Discussing safety with children
By Colleen Sulsberger
The holiday season is fast approaching, and with it comes the anticipation of family gatherings, and all the hustle and bustle that goes with the season. The holidays also bring new opportunities for parents and families to discuss safety with their children. Consider situations where young people could possibly feel forced to accept touch that they might not want to accept.
It may be a case where a relative or friend comes to visit, and the child is told by his parents to “give Uncle Joe a hug” or “go sit on Mabel’s lap”. This can send the message to the child that he may not refuse a physical touch from an adult. Another example is the child who does not want to sit on Santa’s lap. Parents can use this opportunity to reassure their child that all adults must respect the child’s personal boundaries, and that the child should never feel that he or she must accept physical displays of affection or touch that may be uncomfortable.
This can also be an opportunity to discuss appropriate physical contact with a person we do not know well, such as a handshake. Explain that when the child is introduced to new people, it is OK, polite, and very grown up to extend their hand for a handshake, and to say “I am glad to meet you, Uncle Joe”. Be sure to point out, however, that we do not offer our hand or go very near a strange person when we are not being introduced or in cases where there are no trusted adults close by.
Parents should evaluate whether an activity could create a situation where young people are isolated, poorly supervised, in secluded areas, or otherwise vulnerable. Recognizing these situations within families will require adults to be alert to the ways a potential child molester can gain access to children.
Pay attention to family members who ALWAYS seem to want to be alone with children or who want to take the children to secluded areas. Notice adult family members who are ALWAYS offering to take the children “off your hands” for a while—particularly when the child will be left with the adult in private. Be aware of family members who are ALWAYS planning activities and finding locations where they can take children alone.
All activities, whether holiday-related or not, should be discussed and approved in advance by the child’s parents, and in general, more than one adult should go along. This re-enforces the message to kids that they should avoid situations where they are alone with an adult that they do not know very well.
Inappropriate gift-giving is one of the best ways for a child molester to gain the child’s trust. It is hard to tell loving relatives to slow down or stop the flow of gifts. They love giving gifts and the kids love getting them.
However, family members should respect parents’ rules and wishes when it comes to appropriate gifts. There are hundreds of toys and video games these days to choose from, and many of them are questionable as to their suitability for kids in different age groups. Relatives should ask parents for a list of possible gifts that the child would like and that the parents approve of before purchasing gifts for kids.
That’s a simple matter of respect for the child’s parents, and ensures that opening presents Christmas morning will be a joyful time for everyone in the family.
Contact the Safe Environment office at 712 233 7517 or e mail Colleen at firstname.lastname@example.org
(Sulsberger is the Safe Environment Coordinator for the Diocese of Sioux City. Contact the Safe Environment office at (712) 233-7517 or e-mail Colleen at email@example.com.)
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