A. TALK OPENLY AND LISTEN CAREFULLY.
The key to
your children’s safety is effective two-way
communication. You must give your children the knowledge they need
to protect themselves, and they must feel able to express their
fears and describe any real problems they may encounter. This requires
an environment where you and your children feel comfortable talking
about sensitive, embarrassing, or frightening things. Listen to
them and believe them, even about little things, for the conversations
about little things build the foundation for communication about
big things that could change their lives. Emphasize a few key points
which will foster more open communication:
always want to know if something scary, confusing,
embarrassing or weird happens to them and you will never
be angry. You want
to know even if they are not sure exactly what happened.
an adult does something that makes them feel scared, uncomfortable
confused, it is the adult’s fault and not the child’s
fault, even if the adult tries to blame it on the child. You will
never blame it on your child.
adult who tries to make a child keep a secret, or tells him
bad will happen if he does not keep a secret, is
very wrong. Children should not keep adults’ secrets.
or someone can always help, even if your child thinks something
has happened that can never be fixed.
B. TEACH YOUR CHILDREN TO BE AWARE AND CAREFUL, BUT NOT AFRAID.
and open about dangers, but you know more than your children
need to know. Avoid scary details, talk in a calm and
reassuring manner, and use language that is age-appropriate. For
example, with a young child it would be enough to warn, “there
are people who do bad things to children,” when talking about
C. FOCUS CHILDREN ON CERTAIN SUSPICIOUS SITUATIONS AND BEHAVIOR
RATHER THAN CERTAIN KINDS OF PEOPLE.
to beware of “strangers” ignores
their vulnerability to unidentified sex offenders whom they may
know quite well. Teach your children instead to be on the lookout
for suspicious behavior in any adult. Be sure to emphasize that
they should tell you or another trusted adult immediately if they
encounter such behavior, which can include:
a child for help. Children help other children, but should
be asked to assist adults, like giving directions or
helping to “find a lost puppy.” An adult who tells
a child his parent is in trouble and offers to take the child to
the parent is also highly suspicious.
an unusual amount of attention to a child. Offenders often
initiate seemingly innocent contact with a victim and cultivate
a close relationship over time. Most adult-child relationships
are healthy and positive, of course, but certain behaviors
be warning signs of trouble, like insisting on physical
affection the child does not want, giving inappropriate gifts,
alone with the child, etc.
a child or asking to be touched by a child in areas of
the body that would be covered by a bathing suit. No one
touch your children in any way that makes them feel
a child to get into a vehicle or following a child on foot
or by car. Children should know
never to get
car without parental approval, and always to make
a loud scene if someone tries to take them somewhere
or force them into a car.
to take a child’s picture. Children should know
never to let an adult take their photograph without parental consent.
D. BE SPECIFIC AND ENGAGE IN ROLE-PLAYING TO TEACH THE BEST RESPONSES
Act out different situations and give children specific ideas
about what to do. Examples include:
child is separated from you in a store or other public
place. Tell your child not to wander around looking for you, but
to go immediately to a police officer, store salesclerk or
other person in authority, or to a mother with children.
man tries to get your child into his car. Tell your child to
make a loud
scene by kicking and resisting physically, and by
screaming things like, “this man is trying to take me away,” or “this
man is not my father,” or “help me - he’s hurting
child’s soccer coach gives him a ride home and touches
him in a way that feels uncomfortable. Tell your child that he
does not need to be polite. He should say no, or stop, or he should
push the coach away. He should also tell you immediately what happened,
even though the coach said not to tell anyone else. Emphasize that
people who do this kind of thing almost always make the child afraid
to tell anyone else, and explain that this is wrong. Explain that
a child should not believe any adult who says something bad will
happen if he tells a secret. Your child should not keep other adults’ secrets
from you. Emphasize also that if an adult touches your child or
asks to be touched, it is NOT your child’s fault.
E. TEACH YOUR CHILDREN TO TRUST THEIR INSTINCTS AND UNDERSTAND
IT IS SOMETIMES O.K. TO SAY NO TO ADULTS.
In the effort to raise our children to be polite, well-mannered,
and respectful of authority, we may miss conveying the message
that their safety is nonetheless always more important. They must
learn to trust their own feelings and know that they have every
right to say no when they sense something is wrong, like someone
trying to take them somewhere, touch them inappropriately, or do
anything else that makes them feel scared, uncomfortable, or confused.
F. MAKE YOUR CHILDREN AWARE OF KNOWN, SPECIFIC THREATS.
If a convicted
sex offender does live or work in your community, make your children
familiar with the offender and the risks he
may pose to them. Show them the offender’s photograph, warn
them to avoid inappropriate or unsupervised contact, and instruct
them to tell you immediately if the offender initiates contact
with them or makes them feel uncomfortable in any way.
G. KNOW YOUR CHILDREN. KNOW WHERE THEY ARE, WHO THEIR FRIENDS
ARE, AND WHAT THEIR DAILY ACTIVITIES ARE. BE SENSITIVE TO CHANGES
IN THEIR MOODS AND BEHAVIOR.
Although sex offenders can be the most unlikely suspects, you
are the best gauge your children have of whether they are at risk
from someone in their familiar circle. Watch for suspicious behavior
in adults who come into contact with your children, and watch for
changes in your children which could signal trouble. Above all,
keep talking to them.