Turn on the news and you will see: it’s a dangerous world out there. While we try to surround ourselves with good people and safe experiences, our children will one day be out on their own. We must prepare our kids for all kinds of situations. And the dialogue starts when they’re still young and innocent.
Here I’ll give you some suggestions on how to begin those essential conversations.
I have said it before and I’ll say it again: I know that this may be out of your comfort zone, and it may be awkward or difficult for you. But you are responsible for a young human being, who needs your guidance and your support. Please open up to your child, talk with them and be real with them. Express concerns, tell the truth, and admit when you do not know something. If your child stays with someone else part of the time, make sure that the other adults are having the same discussions.
What I am hoping to do is to help children be well-equipped in case they are ever abused, bullied, assaulted, or hurt in any way. The best case scenario, of course, is that our children are never put in any of these situations. However, if they are, we need to teach them how to respond.
I do not take this lightly. Nor should you.
And keep in mind: it’s never too early to start having these conversations. I’ve had some of these exact dialogues with my three year old.
Call body parts by their proper names.
Your kids need to know the real names of their private parts. I hear women talk about their “vajayjay” and “hoohah” and I’m not sure why we can’t all just say “vagina.” The same goes for boys: he has a penis, not a peepee or whatever-other-silly-name is trendy these days.
Best case scenario, our kids can have intelligent conversation as they grow. Worst case scenario, it will be easier for them to file a complaint or talk about something that happened to them. Please empower your kids with knowledge.
All people have a private area… and it’s off limits. No matter what.
Anything which is covered by your child’s diaper or underwear is off-limits to everybody. It does not matter what someone else’s excuse is. No one is allowed to touch your kid there. Period.
I have had these discussions with my son already, and I tell him that no one can touch him there, no matter what they say. If someone says it is because they love him, or that it is a special secret, or that it will feel good… it doesn’t matter, and that person is a liar.
I flat out told my son, “if someone tries to touch you there, they are a bad person and they do not love you.” I do not ever want my child to be coerced into any inappropriate action because they are trying to please someone they care about.
Don’t ever force your kids to give someone physical affection or touch.
I know that it seems innocent: you don’t want to seem rude, so you pressure or guilt your kid into hugging or kissing a relative. But what you just did is say “I don’t care that you’re uncomfortable doing this, you’re doing it anyway.” Imagine how you’d feel in the same scenario!
We tell our child “Tita is about to go home, would you like to go give her a hug and say goodbye?” Then we let him respond in his own way. When we’re asking him to apologize for hurting our feelings, we give him the option to say he’s sorry or give a hug. Usually we get the hug anyway, but he knows that he’s never required to physically touch anyone.
Teach your kids what to do in case of an emergency.
We all want to prepare our kids to not be in a scary situation in the first place. But what if they are? We have ill-prepared our children if they don’t know what to do in case of an emergency. This can be getting out of the house during a fire, or what to do if someone tries to kidnap them.
You need to think through various scenarios, and determine how you want your child to respond, before you can have this dialogue with your child.
For my child, we talk mostly about abduction (which I know is a bit morbid, but my God people are grabbing kids out of shopping carts – while the kid is right next to their mom!). He knows that he’ll never get in trouble if he’s alerting me of an emergency, and all bets are off when it comes to “being kind to others”: he knows to hit, scream, kick, bite, and do whatever he needs to do to get away.
Speak age-appropriately to your kids.
A younger child will need short, easy-to-remember catch phrases to really retain what you’re teaching. Use rhymes, chants, alliteration or other techniques to help your child memorize what to do.
An older child will be able to comprehend more details and more complexity.
Have this dialogue often. Like, more often than you think you need to.
I know that this is a rather dark topic, and not exactly the type of thing we want to discuss over dinner, but you can’t just mention it once and never speak of it again. This content is important enough that it needs to be said regularly, in plain English. You can talk about it at bath time, during a diaper change, or while your child is calm and comfortable at home.
I’ll say this again, too: if you’re a single parent, divorced, or in another situation where another guardian cares for your child part of the time, they need to be having these discussions too. It will be more effective for your kid to hear the same message from multiple loved ones, and all adults need to be involved in this responsibility.
Please please take my words to heart. I know we don’t like to think that we’ve brought our precious children into this world, but here we are. We are the parents, so we need to parent our children responsibly. And that means having discussions which will keep our kids safe.
I welcome feedback on this: how do you have safety dialogues with your children? What else would you suggest?
And of course I appreciate you spreading the word and sharing this out. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could help keep more children safe at home?