This post has been weighing on my mind and heart for a long time now, as it was spurred by a few incidents with my own child. As a social worker, issues of child safety and protection are part of my regular discourse. I wish with all my heart that there was no need for this post. That I was just a crazy overbearing social worker mom that always saw the worst in situations. Unfortunately, there have been two separate incidents with my son that have spurred this post (for his privacy and others I will not be sharing them – but they were upsetting and issues of child safety when he was not in our care), that reinforced the need to continue doing with him what I have always been doing – and will continue to. It is never too young to start having very basic conversations with kids.
- Trust Your Gut: If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Trust yourself and how you are feeling and teach this to your child as well – if a situation makes them feel funny, they should get away from it.
- Concerns are Real – they are there for a reason. I don’t mean to create fear, but there are very real and scary threats out there. I hear from other moms that they don’t want to talk to their kids in case they scare them. My standard response is that I would rather instill a little fear along with the knowledge to protect themselves.
- You Have the Right to Question Things (and you should). Never take anything for granted. Don’t ever assume that everyone else is looking out for your child the way you would. I learned this the hard way. I assumed that when he was in someone else’s care, he would always be safe and didn’t question some of the protocols and standards. I failed in this regard. Make your voice heard, even if you think you’re becoming ‘that parent.’ I’m pretty sure I’m THAT parent now..and I’m okay with it. At least I know my son is safe.
- Safety Train Your Child…again and again and again: This is one of those things that can easily be forgotten and be one of those things that gets put on the back burner for when you have more time, but let this be your reminder – do it today. Make the time to sit down with your kids and start the conversation. And do it regularly
- Topics to Cover when talking to your kids about safety: By no means is this an exhaustive list, it is a start. If you’re not comfortable starting that conversation on your own, hit the bookstore; there is a TON of books to help parents talk to kids about safety.
- Trusted Adults: if your kids ever need help, who are adults they can talk to for help? Think about in your home, in your family, in your community – help them identify who the people are that they can trust and turn to when you’re not there.
- Touching: talk to your kids about good touches/bad touches, what their private areas are and who can touch them. Many people like to generally talk about the ‘bathing suit’ area as their privates. I’ve always been a big advocate of kids learning the proper terms and becoming comfortable using them, so ‘penis’, ‘vagina’, ‘bum’ and ‘nipples’ are common terms in our home.
- Secrets: talk about secrets that are ok to keep (like surprises, or harmless secrets like crushes). Generally, I tell my kids that secrets that make them feel bad or ‘weird’ inside, or where someone is getting hurt are secrets.
- Strangers: Talk about who/what a stranger is (hint: not the weird guy in the park in a hoodie. Truth – I used to safety train kids as part of a job I had a few years ago, and I sadly heard this answer over and over from kids). To help them understand who is a stranger, I ask if Mommy and Daddy know them, do they know their first and last name, do they know where they live, etc. Teach them what to do if they are ever approached by a stranger.
- Taking Photos: I teach my kids that people are only allowed to take their photo with their permission, and that it is NEVER okay for someone to take their picture without all their clothes on. I was immediately busted by my four-year old, as he said “But Mommy, you ALWAYS take my picture when I say I don’t want you to. And you take mine and Lily’s picture when we’re in the bath.” Touche – life is hard as a blogger’s kid. But – I apologized and since then have began bribing him for photos. For a child to learn that his voice and choice matters, the lesson starts at home.
- Emotions: This is only for the younger crowd. Make sure kids understand different emotions and know how to identify/label them on their own. It can help them and their caregivers understand what is happening in confusing situations.
- Consent: This is a trickier one for the younger ones, but essential. Teach your kids what consent is – how important (and that it is totally ok) for them to say NO if something makes them uncomfortable. Teach them in the same turn to respect others’ consents – even for basic things like hugging, touching, holding hands. (Funny story – we had a small hiccup near the beginning of Andrew’s JK year where he was kissing a girl at school and daycare. I was approached by the staff who wanted to advise me of what was going on – my first reaction was to turn to Andrew and ask him if this girl wanted to kiss him – the staff member looked at me like I was nuts. I then moved on to a chat about what was appropriate behaviour.
Take the time tonight to start the conversation with your child – schools and community agencies will teach your child the basics of safety but there will be things that only you as a parent can cover. If there is one silver lining in the incidents that we have faced, it is that glimmer of pride that Andrew remembered those safety basics that we have spent so much time talking about. It mattered. It made a difference. I hope for all of you reading that you never know if your safety talks matter – but please do it anyway.
I have one more thing to ask of you reading – share this info with your parent friends. Share this post/link with them, or just share the one thing that stood out to you the most reading it. When I got talking to my mommy friends, I was surprised to learn that I was one of the only ones having those conversations already – so be that friend to start the dialogue with your mom tribe. Start the conversation with your friends and your kids. Give your kids the tools to keep themselves safe.