“But WHY is this the Safety Rule?”
Kidpower Answers for Adults with Younger Children
Written by Irene van der Zande, Kidpower Founder and Executive Director
Anyone who spends much time with young children knows that the question “Why?” comes up constantly– whether the question is why rabbits can’t fly, or why can’t I stand on the table in the middle of dinner or why can’t I show someone my penis or vagina if I feel like it or why do I have to ask my grownups first before I can talk to strangers?
Some “Why?” questions are easy to answer. Rabbits can’t fly because they don’t have wings. You can’t stand on the table because we don’t want you to step in our food and you might fall off.
As adults, we sometimes have the job of not answering every question in the way it was asked. Getting into details about some kinds of “Why?” questions can lead to putting pictures into children’s minds that don’t need to be there.
With younger children, questions about safety rules on touching or strangers are often best answered just by saying, “Because that’s our safety rule.” Kids know that adults and families have rules. For example, the adult gets to say when kids get to have cookies and when they don’t or that kids have to go to bed at 8 p.m. rather than 9 p.m. The reason that adults get to decide what the rules are is because adults have the job of taking care of children and of keeping them safe.
Kids ask “Why?” questions about sexual play, nudity, and strangers in the same way that they question other rules. As adults, we know that the reason for the safety rules about the private parts of the body is because there is the potential for someone to get hurt physically and emotionally. As adults, we know that there are dangerous people who might kidnap and harm children. But we don’t need to inflict this information on our children sooner than necessary.
Answers like “doing this is bad or dangerous” are likely to be confusing, upsetting, and lead to more questions. Children know that showing or touching their private areas is not inherently painful and might be interesting or pleasurable. And, most of the time, interactions with people children don’t know are likely to be very positive.
A clearer answer is, “Because doing this is against our safety rules.” Younger children do not always need to know the reasons why we have rules, but they do need to know that the rules are there to help keep them safe.
If a child asks why touching private areas is against the safety rules, adults can say, “The safety rules are to help keep you safe and it can be unsafe to let someone touch or look at the private parts of your body unless I say it’s okay.” If a child asks why again, adults can say, “Because that is our rule.”
A child who keeps asking about safety issues might have heard or read something upsetting. Often, you can find out what your child is thinking by answering the “Why?” question with your own question, “What do you think?” The answer can tell you what kind of help or information this child needs.
If a persistent curious child wants more and more details about bad things that might happen, you can set a boundary by saying, “I don’t want to talk about the bad things that might happen. I want to talk about how you can stay safe most of the time and how you can get help if you need to.”
Too much information too soon about details of bad things that might happen can be overwhelming for a child. Our job as adults is to encourage our children to enjoy being kids, while giving them the tools they need to grow up as safely and happily as possible.