Many people expressed appreciation for our blog post about what adults need to know to protect their kids from sexual abuse – and what our kids need to know to stay safe.
One mother wrote with this concern: “My biggest question is this: My daughter is so very sensitive that I never know how to address this topic without upsetting her. She will want to know WHY anyone would do things like that, and I don’t know what to tell her. Of course, now, I wish I had started talking with her about this a long time ago–she is 10, almost 11 now.”
In different forms, this is a question that a lot of people have asked over the years.
The question “Why does anyone do something to harm someone else?” is one that adults have a hard time dealing with.
Our first job is to stay calm. If we have had past experiences of our child becoming distressed, it is normal to become anxious when talking about any potentially upsetting topic. If we sound even slightly upset or concerned, it can give our child the message that this topic is a really scary and upsetting thing.
To avoid this, we can practice getting calm and centered. If we rehearse what we are going to say, so that we feel confident before the conversation happens, our child is far less likely to pick up on our anxiety about the issue.
The good news is that we really don’t need to go into details about sexual abuse to bring up the skills our children needs to go out into the world. In fact, it is better if we do NOT mention specific stories unless our kids are likely to have heard about them already and to avoid graphic details.
Instead, we can focus on positive ways to keep ourselves safe.
We can tell our kids, “As you get older, you will want to become more independent and do more things on your own. In order to walk on the street on your own, you need to know how to be safe with cars. And, in order to do things with other people on your own, you need to know what the safety rules are when you are away from me and to practice how skills for having more fun and fewer problems with people.”
Children might still be upset at the idea of someone hurting kids on purpose or they might have heard stories from friends. Just as with other difficult subjects, we need to support them through the discomfort in order for them to be prepared to take charge of their safety.
At Kidpower, we teach that being safe with people is like water safety or car safety. Yes, there are potential dangers, but we can prevent and avoid them most of the time so that we can have fun and stay safe around cars and water. Most people are good – and even though a few people might have problems that cause them to do hurtful things, we can also keep ourselves safe with people most of the time.
We cannot shield our kids forever from all harsh realities. What we can do is to support them as they learn about and come to terms with the unjust, disturbing, heartbreaking and often baffling events in the world. While it can be painful to discuss these things, it is also an opportunity to foster closeness with our children as we guide them, or just accompany them, through their pain and sadness.
Zoe Gladstone, one of our wonderful Kidpower instructors, shared this story about how meaningful these conversations can be: “One of the most important things my dad ever did for me was to be present with me as I wrestled with why there is war and cancer. I was about 10 years old, and we were stuck in Los Angeles traffic on the 101 Freeway for this conversation. He reassured me NOT by telling me reasons why these things happened or trying to convince me that I didn’t need to worry about it. What he did do was agree sincerely that they are terrible and beyond his understanding. Eventually, as the traffic began to move, he also pointed out that right then we were safe and okay, and that there were many beautiful things about the world.”
Being successful in practicing how to stay safe in different situations can help to reduce anxiety and increase confidence. If you are not sure how to do this, you can learn from Kidpower’s 28 years of experience in teaching adults how to protect and empower their children in ways that are effective and empowering – and even fun – rather than scary.
And you can always contact us at [email protected] with your questions, ideas, and concerns.