Ask the Experts: Personal Safety
What's the best way to deal with bullies and how to prevent your child from becoming a bully?
Dr. Anne K. Jacobs:
Personal safety is an ongoing conversation with children that develops over time. Your job, in addition to arming your children with facts, is to be their safety net. You need to be committed to providing a place for your children to ask questions and share concerns without being shamed or punished. In infancy, lay the groundwork by correctly naming body parts during bath time. During the toddler years, introduce rules about private body parts. For example, the only people allowed to touch your private parts are you, parents when helping you take care of yourself and doctors. During the elementary school years, children need more information about how their bodies work.
It can actually be easier to begin discussions about sex when children are younger. Provide basic, factual information then allow your children to help guide the discussion based on their questions. Coach children to pay attention to that "something's not right" feeling in their stomachs and teach them if someone makes them feel uncomfortable, they should tell safe adults until they get help. Teenagers will need more specific information about sexual health and strategies for monitoring their personal safety as they enjoy more freedoms. Address the issue of consent as it relates to any romantic physical contact and online safety. Remember to build a support team so your children have several safe adults to whom they can go if they have additional questions or concerns.
Anne K. Jacobs earned her Ph.D. in Clinical Child Psychology from the University of Kansas and enjoys serving children, adolescents and their families. In addition to her private practice in Edmond, she holds an adjunct faculty position at Southern Nazarene University. Her family includes: husband, Noel who is also a child psychologist; twin daughters, Keegan and Sarah; one dog, two cats, and five tarantulas.
This subject is tricky and conversations can’t be reactionary. I don’t want to have to address an issue of personal safety after something happens at school or at a friend’s house. I try to have conversations with my son during very vulnerable moments in our home like when getting ready for a bath, changing clothes or going to the restroom. I ask hypothetical questions and then talk through the situation with him. “Would it be okay for someone else to help you take a bath or to see you without your clothes on?” I want my boys to associate these moments with safety and comfort, so that if they are put in a compromising situation, they will “feel” the difference and not allow someone else to invade their personal space. As with most difficult subjects, proactive communication is key.
Adam is a writer and content strategist for Traction Marketing, here in OKC. He also travels as a National Teacher Consultant for Catapult Learning, serving schools all over the world. Adam spent 11 years working in public schools as a classroom teacher, administrator and library/media specialist. He and his wife Lindsay own Collected Thread in the Plaza, and are the proud parents of Noah (4) and Finn (1).
Madison Clark: It is one thing to talk to our children about wearing a seatbelt or not touching the hot stove, but personal safety is a topic that makes most parents cringe. It is so hard to know what to say and when, but the key is to keep the conversation tailored to your child and age-appropriate. The answer to “Where do babies come from?” looks very different at age 3 versus age 12. At an early age, you can start to talk to your children about the difference between safe and unsafe people. Help them understand what parts of their body are off limits for others to see and touch, unless the touch is to keep them healthy like a doctor or a teacher changing diapers. A description I use with young children is that any part of their body a swimsuit covers should not be shared. In the age we live in, it is also important for children to know it is not okay for people to show them videos or pictures that make them feel uncomfortable. Generally children are not as curious about things when they have information in advance and know how to handle a situation. Ensuring that a child knows who to go to in any environment or situation when they feel unsafe is crucial. Setting some safety rules as a family and revisiting them regularly goes a long way.
Madison Clark is a licensed professional counselor and registered play therapist in private practice in Norman. She specializes in working with families with young children, ages 0-6. She has extensive training in play therapy and enjoys watching parents connect with their children through play.
Heather Pike: Personal safety is a conversation you can incorporate in daily parenting and should begin when a child is very young and continue throughout their growth and development. It is especially important for kids with special needs or disabilities to be aware of personal safety. You can start by teaching them, like any other child, the parts of their body and talk about what it feels like to be safe vs. unsafe and what to do if you don’t feel safe. If your child is in school and has an Individualized Education Program, you can address safety goals as a part of their education. It is also helpful to connect with other parents about ideas, resources and technology they have successfully used.
Heather Pike is the administrative director of the Oklahoma Family Network, a statewide non-profit organization connecting families who have children with special health care needs to other families and supports in their community. She and her husband, have been blessed with two amazing adult children, one of which has special health care needs. She is passionate about encouraging other families to never lose hope.
Greg Gunn: Each developmental stage of your child’s life is a time to be talking about safety. By establishing rules and boundaries, they are learning about safety. Teach your young child about inappropriate touching when they start learning about their body. Keep talking to them about what is right and wrong. As they are getting into school age and older, talk to them about scenarios that they might face and how they should handle the situation. Be clear about what is never acceptable behavior and when it is time to tell an adult. As children get to the age where they are more exposed to technology, do everything you can to monitor what they are viewing. Use parental controls and have computers in open areas of your home. Talk to your child often about their friends and get to know their friends. Teach them to be the influencer, not the one to be influenced. Ultimately we can’t keep our child in a bubble and isolate them from the world but we can insulate them from influences by creating strong family values and a good relationship.
Greg Gunn, founder of Family-iD, is a life coach, pastor, author and speaker from Oklahoma City. Married for 30 years, Greg is a father of seven kids, a father-in-law and a grandfather of two. For 17 years, Greg has led Family Vision Ministries, a ministry that helps families put their purpose on paper and pass it on to future generations.
Trudy Ruminer: Of course, talking to your child about setting healthy boundaries, making healthy choices, being a good friend, honesty, integrity, setting and achieving goals, the importance of getting a good education, internet safety and personal safety will likely make the top of most family’s list. But, having an open dialog with your child wherein your child feels free to talk about anything and everything and ensuring a climate that fosters open, honest, authentic communication may be more essential than choosing which topic ranks as most or least important.
One great way to increase communication is to make it a priority to eat meals together. There is strong evidence supporting this as a healthy habit that produces better outcomes overall for children. Establishing an “unplugged-plugged in” (no electronics) motto while at the dinner table is also a great idea. Giving your child your uninterrupted, undivided, time and attention will ultimately provide a climate that supports good communication. Some families get their children in the habit of talking by introducing a format for conversation such as “breaking news or highs and lows” wherein they take turns telling about the highlights of their day. It is important to make this a time to be authentic with your child, as early as appropriate about your own feelings, fears, frustrations, etc. The more they can see healthy, real communication modeled for them the more natural it will become to talk about what’s on their mind.
Lastly, conversations about personal safety of every kind should happen as early and often as possible. One wonderful way to unsure your child’s interest is to ask them to help your family stay safe by becoming your family’s safety expert. You could likely ask most three-year old’s a question such as should we look both ways before we cross the street and they will proudly tell you, yes and then gloat about helping you out.
For more information on this topic a few books worth checking out are as follows: How to Talk so Your Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish., Some Secrets Should Never Be Kept by Jayneen Sanders, and My Body Belongs to Me by Jill Starishevky.