There are two things that change in perspective when you become a parent: love and fear.
When you get to be a parent you finally know the meaning of unconditional love (and you THOUGHT you knew). And, trust me, fears become real, tangible. One of my biggest fear for my child is safety. The Delhi rape case has not made anything easier. What do we tell our daughters, said a columnist, commenting on the case. Really what do we? The unspoken fact is, we cannot be with our kids all the time and we can no longer send our kids out for unsupervised play. So we have to teach them to be safe. It’s ironical. We live in troubled times, with threats to safety hanging over our heads all the time. Yet the best gift anyone can give a child is the feeling of security. How does one go about this without alarming children?
I’ve been scouting literature and talking to teachers, child psychologists, professional caregivers, mothers, mothers, mothers. And this is what I’ve got:
1)Teach your kids to say ‘No’. And to say it aloud. I’ve told my kids to not respond to strangers. I’ve told them to reciprocate when someone greets them. What have I done? I’ve done a wonderful job of confusing them. And it is my 5 year old who made me realise this with, “Mom that was a stranger. Why did you ask me to wish her when she pinched my cheek and said, ‘hello, young man?’” Research also shows that according to children the maid, the watchman, the cable walla, the building gardener … are all not strangers. Research also shows that more often than not offenses against children are done by people who know them; who they’ve seen their family interact with. Better than talking of strangers to children (and defining a ‘stranger’ to your child), teach your child to shout No and back off. A well-meaning adults should not be approaching an unaccompanied child in any case. Tell your child if they are even slightly uncomfortable with who they are talking to—even an older child, even someone familiar or someone dressed well—they have to SHOUT ‘No!’ and back off. Tell kids not to use elevators on their own, or answer the doorbellif they are on their own. And if you child needs to use the public toilet and you cannot go with him or her then tell them what they should do if anyone offers to take them to a cubicle to ‘see a surprise’. Yes, they need to SHOUT and back off.
2) Make sure your kids know their address and your phone number. I am a storyteller. So I’ve done this with my kids through a story. Simba the naughty lion cub is lost. Mama Elephant and Pappa Bear rescue him and ask him where they can find his mom and Simba says, “near the big rock” and at this point I tell my kids, “There are so many big rocks in the jungle. How will Pappa Bear or Mamma Elephant take Simba back to his home? Then I ask them, “Do you know your address? Do you know where you live?” I’ve done this as often as I can and I’m slightly happier because my kids now know their address. This is important in case you get separated from your kids, when you go out. Tell you child, if they are lost, to go to a place with lots of people and ask for help.
3)Trust: Tell you child that some secrets should never be kept secrets. Explain to your child that they can say yes or no to touches from anyone; they should not be forced to hug or kiss anyone. And, as important, that no one should ask them to keep touching a secret. Children sometimes do not want to be hugged or kissed but that should be a matter of choice, not fear. Tell your child they have your permission to break all rules to protect themselves and tell them that you will always support them if they must break a rule to stay safe. Tell them it’s ok to shout at an elderly person, yell, run away, and create a fuss; to lie or kick to get away from danger. Tell them if they do that you would not be mad at them. Schools are doing their bit, but do it at your end too. Tell your kids that children have rights. Do it as nicely as you can. Don’t frighten children. It is important that you build their confidence in you, the parent, as much as themselves. Children do keep secrets and they do that if they are afraid, or threatened, or embarrassed or if they feel that need to protect themselves or their parent. Lay down a pattern of trust.