Three Core Values to Help Children Thrive

March 2, 2021

Much has changed since Palmer Home was founded in 1895. But the question, “How can we better serve the children in our care?” has always been central to our mission. We are constantly evolving so we can provide superior care to the children and families we serve.

As part of this evolution, we developed Whole Child Initiative in 2014, an approach to care designed to address each child’s unique and varying physical, educational, spiritual, social and emotional needs.

This approach provides a trauma-informed, holistic, and relationally centered foundation to help children thrive in home, school and community life. Whole Child Initiative is fundamental to everything we do at Palmer Home. Interwoven in Whole Child Initiative are three core values: Felt Safety, Connection and Support.

Whether you’re a parent, caregiver, educator, coach, mentor or neighbor – anyone can help children thrive and build resilience by embracing these three core values. Below are detailed descriptions of each, and strategies to equip you to provide superior care for the children in your life.

Felt Safety

Children who do not feel safe cannot function at their best. Stress, fear and anxiety have a way

of shutting down the ‘learning’ portion of the brain. This inhibits natural curiosity, prevents children from retaining new information, and impedes exercising critical thinking or problem-solving skills— all necessary components of healthy development.

Felt Safety requires that adults intentionally cultivate conditions—arranging the environment and adjusting their behaviors—to ensure a felt sense of safety among children.

The average brain scans for safety four times per second. Children look three places to assess felt safety:

  1. Children look to how their bodies feel to determine felt safety. The key to inward safety is consistently meeting children’s biological needs for food, hydration and physical movement. A great approach for cultivating inward safety is to give children permission and reminders to regularly rest or take a break, refuel with water, healthy meals and snacks, and recharge through physical play.
  2. Children look to the environment around them to determine felt safety. Work to reduce triggers and create a welcoming space and provide outlets for support in challenging moments. Ensure predictable expectations and routines, and provide consistent opportunities for children to play! Playfulness disarms fear.
  3. Children look to others around them to determine felt safety. Facilitate relational safety by prioritizing relationship; managing tone, body language and facial expressions; and responding predictably, even in challenging moments.

Connection

Connection governs behavior. The single most important predictor of a child’s outcome is the quality of relationships in a child’s life. Any place a child spends time – home, school, church, extracurricular activities – should be places of relational safety and support, where a child feels a sense of acceptance, belonging and significance.

Healthy adult relationships provide a secure foundation for children to rely on in times of stress, and stable peer relationships provide a sense of belonging and community necessary for children to thrive.

Below are three strategies to help to ensure that you maximize the time you have with children, whether as a parent, educator, coach or mentor

Prioritize Points of Connection

Consider building in intentional time with each child, such as when you wake your children up for school or before you begin class. Use this time to check in, prepare bodies and brains for the day, and build relationship. This can be done in two simple steps.

  • Step One: Connect

Begin and end each day with meaningful connection. This may include tucking your child in each night, a warm welcome or send-off from soccer practice, or personal affirmations as students enter and leave your class.

  • Step Two: Regulate

Incorporate a lesson on self-awareness (How am I feeling?) and self-management (What helpful thing can I do with my feelings?) and practice coping skills together. Check Ins like this help adults assess a child’s readiness for the challenges of the day and encourages them to ask for help when they need support.

Observe Intentionally

Find ways to stay in close proximity to your children/students so you can watch and listen attentively. Note their strengths, look for signs of stress and anticipate needs. When you suspect stress, press pause and consider the cause. Stress always points to some underlying need. If you can determine the need and meet it, you can help alleviate stress.

Practice Self-Care

As busy parents and caregivers, carving out time for yourself is challenging, but self-care is key to self-regulation. By caring well for yourself holistically, you increase your ability to remain calm in challenging moments. Prioritize physical needs for rest, food and water, and physical movement. Consider things that keep you emotionally grounded throughout the day, set boundaries during off times, and be sure to regularly do something that brings you joy! When you face hard things with calm confidence and healthy coping skills, your children learn to do the same.

Support

Helping children feel safe and connected should be the foundation of support. Support includes attending to a child’s social, emotional and academic needs, and addressing challenging behaviors in ways that effectively correct the behavior.

Supportive adults utilize proactive and responsive approaches when working with children and parenting their children.

Proactive Coaching

Children learn to manage themselves and their relationships by observing significant adults in their lives.

As an adult, you have the opportunity every day to model and coach self-awareness and self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision making. Consider when and how you might intentionally thread these skills into daily interactions.

The more time you invest in felt safety, connection and proactive coaching, the less time you must spend correcting children’s behaviors. Nonetheless, there will be challenging moments. When they come, supportive adults engage in Responsive Correction.

Responsive Correction

Challenging behaviors are often the result of lagging cognitive skills, a dysregulated body, and/or distorted beliefs about self and others. Recognizing this, supportive adults respond rather than react in challenging moments with children.

Believing that conflict is an opportunity for deeper trust and greater learning, supportive adults engage in ways that help children understand they are responsible for their actions and capable of getting their needs met by making wise choices about their behaviors.

The Four C’s of Responsive Correction provide a framework to help caring adults remain calm and best support children in their most challenging moments. Supportive Caregivers Calm, Connect, Collaborate and Confirm—in that order.

Calm. Dysregulated children cannot reason or respond appropriately. Stress prevents children from relating to others in helpful ways and it impairs their ability to think rationally. The very first goal in challenging moments is to help children feel safe and settled.

Connect. Relationship governs behavior. Prioritize the relationship by acknowledging and validating the child’s feelings and perspective. Children who feel seen and heard by trustworthy adults are much more likely to receive their support in challenging moments.

Collaborate. A calm, connected child is much more capable of accessing the thoughtful, logical and social parts of their brains. Use this time to coach them to reflect on their feelings and actions, to take perspective and consider consequences. Collaborate with them to problem-solve.

Confirm. We convey acceptance or rejection through interactions with children following difficult moments. When we separate challenging behavior from the child’s identity, we affirm inherent dignity and help children see they are responsible, capable, and worthwhile.

Regardless of the ever-changing circumstances and concerns this year may bring, we believe that when we embrace and practice these three values of Felt Safety, Connection and Support —even in the midst of what feels like chaos, confusion and all-around uncertainty—children can experience a deep sense of safety, connection and support that will truly promote long term resilience in the future. At Palmer Home, Whole Child Initiative and these three core values provide the foundation to help the children in our care heal, grow and thrive.

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