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Keeping children safe

Yes, children need to be aware of ‘strangers’ but they are not the only people that are necessarily dangerous to your child.

The concept of ‘stranger danger’ fails to acknowledge that many children are exploited and abused by people they know and trust. However, we don’t want children to feel that they have no-one to trust.

Instead, it is more important to teach children life skills and equip them with the confidence and awareness to navigate certain situations. Ensure that your child knows they can always tell you anything that makes them feel unsure or unsafe, regardless of who made them feel this way (i.e. a friend, a neighbour, a family member).

People with ill intentions tend to find or befriend children that appear vulnerable. For example, children with single parents, children with parents working long hours, children with minimal parental supervision.

It is important to start  developing age appropriate conversations with your child  that is appropriate to their age and understanding.

Younger children, up to 6 years old, may become fearful and not understand the difference between safe and unsafe environments, whereas older children may be more aware of this.

Start having conversations with your child about personal boundaries and safety. Give them skills to build resilience rather than fear of speaking up. Teach them that it is their body and personal space and empower them to move away or remove them selves from the situation if they feel uneasy.

Use simple language that children understand.

Avoid scaring children with graphic details or situations that may overwhelm them.

Focus on building trust and communication – let them know they can always speak to mum with any question they have at any time.

Important topics of conversation to have with your child

Tickling: Speak to your child about people that make them feel ‘icky’ or uncomfortable. Let children know that they should never be touched in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable by other people. If someone is ‘tickling’ them more than they are comfortable with encourage your child to tell you.

Too much attention: It may also be a longer hug or someone asking them personal questions about themselves (i.e. do you have a boyfriend/girlfriend). Or even given them more attention than they give other children in the family.

The more awareness you have, the more you are able to protect them.

Keeping secrets: Sometimes people will ask your child to keep secrets from you (their parent/guardian). They may say “don’t tell anyone we are playing a special game”, “don’t tell mum that I am giving you a treat/money/toy”.

Let children know that no adult should be asking them to keep a secret from their parent.

Changing rules: Sometimes a person will try to change rules you have set for your child. For example; ‘your mum said it was okay if you came with me to the shop’ or ‘your mum said it was okay for me to pick you up today and take you home’.

They may invite your child to their home (i.e. I just need to stop by my place before I take you home, your mum knows and said it is fine) or ask them to go somewhere with them.

If you have rules about who and where your child can go, make sure they know that you will tell them if you every change this and they should speak with you before they go with someone (even if it is someone they know)

Making them scared: Certain people may make your child feel uncomfortable or scared. They may say “if you don’t come, you will be in lots of trouble” or “if you come with me, I won’t tell your mum you skipped school”.

Not respecting their feeling: If anyone ignores your child’s personal space or gets to close or does not listen when they say no, it is important to make sure they know they can and should tell you this.

Have a conversation with your child that they can trust you, a teacher, police, or another trusted adult and to tell someone if they ever feel unsafe. It is important that children know you will listen and believe them.

Activity to do with your child.

How our body feels when we are not safe: Do an activity with your child to help them identify signs that they may feel in their body. Cover things such as feeling shaky, heart racing fast, butterflies in tummy, crying, feeling frozen, feeling scared or unsure.