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At Kidpower, we stand for SAFETY!

No matter where we live, sometimes our sense of security can become overwhelmed by news of frightening threats of violence – and by tragic acts of violence. When this happens, it’s time to take extra steps to protect the emotional and physical safety of our children — and of ourselves.

Kidpower’s Founding Principle is that the safety and well-being of each person are more important than anyone’s embarrassment, inconvenience, or offense, including our own.

Instead of letting our actions be based on fear of upset, discomfort, or disappointment, we can choose to ‘Put Safety FIRST’ for ourselves and, especially, for our children.

To protect our children and ourselves from harm, we can:

  1. Create emotional safety.
  2. Stay away from trouble.
  3. Focus on what we CAN do.

Recognize that children do not need our fear. Our terror about possible danger and our despair about the problems of the world won’t help them. Instead, children need: 1) our commitment to protect them until they are ready to protect themselves; 2) our belief that we all can stay safe most of the time; and 3) our ongoing dedication to teaching them how to take charge of their own safety. They also need us to set a good example about how to make the best of our lives.

Here are simple and practical steps we can take to choose safety during this frightening time:

1. Create emotional safety.

Becoming consumed by hopeless, helpless, enraged, and horrified feelings in the face of threats, terrorism, and violence accomplishes the goal of terrorism, which is to create widespread fear and instability. Such emotional triggers flood our minds and bodies with upset feelings, which make it hard to make safe or wise choices.

To take charge of our own emotional safety, we can:

  • Recognize when our own feelings are intense enough to be likely to cloud our judgment.
  • Practice strategies to prevent our emotional triggers from ruling our behavior, online and in person.
  • Avoid being bombarded by traumatic images or hearing horrifying stories from the media or from others. As adults, we can choose forms of news consumption that allow us to stay updated without becoming overwhelmed. Watching upsetting events over and over and listening to upset people talk about them can feel as if we are taking action or staying informed. The reality is that this just makes us more anxious without making anyone safer and without solving anything.

To protect the emotional safety of young people, we can:

  • Model being calm and taking positive actions. Children can learn a tremendous amount from seeing their adults take charge of safety instead of being overwhelmed by problems and upset feelings.
  • Protect children from exposure to images, stories, and news. Just as we need to manage what and how much children eat so that they don’t get sick, we also need to manage their “consumption” of media and conversations. Our job as adults it to create emotionally-protective environments in person and online so that children don’t become traumatized by what they see or hear. Be aware that children often notice what adults are watching, listening to, or discussing, even if it seems like they are not paying attention.
  • Help young people stay safe online in gaming, social media, and other digital spaces. Even if they have excellent tech skills, caring adults need to stay connected with what our kids are seeing and doing in their online worlds so we can provide guidance, perspective, and emotional support.
  • Listen to kids and teens so they can process what they have heard or seen. Let them share what they know and believe about what is going on without projecting our own worries and fears onto them. Help them to look for positive actions we can take even during upsetting times.

2. Stay away from trouble.

“Target denial” is a useful self-defense idea that means denying ourselves as a target for violence or other harm by leaving or avoiding an unsafe situation. People of all ages can create distance from trouble physically, emotionally, and digitally. This is a time to give ourselves permission NOT to get directly involved in conflicts.

We can:

  • Stay aware of — and away from — physical spaces that are likely to be potential trouble spots. This might include downtown areas or government buildings.
  • Stay aware of — and away from — online spaces and conversations that are likely to be emotionally unsafe spaces for ourselves or for young people in our lives during this time.
  • Leave a potentially threatening situation — in real life or online. Go to a safer place, and get help if needed.
  • Avoid confronting people or getting into arguments — in person as well as online.
  • Interrupt, redirect, or leave potentially upsetting discussions. Possible redirects include comments like, “Let’s talk about something else right now,” or “Good to hear from you — I need to get back to work!”
  • If someone wants to have a discussion that is likely to become heated, wait for a time when things are calmer or decide not to have it. Remember that we cannot change people’s minds or behavior by blame, shame, or using loaded language or labels.
  • Scan the news quickly for what we might need to know to stay safe and then turn off the media and go do something else. There is a difference between staying informed so we can take action if need be and traumatizing ourselves unnecessarily by overexposure to difficult news.

3. Focus on What We CAN Do.

Our challenge in the midst of experiencing or witnessing suffering and loss is to keep finding our balance. We need to remember that, in this uncertain world, the truest safety we have is the safety we create within ourselves.

Feeling powerless in difficult times is normal — and keeps us from focusing on what we CAN to do to make the best of the situation, to survive, to help others and to recover.

Taking positive action can replace helplessness with competence and confidence — can replace despair with healing and hope — and can lead to the prevention and reduction of suffering and trauma.

We can:

  • Commit to staying very centered and present with our children and modeling how to show caring and enjoyment of life, even during this challenging time.
  • Support our overwhelmed first responders with money, supportive actions, and kind words. As Mr. Rogers said, “Look for the Helpers.”
  • Strengthen our relationships by connecting with the important people in our lives.
  • Reach out to friends, family, or others who might be feeling lonely or afraid or who need help with getting food or other basic needs.
  • When we feel ready, seek long-term positive solutions with people and groups that demonstrate a commitment to safety and respect.

We can also learn lessons from those who have faced profound danger throughout history and developed strategies to take charge of their well-being. For example, Viktor Frankl was a psychotherapist imprisoned in concentration camps in World War II. In that hopeless, terrifying setting, he came to the conclusion that, while he could not control most outside events, he could choose how he would respond to those events. He created a form of psychotherapy called Logotherapy, which helps people heal by making meaning of their lives. History is full of stories of people taking charge of their well-being in the face of unimaginable danger. Telling and sharing their stories can help others benefit from their wisdom.

Most often, we can take charge of our safety. When things are out of our control, it is important to remember that, like Viktor Frankl, we can still choose to create safety within ourselves and for our children.

And, as we look forward into the future, the most important meaning we can make of any tragedy is to work together to create a better world for everyone.

More help from Kidpower:

Helping Children Regain Emotional Safety After a Tragedy
When Disaster Strikes: Finding Emotional Balance in Traumatic Times
Our Children Do Not Need Our Fear

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Published: February 10, 2021   |   Last Updated: February 10, 2021

Kidpower Founder and Executive Irene van der Zande is a master at teaching safety through stories and practices and at inspiring others to do the same. Her child protection and personal safety expertise has been featured by USA Today, CNN, Today Moms, the LA Times, and The Wall Street Journal. Publications include: cartoon-illustrated Kidpower Safety Comics and Kidpower Teaching Books curriculum; Bullying: What Adults Need to Know and Do to Keep Kids Safe; the Relationship Safety Skills Handbook for Teens and Adults; Earliest Teachable Moment: Personal Safety for Babies, Toddlers, and Preschoolers; The Kidpower Book for Caring Adults: Personal Safety, Self-Protection, Confidence, and Advocacy for Young People, and the Amazon Best Seller Doing Right by Our Kids: Protecting Child Safety at All Levels.