These days, it seems as if events oddly align as a directive for my writing. And as much as it makes this mama bear bristle, two recent events pointed me on the trajectory of child safety.
The first event involved chatting with a friend about her daughter’s three-year well visit. Towards the end of the visit the doctor told the three-year old that it was time to check the areas of the body under the underwear to make sure that they were healthy, and that it is OK for a doctor to do this if mommy or daddy are in the room. Not surprisingly, my friend couldn’t help but think, “Crap, it’s already time to start talking about this stuff?”
The second event occurred when a Craigslist buyer dropped by our house. Per usual, Laurel was shy and cautious while the person was here, and replete with questions afterwards. But there was something noticeably different about Laurel’s behavior, and as we continued to talk through the event with her, we learned that seeing this stranger in our home set off physiological alarms; among other things, Laurel told us that seeing the stranger made her belly “hurt and feel tight.” That moment made it clear that it was time for us to learn more about how to talk about safety, beyond our existing strategies for coping with imaginary animals.
Parenting involves myriad mental gymnastics to reduce concepts to simple yet meaningful elements. Tack on the complexity and emotion of trying to converse about tough topics like strangers and predators and it is enough – quite frankly – to make you feel like your head is going to explode. But the conversations have to happen, and while there is plenty of child safety content out there that will - however well intentioned - work you up into a frenzy, I found the Child Safety Kit from the Polly Klaas Foundation the most helpful. Right off the bat, the guide sets a reassuring tone; that the point is to teach kids to recognize and avoid dangerous situations in a way that won’t scare kids (or yourself). The guide provides a reality check on typical scary statistics, constructive tips on how to teach your kids to question the safety of various situations (through “what if” role play), key safety practices for infants through teens, and situation-specific abduction prevention resources. One particularly interesting pointer was to avoid using the word “stranger,” instead focusing on situation specifics (see p. 4).
For older kids, TalkingWithKids.org provides resources to help parents tackle specific conversation topics (e.g., sex, drugs); they also offer 10 general communication tips, applicable for children aged 8-12.
As much as it makes my belly hurt and feel tight thinking about Laurel’s safety, having the tools to learn how to talk about these issues with her in a matter of fact, confident manner already brings peace of mind.