When I think about keeping my children safe the first thing that comes to mind is keeping them safe from other people. But how? I can’t wrap them up in cotton wool and keep them locked at home 24/7.
How do I keep them safe? From being abused, bullied or worse. I can’t. I can’t keep them safe all the time or prevent bad things from happening. When they are not with me, I don’t have control over them or who is around them.
After accepting this, I have come to realise it’s not my job to keep them safe all the time. It’s my job to teach them how to keep themselves safe.
My children and stepchildren are still little. All under 11 years. So naturally not at an age where I can be open in discussions around sexual predators or the like. But we do talk about stranger danger and having ownership over their own bodies. There are some great children’s books that promote body ownership in a positive way.
This is a sensitive topic for me because I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. I would have never considered challenging that adult or saying no. I did what I was told. I was parented through the standard adult command and control. As most of us were in the 80s. It’s not my parents fault, it was the norm, that’s how you got kids to do what they were told. Now nearly 30 years later we can see that by controlling children through fear, is not teaching them nor is it allowing them to be their own people. Controlling them through fear only teachers them that adults can do and say whatever they want.
Respect your elders
We’ve all heard the saying, “respect your elders and do what you’re told”. It is my job to teach my children and my stepchildren that it’s okay to say no. It’s okay to have a voice and have the confidence to stand up to any adult. Regardless of who they are. The best way I can teach my children to be safe, is to teach them to not fear adults.
Take cuddles and kisses for instance. Have you ever heard yourself say “give (Aunty/Uncle) a kiss and cuddle goodbye”. Why is that not a question instead of a statement? Why do we tell our children to allow another adult to kiss and cuddle them? I allow my children to challenge me.
I allow them to question my requests and change our family rules. Some would say this is considered permissive parenting. I consider this an opportunity for our children to have a voice and feel like an important part of our family. I would never tell my children to do something without a fair reason. They can say no or question why. Sometimes, I am in the position of having to reconsider my requests or adjust my expectations.
Empowering our children
One evening I asked my daughter to set the table. She must have been about 6 years old at the time. We have a chore roster and she pointed out it wasn’t her job that night. I agreed, yes it’s not your job but your stepsister whose job it is, is not here, so could you help Mum out and set the table please?
The answer I got, “No, I don’t want to.” So I tried a little bit of parental manipulation, “please, it would really help Mum out.” The answer this time,
No Mum, I said I don’t want to, it’s my body and from my head to my toes I can say what goes.
So there it is, my strong willed daughter is strong enough to challenge me. At that moment I was a little pissed… it was dinner time, I was stretched and needed the help. But I knew deep down that it was a proud moment. She isn’t afraid of me, and that’s kind of awesome.
Teaching children to feel empowered to be who they are is our job as their parents. We need them to know that it’s okay for them to have their own feelings, beliefs and ideas. That just because we’re their parents, it doesn’t mean they have to feel the same.
As a child I feared adults. I always felt they were my superior and that I must always respect them. I felt this about my parents, teachers, family members. I generally did what I was told and until I was a teenager, generally did not challenge any adult.
My children would. My children would say NO. Although I am choosing a harder way to parent, to allow questions, compromise and a democratic household, I’m also teaching my children to have a voice and believe in themselves.
Next time you start to tell your child, “because I said so, and I’m the adult” think about the message you’re sending them. Do you really want your child to think that adults are more superior than they are, or that adults have the right to tell them what to do regardless of their feelings?