As your child matures, they become more active, independent and keen to discover the world around them. Young children may find it challenging to understand the concepts of risk and vulnerability or inappropriate behaviours. Thus, parents need to educate their children about personal safety so that they are equipped with life skills that would carry them into adulthood. Parents can then rest assured without having to practice helicopter parenting 24/7. As uncomfortable as the topic may be, doing this will help reduce the likelihood of them becoming victims of grooming and prevent them from ending up in an unsafe situation. This will also empower them to become more confident to deal with uncomfortable situations without being victimised and scared. Here are some principles that can be taught gradually and in daily conversations with your children.
Respect your child’s choice to say ‘No’
Growing up, children may get into uncomfortable situations where they may feel pressured to say yes. Hence, it is imperative to teach your children how to say ‘no’ whenever they feel unsafe. It is also crucial that parents empower their children’s ‘no’ by learning to respect their boundaries, within reason, of course.
While this may seem like unorthodox Asian family practice, but this will allow your child to understand the meaning of consent and personal boundaries. Even young children can be taught by role-playing scenarios which would make them feel unsafe. Remember that teaching them to say ‘no’ isn’t about giving them free rein to do as they please. It is about teaching them that it is okay to say “no” if they feel they are being pushed into an uncomfortable situation.
Talk about ‘gut instincts’
Some children are incredibly trusting and innocent. The sociable ones tend to throw caution to the wind instead of listening to their gut instincts. But then again, what would children know? Learning to listen to your own instincts isn’t really something children can pick up overnight.
Older children may understand the feeling of having a ‘knot in their stomach’ when something feels wrong or uncomfortable, while the younger ones will need more guidance. So on top of learning to read danger signs, teach them the importance of trusting their gut instincts as it is a skill that would help keep them safe even in years to come.
Create an open dialogue with your child and have them practice the application in various role-play scenarios. Children learn from doing, and you can help your child develop and practice exit scripts which they can use to get out of risky situations. This will not only teach them to think independently, but it will also equip them with overall better insight skills in the long run.
Teach about ‘body boundaries’
Teaching our children the correct vocabulary to body parts and body boundaries can seem like a daunting task for most parents and caregivers. Some even find it almost taboo, and sadly, that’s the hallmark of child sexual abuse: nobody wants to talk about it because it is forbidden.
Sex predators always ride on secrecy to keep their victims silent about being inappropriately touched. Some children are threatened into submission by “their little secret” and never find the courage to speak up.
To prevent this, start by teaching your child the correct names for their body parts and the difference between good touch and bad touch. One of the main challenges when it comes to reporting is that children are unable to give accurate accounts of their abuse due to the lack of vocabulary.
Emphasise that no one should be allowed to see or touch their private parts, and likewise, they should never touch somebody else’s private parts. It’s crucial to let your child know that their body belongs to them, and they have the right to say ‘no’ to any touch that hurts them or makes them feel uncomfortable. If faced with the situation, they should always shout NO, run and tell a trusted adult.
Other ways to keep them safe
Having a specific family code word for emergencies can be an empowering safety tool, especially for older kids who can independently stay at home on their own for short periods. Sit down with your child and decide on a code word to say whenever they feel unsafe or if someone unexpectedly shows up. Have your child memorise your numbers on top of the usual emergency numbers so that they can reach you for help. But most important of all, never underestimate the importance of teaching your children to be streetwise because being aware of your surroundings is key to keeping them safe – even from other forms of dangers.
Have them practice paying attention to their surroundings, especially whenever they are at a new or unfamiliar location. Help them recognise potential dangers, and in instances when they are alone and feel unsafe, they should immediately contact you.
As parents, we should always be open channels for communication regardless of how busy our day gets. Of course, it is okay for children to hang out with their friends, but It is also good to know whom they are spending time with. Even though hanging out in a group setting is great, just remember to teach them to be wary of individuals who are always too willing to gain one-on-one time with them without your knowledge.
Now that everything is going online, Cybersecurity is important too.
Today, everyone is on at least one social platform, and even if your kids are not, there are other means of communications, too, through games and apps. While the internet is a great tool and offers a fun place for people to socialise and keep in contact, it is not necessarily safe.
Children may have the world of knowledge at their fingertips, but they too will be exposed to cyber threats. One way to avoid this is to always have the computer in a common area of your house. You can monitor their usage manually in the same room. Alternatively, you can also purchase or use Apps that allows parents to monitor remotely. There are so many applications with parental control features, from limiting screen time to Chat monitoring and other useful tools to minimise the chance of kids stumbling onto a website that contains inappropriate language or pictures.
On top of that, remember to drill your children that it is not safe to share personal information and pictures online or to chat with strangers.
With so many risks out there, the best we can do for our children is to educate and equip them with the skillset to keep them safe without needing to practice helicopter parenting. Keep an open and healthy communication channel with your children, so know that they can rely on you, and there is no reason for secrets. Assure them that even if they think they’ve made a ‘mistake’ that you will always be there for them. This way, they will be more inclined to tell you everything, and you can provide them guidance along the way.