Of all the factors involved in the development of character, building emotional security is one of the most important. Science is clear that the emotional connections children form in their earliest years lay the foundation for much of the growth, learning, and spiritual development in later years.
Human beings were created for relationship. We read that in the garden of Eden the Lord visited Adam and Eve and walked with them. God’s purpose, from the very beginning of creation, was to commune with and to be in close connection with those created in His image.
Sadly, sin broke this connection. Yet, despite this break, it has been God’s constant purpose for the last 6,000 years to be as close to his children as possible, lost and sinful though we are. God knows that we will be happiest in close and loving relationship with Him and with each other, because this is what we were created for. Our lives will not be truly fulfilling without loving relationships.
True education is driven by relationship, and seeks to restore the relationship of the human with the divine. Parents have the beautiful opportunity to model the close and loving relationship that God desires with each one of His children by developing a strong and loving relationship with their children – beginning in infancy. This is vital for the work of character development.
Moral Strength as a Result of Relationship
Research is clear that a strong and loving relationship, especially between mother and child, is one of the most significant factors in developing emotional security. A study published in Child Development  considered the effect of mother-child relationship and emotional security on moral development in children, with several important findings.
1. Relationship and Development of Conscience
“Especially important in the development of early conscience are a child’s early relationships within the family….” 
“Conscience,” here spoken of, has to do with a child’s sense of right and wrong, as well as whether a child will feel bad if they have done something wrong or whether they pass along with no feeling of wrongdoing. A tender conscience is something every Christian parent surely wants to develop in their child, and the research is clear that a close, loving, connected relationship between parent and child will help strengthen a child’s conscience.
2. Relationship and Resistance to Temptation
The study also found that emotionally secure children showed increased ability to resist temptation. 
Amazing! The ability to resist temptation is strengthened by emotional security. Strength to resist temptation is a valuable and significant part of moral character and is helped by that loving relationship between parent and child, partly because of the emotional security developed.
And while emotional security alone will strengthen resistance to temptation, there is yet another aspect of relationship which helps in this matter. Our true strength to resist temptation comes from God. Having a living connected relationship with God allows us to constantly access the strength needed to resist temptation, and as children have a strong relationship with their parents, they learn from experience what it is to have a relationship with God. The relationship they experience in childhood forms the foundation of the relationship they will form with God.
3. Relationship and the Impact of Moral Discussion
Yet another finding of the study was in regard to the effect of parent-child conversation. Do the children listen and apply the parents’ instruction? Does it “stick”? Well, that depends on the quality of the parent-child relationship.
“The quality of the parent-child relationship is an important moderator of the impact of parent-child discourse involving moral themes. …a mutually responsive, harmonious parent-child relationship, … contributes to a child’s willingness to embrace parental messages and values.” 
The wording is a bit complicated, but the concept is beautifully simple. The quality of the relationship parents have with their children is one of the most significant indicators of the impact that their instruction will have on their children.
Poor-quality parent-child relationship = low impact of parental instruction.
Medium-quality parent-child relationship = medium impact of parental instruction.
High-quality, strong, parent-child relationship = significant, lasting impact of parental instruction.
This should grab the attention of every parent! Mom, Dad, do you feel like your children don’t listen to you? Try focusing less on words and more on time together.
Relationship and Emotional Health
Research is also clear that relationship and emotional security during childhood lays a vital foundation for emotional health and well-being all through adulthood.
“Nothing is more important in the world today than the nurturing that children receive in the first three years of life, for it is in these earliest years that the capacities for trust, empathy, and affection originate. If the emotional needs of the child are not met during these years, permanent emotional damage can result.”
Relationship with Parents Models Relationship with God
Perhaps most important of all the benefits of relationship is the role that it plays in helping children develop their own personal relationship with God. The reality is that the core understanding of relationship in youth and adulthood is largely based upon the relationship that was experienced during childhood. While there are many factors involved in an individual’s later relationship with the Lord, experience in relationship during childhood is arguably the most important.
“The quality of attachment between infants and their mothers has significant consequences for relationships at later stages of life.” 
This, and other research, clearly indicates that the quality of relationships an individual forms in adulthood – be those with friends, a spouse, or with God – is closely linked to the quality of relationship that individual experienced with their parent when that individual was a child.
“Young hearts yearn for sympathy and tenderness, and if they do not obtain it from their parents, they will seek it from sources that may endanger both mind and morals.” – Christian Education, 169
Steps in Building Emotional Security
This is only the tip of the iceberg in a discussion of the role of relationship and character development, but we must discuss the most important part – making it practical. At this point you’re likely wondering “How?” How does one build emotional security during childhood? Thankfully, the process is simple.
1. Consistently be there
The single most important step in building emotional security is simply to be there with your child. Relationship requires time – full-time, to be exact. Spending time with your children, by living life and doing everything together, is beautifully simple, yet profoundly impacting to a child’s emotional security.
Relationship cannot be taught – it must be experienced. There is no class, curriculum, or book which will develop emotional security in your child. They must experience it through time spent with YOU.
Remember, your job is to represent the character of God to your children. What is the true character of God? This is a God who walked with His creation in the garden of Eden, a God who instructed His people to build a sanctuary that He might dwell with them, a God who came in flesh that He might identify Himself with us, a God who looks forward to the day when sin shall be removed and He will again dwell face-to-face with His creation, and a God who says, “I will never leave you not forsake you.” Parents who desire to represent this character of God to their children will do the same. They will always seek to be with their children and to be their child’s best friend.
2. Consistently respond
Prompt responsiveness is another key element of building emotional security. Children need to know that he/she can depend on their parent to respond. This is another aspect of representing the character of God to the child. The Lord says, “Call unto me, and I will answer thee.” That’s a promise we can depend on.
To be clear, immediate responsiveness does not mean immediate conversation, nor does it mean giving the child exactly what they ask for. A hug or a gentle squeeze of the hand can be just as much a response as a verbal response, depending on the situation. Whatever it is, the child needs to know that the parent heard them and that their needs will be met. Remember, you are representing the character of God to the child. While God does not always grant immediate answers to our prayers, we know that He is listening and hears our request the moment we ask, and will answer in a manner for our greatest good. A child should experience, while young, the reality of a parent who is always listening and has their best interest in mind. As they experience this in childhood, they will learn to trust in the reality of a prayer-answering God.
3. Show physical affection
Last but not least, physical touch is vitally important in developing emotional security. Studies find that children who grow up in an environment with little touch or communication have brains significantly smaller than other children their age. Hugging, holding hands, snuggling, and other forms of loving physical touch are very beneficial for the developing brain of the child.
Building emotional security is profoundly important, yet simple and beautiful. True education – developing a character fit for eternity – is to spend time together with your children, and allowing them to experience a relationship with the Lord through their relationship with you.
“And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.” – Deuteronomy, 6:6-7
For more on this topic, you can purchase the DVD series, Educating A Thinking Generation. Session six is focused on the work of character development, and the topic of developing emotional security is dwelt upon in much greater detail.
- Mother-Child Discourse, Attachment Security, Shared Positive Affect, and Early Conscience Development. Child Development, Vol. 71, No. 5 (Sep.-Oct., 2000), pp. 1424-1440
- Dr Elliot Barker. The Critical Importance of Mothering
- Robert S. Feldman, Child Development, 176