How to Empower Children to Stay Safe
There are many things we, as parents, can do to enable our child to feel – and be – safe. Most parents don’t want to even think about the possibility of violence against their children and, fortunately, such instances are rare. However, violent situations may still occur, so all parents should be prepared. As the top U.S. security expert, Gavin De Becker, points out, “Of all the strategies you might bring to protecting your children, could ignorance about violence possibly be an effective one?”
Teaching Kids How To Avoid Violence
1. From a young age, teach children the power of intuition. Remember, we trust far more people than we distrust, so if your child feels uncomfortable around someone, it is significant. We must teach our children to honour the gut instinct that says something’s not right. This takes practice. On outings, ask your children to tell you how they reacted to someone you both just met. Get them to notice their first instinctual reaction – was it trust, shyness, distaste?
2. Children must be taught to react to early signals, as this is when they can turn away most predators. Teach your child to be wary of strangers who try to be charming, offer unsolicited help and promises, and especially, ignores your child’s refusal of help. According to De Becker, this is the most universally significant signal of danger as it is a sign that the predator is seeking to control them. Teach your child that it is okay to be blunt and even rude in this situation. Explain to them that you (and other adults) will understand their rudeness if they turn out to be mistaken. If children don’t make the mistake of waiting for very clear signals, then they can defeat most predators.
3. Teach your children how to communicate clearly that they are not a target. This includes glaring, holding the stare, walking away immediately and raising their voice. Most predators will get the message and look for an easier target. Although a placid person, I once used this technique to scare away a man who was hovering over my children in a way that made me very uncomfortable. My heart was pounding like a drum but he backed right off!
4. Your children need to practise being aware of their surroundings. Predators look for victims who are going to be easy targets – the ones on their phones, looking at the ground, day dreaming, listening to music…Teach your child to always take note of who is around him or her and what is going on. If they notice someone approaching them, they can usually deter them with step 3, communicating that they will not be an easy target.
5. Teach your teenage child about PC, that is, privacy and control. Sexual predators are not dangerous to your child if they don’t have privacy and control. Therefore, if your daughter learns to recognise PC situations early, she can take steps to change the situation before it becomes dangerous. For example, if a girl notices that her driving instructor’s directions are taking her out of populated areas, she can clearly say “I wish to stay in familiar areas.” This clearly says to the predator that she is not going to be easily controlled, and in the majority of cases, the predator will abandon his plan.
Teaching Kids How To React When Faced With Violence
1. Teach your child to do the opposite of whatever he or she is told to do, as that is what the attacker is most afraid that your child will do. If they say ‘don’t yell’, train your child to do exactly that!
2. Enrol your child in martial arts or self-defence class. This is important because the reaction of most people when faced with an aggressive, loud in-your-face person is to freeze. Their mind goes blank which allows the attacker time to get in close and take control. Martial arts will teach your child to react automatically in crises. Those precious first few minutes often make all the difference in an attack, as most attackers will retreat in the face of a serious defence. If you can’t afford classes, you can make a game of surprising your child at home, and practising quick responses.
Mother of 3, Karen McIlveen, enrolled her three daughters in martial arts classes from an early age. “I think the discipline and the awareness that there is something they can do to defend themselves have made them stronger in their minds, not just their bodies. Even though they may be smaller than their opponent, they may be able to use that window of opportunity and give themselves at least 3-5 seconds to run away. I feel more confident knowing that my 3 daughters have some techniques in which to rely upon in a difficult situation”
3. Teach your child to breathe out in crises. Most people forget to breathe which means their brain’s ability to think through the crises disappears. Breathing out forces the body to start breathing again, which in turn allows a person to react quicker.
A representative from the District Crime Prevention Office, emphasises the importance of empowering children to know that they have a right to say ‘No’ and that there are always people they can talk to, no matter what the problem. “Talk to kids about who they can turn to if they are feeling afraid or if someone is threatening them. Get them to list at least 5 people that they trust completely. It might be a parent, their grandma, or a teacher. These are the people they can then turn to when they don’t feel safe. Predators often use threats of harm to the child or their family to ensure silence. Kids need to know that there is no secret so bad that they can’t talk to someone about it.”
You can acquire brochures on protective behaviours from the local police.
Preparing your children to be safe doesn’t mean making them fearful of the world. It means teaching them that there are techniques they need to master to stay safe, in much the same way we teach our children how to deal with fire. I recommend reading Gavin De Becker’s excellent book on preventing violence to kids, ‘Protecting the Gift’. Our children are, indeed, our most precious gift