Kids who can protect themselves
I recently got this question from a client:
“Sending my daughter back to school has brought up a lot of fears I have about her being mistreated. How can I feel safe when she's not with me?"
Whether it's back to school, the onset of puberty, or a scary story on the news - there are lots of things around us that bring up the fear of our children being mistreated. Our kids aren't around us all the time and they will inevitably be in situations with people who don't have great intentions. But, we know that it's not right to put our kids in a bubble. In the end, what's more powerful than protecting them, is empowering them to protect themselves.
Lots of aspects of parenting influence this learning. You may already know about things we can do that are directly related to protecting kids from predators. Things like using real words for body parts, talking about the difference between secrets and surprises, and having a no-secrets policy at home are tips you can find in a simple Google search, and I encourage you to do so!
But beyond these direct steps, a family's overall approach to discipline and physicality can be even more influential on kids' comfort with self-advocacy. For this reason, a general focus on body autonomy and acceptance is the biggest gift we can give kids. It empowers them in so many ways!
Even when we're not specifically talking about strangers, private parts, or sex, our parenting can be raising kids who think:
I'm the boss of my body. This is a concept that shows up EVERYWHERE in parenting. When you parent without giving orders or directives, and without getting into power struggles about things you can't control, your child receives this message all day long. How often are you giving your child orders about their body (go to sleep, eat your veggies, come over here, put your coat on...). It's no wonder kids can be compliant when someone tells them to do something they don't want to do with their bodies! This just one of the reasons why parenting with neutral natural consequences. Even when we're talking about something as simple as chores or tantrums, we are teaching our kids about their own agency and power at the same time.
"Stop" or "No" ends things. We all love to wrestle, snuggle, and tickle with kids...and the inevitable part of that game is someones yelling, "stop!" even if they are clearly having a great time with a big smile on their faces. When we honor that request immediately and enforce a boundary that others need to do the same for us, concepts like consent and choice become hardwired for kids from the get-go.
Bodies are just bodies. The more comfortable kids feel with their bodies, the less they feel a need to hide things that have to do with their bodies. This starts with the people in their lives (aka YOU) modeling body neutrality and acceptance. If you're comfortable parading around the house naked, good for you! But even if you're no exhibitionist, you can still model neutrality by skipping any negative criticism of yourself or others' bodies (especially your child's). Do you cover up right away or act embarrassed if you are naked? Cut that out! Talking factually about ourselves and our bodies, in general, is a great example to set for kids. When kids make their funny, but awkward observations about our bodies, just shrug and agree (this, by the way, is how I have become known in our family as 'The Warm Marshmallow').
I know about my body. Have resources around that your kids can look at to learn about bodies, sex, private parts at their own pace and in their own time. You don't necessarily have to sit down and have private part talk every week; having body books mixed in with Goodnight Moon or Huckleberry Finn can go a long way!
I can take care of myself and I'm not alone. Set precedent with your child early on that they can tell you anything, you will believe them and they won't be in trouble. You have to prove this to them! Back it up by believing your child and by not punishing or judging them when you find out about curious, exploratory, or inappropriate things they may have done, whether it's a toddler playing doctor at a friend's house, or a teenager losing their virginity. This is hard, I know!
A child who thinks these things about themselves and the world is in a much better place to handle whatever comes their way.
Empowering kids to protect themselves starts with parents who believe in their child. This is tricky, and it's why I have a job!
Most of us need a little help and a push to switch away from protective parenting and toward belief in our kids. If you know you want to adopt these approaches but can't figure out how to make it happen, set up a free Discovery Call and I'll walk you through it step by step!