This is something that we probably don’t want to be thinking about during the holiday season, but I’m going to talk about it anyway because it’s that important.
1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys in America are sexually assaulted in their lifetimes, and it usually happens before they turn 17. What’s even more repulsive is that 95% of molested children know their molesters. (Sources to these stats & more info here.)
Today I’m going to give you 3 tips to talking about it with your kiddos in a way that leaves them feeling empowered and not scared.
With Christmas coming so soon it’s really important to have conversations with our kids about tricky people RIGHT NOW. Many of us will be going to holiday get-togethers with friends and family between now and New Year’s and our kids need to know what to do if something happens…
ESPECIALLY if the person doing it to them is someone that they’ve been taught their whole life to trust and respect.
Now hear me out, I’m NOT suggesting that you need to be suspicious of every family member or friend, or that you need to have your children attached to your hip the whole day. Most likely you’ll have fun, your kids will have fun, and no one will get hurt, but it’s good to be prepared just in case. So here are 3 tips to help you prepare your kids so they know what to do if they feel unsafe during your holiday festivities.
1. You may disagree with me here, so let’s get it out of the way first. DON’T make your kids show affection to anyone if they don’t want to. If they have a weird feeling about Uncle Bob or Grandma Jane but don’t understand why or can’t put it into words, and you teach them to ignore those feelings, you’re setting them up for confusion. Maybe they just don’t want to hug them right now but they’ll want to later, or maybe they don’t ever want to hug a certain person. Let them have that authority over their own body. Obviously they still need to be respectful and polite. Give them another alternative if they don’t want to hug. You could simply tell them, “You could give a high-five instead or just say hello if you’d rather do that”.
You can teach them to be kind and considerate of other’s feelings without compromising their own body boundaries.
2. Talk to your kids about how to recognize if they’re in danger and what to do about it. If you have any of the resources from the Damsel In Defense SAFE Hearts line, start there. Seriously, read one of the storybooks with your kids a day or two before your next holiday gathering. It brings up the topic naturally without having to figure out how to say it. Each story talks about a scenario with a child that might be in danger and one of the Heart Defenders helps them understand what is going on without going into great detail, just explaining that they could be in danger, and what they should do in that circumstance. When you’re done reading there are a few simple questions in the back of each story that you can ask your kids to get the conversation started. (Each book focuses on a different theme, some talk about strangers, some about family members or friends, some are tricky situations like a coach who is an authority figure and trusted by the adults in the child’s life. They’re great at explaining what to do without making your kids feel scared.)
3. Have a secret code established beforehand. This is something that you wouldn’t be likely to say in any situation other than an emergency. Let your children know that if something happens at the party that makes their heart signal go off (the heart signal is explained in the SAFE Hearts books, but it’s what adults understand as their gut or intuition) or makes them feel unsafe they need to tell you that phrase as soon as possible. The phrase could be something like “I’m not feeling good, can we talk?” or it could be more unusual like, “My friend Charlie needs a haircut”. It can be arbitrary or more poignant, but make sure you practice it together a few times. Let them pretend to interrupt you so they can say it, and remind them right before you get to your destination what the code phrase is and when it’s appropriate to say it. Make sure they know it’s not something they’d say if they simply skinned their knee, for example.
This is a great place to start, but don’t stop here.
Make these kinds of conversations part of your normal life. You don’t have to make them scary and make them fearful to live life, but your kids do need to know what to do if anyone tries to harm them, especially a trusted adult. If someone they look up to asks them to do things that seem wrong or bad, they may not feel like they can say no if you haven’t told them that that’s what they should do.
Kids aren’t miniature adults, they can’t think and reason the way adults do. Sometimes protecting our kids means making sure we tell them how to advocate for themselves.
May you have a very safe and Merry Christmas!