.
Children: Children experience a great deal of correction, and this can sometimes make them feel inadequate, broken or unlovable. They need a great deal of validation about their unchanging worth to counterbalance all that correction. They need to feel you aren't trying to change them; they need to know that who they inherently are (without any effort) is amazing and perfect.
Acceptance can be hard to give to children, but it is so important that they be allowed to be who they are. The more you validate their right to be who and where they are, the more motivated they will be to improve. If they are constantly told they need to improve, they can resist changing.
Partner: In a personal relationship, you might also make sure you see the differences between you and your partner and honor your partner's right to be different and have the same value. Click here to read an article about honoring your partner's right to be different.
Everyone wants to be acknowledged for what they do right, as well as for their character and who they are as a person.
Children: Make sure the validation you give your child is not always tied to behavior or obedience. They need to receive some validation for simply being who they are. While you should acknowledge and appreciate any effort and accomplishment, you should also appreciate them just being in your life. One family I knew went around the table every night at dinner and told each person something they appreciated about them. Doing this daily made sure this need was always met.
Partner: In a personal relationship, you might also tell your partner regularly all the reasons you love them. Mention all the qualities you admire and the things they do for you and the family that you appreciate. Take time to do this on a regular basis, even if you think they already know. They need to hear it frequently.
Everyone needs physical touch, hugs and kisses to feel truly secure in the world; it is a powerful form of validation and love to receive physical contact from another person.
Children: Showing affection through physical touch is easy when children are young, but it often gets harder as they grow. Look for opportunities to give your children a hug or a simple touch on the arm every now and then. Make sure your child feels some contact daily. If you come from a family that doesn't express affection through physical touch, this might be something you have to consciously work on.
Partner: In a personal relationship, physical touch is vital to the health of the relationship. Intimacy with your partner is what connects the two of you and keeps the bond strong. If you struggle with motivation for intimacy, it may be because there are problems that need to be addressed in the rest of the relationship. Seek professional help at the first sign of trouble here. Be willing to do some work and make some changes yourself if you want this to improve. Click here to read other KSL articles on improving intimacy.
Everyone needs the freedom to become who they want to become. They need to be free from control, to some extent, and not feel forced into being something that isn't authentic.
Children: Children need to feel some freedom to explore the world around them and experience different things. They need encouragement to set their own goals and be allowed whatever interests spark a light in them. When parents force too much behavior or conformity on children, it can send the message that they can't be loved as they are. By contrast, unconditional love allows them to make choices and choose their way in the world without judgment, which builds confidence and teaches them to trust themselves.
Partner: In a personal relationship, it's helpful if you allow your partner to have the freedom to make some choices without your input, be the version of themselves they choose to be, and know that it's OK to be different from you. Some people need control to feel safe in the world, and they may inadvertently try to control their spouse to gain a feeling of security. Could this be you? Think about how you can trust yourself and your partner and let go of some control. You may need to seek professional help in this matter.
You might write these five elements on a piece of paper and tape it to the fridge as a reminder to make sure they each happen in your home every day.
You can do this.
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