By Ira Joshi:
“A 7-year-old boy left murdered in an upmarket school.”
“A 6-year-old raped in a school bus.”
“A 7-year-old molested by her uncle.”
Newspapers are filled with such news – and it has left most parents like us fearful and anxious about the well-being of our kids.
Separation from your child, even for a little while, can be a cause for worry, as it means withdrawing supervision over the child or leaving the responsibility of taking care of the child with other individuals. Whether the child is at school, at the playground, with friends or for a play date at a friend’s place – as a parent, you are constantly thinking about your child’s safety and well-being. And while you cannot always be with your child, you can still equip your child with the knowledge and skills that can help your child stay more alert and safe when you are not around.
After all, safety is the cornerstone for a child’s healthy development. Thus, ensuring that the child is equipped to live safely is very important. Here are a few tips and strategies that you can easily follow at home to make your child be better-prepared for situations that can threaten their safety.
First and foremost, it’s important to establish open lines of communication with the child. Here are a few quick things you can do:
1. Take an active interest in what the child says or feels.
2. Sometimes, young children are not able to express how they feel. As a parent, it is your responsibility to talk to your child about their day, what they liked (or not) at school, in the playground or wherever they went. Try to understand their likes and dislikes, and what makes them happy or sad, comfortable or uncomfortable at home or outside.
3. Be observant of any changes in their behaviour or body language. Sudden changes in mood or behaviour may be the signs of some stress a child is going through. Watch out for signs like sudden aggressive or withdrawn behaviour.
1. Create an atmosphere where children feel completely comfortable to share their thoughts openly. They must not feel that they will be dismissed or reprimanded, if they share something.
2. Let them know that ‘it is not their fault’ when they share something with you. This will encourage them to talk openly with you in the future.
3. Most importantly, remain patient, encouraging and supportive.
1. Make safety rules with children, and draw or write them on a paper. Stick the paper where they can see them easily. Go over the safety rules together so that they can remember them.
2. Set boundaries for playing. Children should know where they can go with friends during their play-time. This will help them understand ‘safe’ and ‘unsafe’ places.
3. Make sure that your child knows your full name, phone number and residential address.
4. Traffic safety is also very important, especially if children venture out alone. They must be taught to look both ways before crossing a street and also understand traffic signals.
1. Help them be aware of ‘safe’ and ‘unsafe’ situations or touch. A good way to talk to your child is to let them know that ‘any situation or touch that makes them happy is safe‘ and ‘any situation or touch that makes them feel angry, confused, sad or scared is unsafe‘.
2. Teach them that it’s okay to say ‘no’ and ‘stop’, and move away from a situation if they feel uncomfortable, or if someone is being mean and making them feel bad. If anything makes them uncomfortable, they should open up about it to a trusted adult.
3. Teach children about their private body parts – and that no one can touch, look at or talk about them.
Children learn best when they see other adults or children model safe behaviours. As parents, we need to provide opportunities for children to be familiar with safety rules and help them learn how to tackle sensitive situations. For example, Galli Galli Sim Sim’s “I Love Elmo” series uses age-appropriate ways to engage children and talk about situations that a child can face while playing. In one of the episodes, Elmo learns the power of the word ‘no’, and how it can be used effectively to stop others from doing something that he does not like. The open and free dialogue between Elmo and his father is illustrative of how parents can be open, understanding and sensitive to their child’s apprehensions.
Education begins at home and it’s critical to equip children with safety measures right from their childhood. While teaching good behaviour and instilling values like respecting elders are important, we must not forget to empower our kids with the knowledge and strength to stand up to what’s wrong or anything that makes them feel uncomfortable. After all, you can be the source of strength for your kids and guide them to be guardians of their own safety.
The author is the vice president, content, Sesame Workshop India.
Featured image used for representative purposes only.