Every time I offer my seminar, Keeping Your Child Safe, I am reminded that this is the number one job of every parent on this planet. I know that all parents try to do so, but what a daunting task this really is. Look around and you can see that dangers lurk everywhere. Your job is just never done; it’s 24/7…or is it?
There was an article in the paper last week about a family of five piano virtuosos, siblings who perform together as the Five Browns. It was a fairytale story about these talented children… that is, until I got to the paragraph about the children’s father who is in prison, convicted for molesting his daughters. One small mention became one huge part of this family’s story, and it commandeered all my attention. Forget the piano. How did this happen?
Of course I’ll never know the answer, but it got me thinking. What I do know is that in protecting our children from dangers and evils of all kinds, we are getting it wrong. Too often these days parents interpret their job of safe guarding to be just that: Being the guard dog at all times, everywhere. Truth be told, it is utterly impossible for you to keep your child safe all the time. And if you, the parent, give the child the message that only by you being with him will he be safe, then he certainly doesn’t exercise and grow his own safety muscles.
A big part of the safety lesson is teaching your child to keep himself safe. Of course a parent should never intentionally allow a child to be in an unsafe position, tempting fate. But from an early age children need to be habituated to safety behaviors. In the same way that we teach our youngest children not to run into the street, so must they have Family Safety Rules of many kinds. If it is never okay for a child to answer the front door without the supervising adult’s approval or presence, it is a habit. If the door always stays open during a playdate, then it becomes the child’s habit. The child plays a role in keeping himself safe.
After reading the newspaper article about the Brown Five, I wondered what Family Safety Rules about their bodies the children had been taught. Were they taught that it is never okay for anyone (including mother or father or doctor or coach) to touch their bodies if it felt uncomfortable or strange or weird? Were they taught that even someone they respect should not be (mis)handling their bodies? Did they know that “Don’t tell” means “tell?” Had they been taught to tell a parent (the other parent) or care giver when they don’t like the way they are being treated? I think not.
In the chapter on Independence in my second book, You’re Not the Boss of Me, I address the specific ways in which we help children to be safe by keeping themselves safe. This is just another of the ways that we must prepare the child for the path and not the path for the child. Keeping a child safe is your job and your child’s.