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Transcript: Safety Tools for Safety Problems
Welcome to the People Safety Podcast from Kidpower, teaching advocacy, boundary setting, and other personal safety skills for building happier lives and stronger relationships! I’m Erika Leonard with another Kidpower People Safety Tip.
You know, I have a toolbox. It has screwdrivers, saws, a tape measure. Basic stuff. It has a hammer, too, and I used the hammer just last week to fix a loose board in my fence. Problem solved. If I got really attached to my hammer, though, and started to think that it could do the jobs of other tools – like, if I tried to use it to cut a piece of wood, or if my toilet started to overflow and I hit it with my hammer – that would probably MAKE problems, not solve them! What if I really did try to fix that overflowing toilet with a big whack from the hammer, water sprayed everywhere, and I decided the hammer was useless, and I threw it away? That makes no sense. There’s nothing wrong with the hammer; the problem came from how I used it.
Tools work best when we match the tool to the problem that we’re facing. This is true for hand tools like hammers and screwdrivers, and it’s true for safety tools, as well. If I’m eating at a restaurant with a friend who starts choking on a piece of food, using my loud safety tool voice to yell for help is a really good idea. If we are not having a safety problem, though, and I’m in that restaurant, but I can’t eat my salad because I have no fork, and I yell really loudly for a fork, I’m going to create problems for myself. The ‘loud safety tool voice’ does not match a ‘I need a fork’ problem. Instead, I’ll need to use different tools, like eye contact to get the attention of the server, and a clear, calm voice to advocate respectfully for what I need: “Excuse me, could I have a fork please.” Different problems call for different tools.
Kidpower teaches about a tool we call Closed Mouth Power: it means you can think words without actually saying them. That’s a useful skill for people of any age, but even very young children can learn to use Closed Mouth Power to stop themselves from saying mean words when they’re upset, maybe because other kids said mean words first. It’s normal to want to say mean words back, but actually saying them will probably make things worse. Those same young children deserve to know that Closed Mouth Power is not the best tool for getting attention from a parent or a teacher when they have a safety problem. That’s a time even to interrupt by saying clearly, “Excuse me, I need help. It’s about safety.”
Now, there’s another particularly interesting safety tool. “Stop or I’ll tell” is phrase that happens to be one of the most powerful tools people of any age have to set boundaries with adults using their power in a wrong way. It’s also a powerful tool for young children dealing with each other. But, if I’m fifteen years old, and I’m having a problem with another fifteen-year-old, and I say, “Stop or I’ll tell,” my problem is likely to get worse, not better. This could be about as productive as hitting the toilet with a hammer. There are excellent safety tools for teenagers dealing with a problem with another teenager – you can learn more through Kidpower and other resources – but when two teenagers are having a problem, saying “Stop or I’ll tell” is often not the tool for the job.
When teenagers discover that “Stop or I’ll tell” can cause a mess when they direct it at people their own age, they often make the mistake of throwing the tool away for good. They think, “That’s a childish thing to say. I’d never say that.” This is a lot like throwing away my hammer because hitting the toilet with the hammer made a mess. Instead of throwing a tool away, just put it down and keep it in your toolbox. Who knows when you might want to say “Stop or I’ll tell” or “Stop or I’ll report you” to a doctor or a teacher or a coach or another adult misusing power? So what if you never end up using it – at least you have it! The more tools we have available and the more familiar we are with how they work – and how they don’t work – the more prepared we are to manage a broader variety of challenges with skill and confidence.
Visit kidpower.org for more people safety tips, and remember, in everything you do, stay safe, act wisely, and of course, believe in yourself!