I worry about how to protect my children from harm. What can I teach them?
Firstly, without becoming too controversial, I would like to state that regardless of whether we teach our children protective behaviours, this may not necessarily keep them safe from harm. Ultimately it is adults’ responsibility to keep children safe. As statistics show, the majority of harm to children, come from people who are known or close to them, and not by strangers.
We can teach children about boundaries and how to be ‘in tune’ with those ‘gut feelings’. It’s not necessarily about teaching them ‘touching rules’ and ‘stranger danger’, it’s about them knowing their own bodies, and being aware of their individual boundaries.
Talk to your children about feelings. Find out how to do this. Let them know all feelings are neither good nor bad; they are just feelings. It is important to acknowledge your child’s feelings. As parents, we don’t want to see our children suffering, and we can inadvertently dismiss what our children are telling us.
For example, Scenario One, Child says “I’m feeling really scared of getting on stage at Assembly.” Parent says, “You’ll be fine, all the other kids are doing it, stop worrying.”
Scenario Two, Child says, “I’m feeling really scared of getting on stage at Assembly.” Parent says, “Yes, that’s a pretty scary thing to do. What part of your body do you feel scared in?”
It is important that you show your children you will listen. Recognition of different feelings can teach children that their bodies have early warning signals that they can be aware of.
Who can remember as a child, being made to kiss an old relative that ‘smelt a bit funny’, or ‘had a big bushy beard’ and ‘it felt weird’? I certainly can and as a child, felt the confusion of the feelings in my body as I had to be a dutiful child and please my family! Who finds it easy talking to their children about sexual matters? It can be very difficult for many reasons.
We all come with legacies of our upbringing, cultural differences, etc. I was brought up in a staid, prudish English background. For the care, protection, and parental responsibility of a healthy developing child, we need to acknowledge and notice our discomfort in talking about sexual matters to our children, seek guidance and support with our discomfort, but do it anyway! This is part of raising a healthy human being, and important that children receive positive messages about sexual matters. Many areas of the media do not help this process, but that’s another story too big to go into in this article!
There are some great books which can support positive messages about children and their sexuality. We need to be talking about body parts and how they function. Just as we talk about ears and their function of hearing, we need to talk about all body parts, and what their functions are. As we are doing this, we can explain the individual body parts as ‘private’ or ‘public’. If this is too difficult for you, please seek professional guidance and support.
Children need to be taught about touching rules and different kinds of touch. For example, “a helping hand” touch could be a doctor, dentist, lifeguard, and a “friendly touch” could be friends holding hands.
There are many different exercises that can be used to teach children about protective behaviours which can be learnt through individual or group settings.
If you are concerned about how to protect your children, and are interested in learning more about teaching children protective behaviours, there are many resources available, if anything discussed in this article has brought about a difficult response, or if you would like to find out more, please contact Clare Sillence.
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