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If you're a parent or simply someone who loves a child, you've probably let your mind wander to some pretty scary places. It's virtually impossible not to look at a little one and not contemplate their innate vulnerability, innocence and naiveté.
You may not even consider yourself a fearful person until you're faced with sending your child out into the world… without you. Whether it's school, camp, a play date or a gymnastics class, you're entrusting the well-being of a child with another human being and that can be scary. But smothering them with fear-based language about strangers is only setting them up for an unrealistic and isolating experience of the world.
Resist the urge to outfit them in bubble wrap and track their whereabouts via hidden camera. Instead, imagine these precious beings equipped with the tools, language and wisdom they need to engage in the world confidently, while remaining tuned in to their surroundings and their own inner guides. Empower them (and yourself) with the following tips and see how much better you both feel when you ditch the "stranger danger" mentality and embrace the power of intuition.
"Stranger danger" myth
The very sad reality is that the majority of children who are sexually assaulted and kidnapped are victims of an acquaintance. So teaching your child to fear strangers on the street does very little to keep them safe. In the long run it's teaching them not to engage in the world for fear of who knows what. It's a pretty isolating approach to life. Better to get them familiar with the kinds of strangers to engage with when they're in need of help. Point out firefighters and police officers when you see them at the coffee shop. Remind them that mothers with children are safe people to turn to in the event that they ever get lost. You are helping them to know that they can help themselves, even if they are afraid or alone.
Cover the safety basics
As you're preparing for a child's first year in school or a sleep away camp, review your family's personal safety guidelines. Try to have these conversations in a time and place that is not directly associated with the new activity so they associate the rules with their everyday life and not the activity itself. Remind your child that their body, and especially their private parts, are for them only and that they alone are in charge of their bodies. It's a good time to also let them know that adults will never ask them to keep a secret, and that if they do, that's a problem and you will never be angry or ashamed of them for sharing this sort of thing with you.
I like to remind my daughter that Mom and Dad might ask her to keep a secret about a birthday gift or a special Father's Day surprise, but outside of that no adult is allowed to ask her to keep a secret.
Make sure your child has at least one parent's phone number memorized, as well as your home address. Make this fun. Create coloring pages at home for practice and throw in a few pop quizzes at dinnertime until you know they have it down. Consider giving your child a special little reward for their accomplishment.
Remind your child of the small circle of adults who are allowed to pick them up from camp and/or school. Clear expectations around transportation make it easier for children to navigate a potential threat. Talk about what to do if an unknown person offers them a ride, a gift or asks them for help. An adult asking a child for help is a big red flag and your kids will understand this, especially if you've had a conversation about it.
Honor feelings, talk about it
Once you have the basic safety precautions normalized you can start introducing the fuzzier stuff. Ideally, you'll be working on identifying and strengthening your own intuition so you can effectively model it for your family. Use those age-appropriate teachable moments to guide conversations with your children. For example, if you get a "funny feeling" when you overhear or engage in gossip — talk about it. If you don't feel comfortable with an aggressive sales person in a store — talk about it. Depending on your child's age it will help them to understand that you are listening to your body all the time and responding accordingly.
It's also important to remember that everyone's body is different. Some of us get tummy aches, a racing heart or a dizzy feeling when we know something or someone just isn't right. Encourage your kids to listen to those signals and know that it's OK to get out of the situation, stick up for the person being talked about or seek out a trusted adult. Reward your child when they share their feelings with you. Try to listen to their stories without judgment and praise them for tuning in to their inner guide.
Practice, practice, practice
Working with your intuition is a lifelong process. After all, each one of us is a work in progress from day one, and there are plenty of resources to help you and your family strengthen that tiny voice inside of us. Check out some of my favorite books, videos and blogs and see what feels right for you.
Resources for teaching intuition
- Blogger extraordinaire Rebecca Wolf of Girls Gone Child wrote a fantastic post last year about teaching safety to children without fear. It really puts the anti-stranger danger movement in perspective.
- Download The Safety Show and watch it with your children. Talk about what you watch and model similar language at home so the children in your life know that they are free to talk about their "gut" feelings with you.
- The Wise Child: A Spiritual Guide to Nurturing Your Child's Intuition
- Body Language, Intuition & Leadership (Ages 9-13)
- Body Language, Intuition & Leadership (Ages 12-15)