The need to talk to children about safety has always been around but more so in the wake of things that are happening globally and locally. I often think that it’s such a scary and sad world that we live in. Our parents grew up more carefree, we did too, with walks alone in neighbouring lanes and like. As parents, we have to make sure that our children are safe at all time, both within our reach and when they are away. Making sure that your children are aware of the things to watch out for are very important. Talking to your children about sexuality, private parts and strangers are an important part of keeping children safe. However, the level of information that you divulge to your children will largely depend on his large. What you would tell you preschooler and your school going child will largely differ.
We all know that it’s not just from ‘strangers’ that we need to protect our children from. Child molestation and abuse can occur even with known and trusted people, keeping children aware of this is very important. The foundation to keeping your children safe first starts with good communication. It is very important to always talk. We need to create an environment where children understand that they can come up to us and talk about anything, anytime, without being judged, laughed or scorned at. Always let your children know that whatever they have to say, that they need to be honest and not scared, likewise ensure that they are not shouted at in future occasions they will clam up and not divulge important events that take place.
I know that having this sort of conversation – about one’s body, sexuality and dangerous situations, with a child, no matter what their age is daunting. You are most often unsure of what to say, how much of information to give, you want to retain their innocence and not make them feel that the world is dark and black and most importantly not scare them and make them anxious. However, it has become a necessity that children are made aware. Children who have positive feelings about their bodies, accurate information about sexuality, and open communication with their parents, may be less likely to be targeted by abusers.
Here are some general guidelines to help you with your conversations:
- Practice what you want to say about safety. Do not appear stressed or nervous. Make sure that this sounds like ‘just’ another conversation that you are having with your child but make sure that your child is not distracted by watching TV or playing a toy. Choose your words wisely as you do not want your child to be scared for no reason. Children pick up on non verbal cues very easily so make sure that you are not scared or nervous yourself.
- Discuss about body safety and personal boundaries. Explain to your children that they are not to let anyone – family, friends, teachers, older children or unknown people touch or see their private parts. Tell them that private parts are all parts of their body that are covered by a swimsuit. Conversely tell them that they are not to touch any private parts of anyone’s bodies even if they are asked to. If your child is small and doesn’t need diaper changes at preschool or don’t need help when using the washroom, emphasize this. You can also say things like “Only Mummy, Daddy and Grand Mummy are allowed to wash you, don’t let anyone else wash you.” Point out that absolutely no one else is allowed to see their private parts.
- Set boundaries at home. This will be a foundation that he carries as he goes outside of home. Make sure that he takes his clothes and wears them in the privacy of his room away from family and maids. This gives them the perception that my body and privates are indeed private and I should not let anyone see them. Do not let you child kiss anyone including yourself on the lips after around the age of 2 and it’s certainly not advisable to let them kiss extended family at any age on the lips. Does your child refuse to kiss an aunt or uncle? Its okay, don’t give them mixed signals and tell them not to kiss adults and then force them to. Additionally, do not change in front of your kids; let them understand that that is a private thing.
- Explain to your children who ‘strangers’ are. Your perception of strangers and your child’s perceptions of strangers are very different things. Children almost always (especially) if they are young would perceive only scary people as strangers. People in uniform and people who are seen around most times might not be considered as strangers.
- Help your child by identifying people he can trust – so certain close family member you can trust need to be identified. You can also point out other people whom you trust that your child can be with for example if you get late picking them after school – a trusted friend or a trusted teacher.
- Teach your children that it is more important to get out of a threatening situation than it is to be polite. They are allowed to say NO if they are asked to go anywhere with someone they do or do not know. Let them know that saying NO is okay that they do not need to respect elders or listen to them if they are told to touch or be touched in an inappropriate way. They also need to know that it is okay to tell you what happened, and they won’t be a tattletale.
- Go over ‘what-of’ scenarios as mentioned below:
- Let your child know what do in a situation such as if you are late picking him after school. Let him know categorically who are the backup people you may or may not send. Be sure to include drivers and other people that are slightly known so that they do not have any doubt whether to go with someone if they do end up coming.
- Explain what they should do if they get lost say when shopping.
- Go through all other what-if scenarios as and when the need arises.
- Role-play your what-if situations so that your child will not panic if does occur.
- Do not label bags, water bottles and caps with large names labels that anyone can identify your child with.
- Establish guidelines for using public bathrooms. This is one that bothers me and most mums that I know of. Having older kids that you cannot accompany into washrooms causes a near heart attack. In fact, I met a few mums yesterday and we were talking about this very same issue. Prepare your child for using public washrooms. As always, stand near the door – it doesn’t matter if you appear slightly demented and tell your child to call if she needs you. Tell him to refuse help from anyone who offers it by saying, “No, thank you. I’ll do it myself,” or “No, thank you. My mom can help me.” And of course wait until they come out.
- Do not leave your home with your children alone – you cannot expect a child to be able to look after himself. It’s very simple. Do not leave your children unattended.
- Always account for your child’s whereabouts. No matter what their age is, you child is always your child and his safety should always be your priority. Always make sure that you know where your child is at all times. If you are unable to accompany your child through the day, be aware of a timeline and check with a driver or friend whom he is with about where he is and if he is okay. This also applies to older children who seem to be constantly shuttled across to classes constantly.
- Teach your child your address and your phone numbers. As a counter measure, it is always important that your child knows you contact details.
- It is relatively easy to talk to your children about strangers. It becomes that much difficult talking to your children about safety with people who are known to you. The sad reality is that more abuse takes place by known people than unknown people. So make sure that your children know that there are no exceptions to the rules, even known people are not allowed to touch them and they are allowed to say no. This very sadly includes immediate uncles and aunts.
Initial chats about awareness are not enough. You need to constantly be available to talk to you children. Always talk to them so that you know what’s happening. Do not leave children to keep you updated; you need to work on getting information. Always make sure that your children know that you are available to talk and that you will understand them and keep them blame free. Be involved as much as possible and be aware of what happens in their life.