The moment my kids came into my life, a mama bear instinct awoke with a fierce and protective growl. I intuitively knew the fragility of that tiny baby, and wore with great weight the responsibility of protecting my child. I didn’t sleep a wink in the first few weeks of my daughter’s life. She slept all the time, but I couldn’t overcome the constant pull to check on her. It was the kind of thing that didn’t allow for any rest. It was crazy. Praise God the intensity of those first few weeks didn’t sustain!
As she’s aged (and I’ve had another child), I’ve mellowed some, but I’ve discovered that there are always new, exciting things to be uneasy about when it comes to protecting my children. Yay to the reality of an imperfect world! When talking to other moms, the safety topic that seems to come up most is related to child care. How did you find your sitter? What have you heard about this child care program? Do you know anyone else who sends their child there?
Leaving a child in the care of another is one of the hardest things to do, and yet we all must do it at some point. Rather than be overwhelmed, or get stuck in a rut of worrying, I’ve learned to be as practical as possible in my approach to protecting my children, and I’d love to share those practical steps with you.
Embrace the harsh realities.
The realities of child endangerment are ugly, but putting our heads in the sand to avoid those realities is not a solution. If you want to take an active role in protecting children, you need to know some things about the enemy. In no particular order, here are some terrible stats that I’ve learned to embrace as reality.
1 out of 3 girls and 1 out of 5 boys will be sexually abused before they reach age 18. (dosomething.org)
90% of child sexual abuse victims know the perpetrator in some way; 68% are abused by family members. (americanspcc.org)
Child abuse occurs at every socioeconomic level, across ethnic and cultural lines, within all regions and at all levels of education. (amercianspcc.org)
It is estimated 160,000 American children miss school every day due to fear of bullying. (americanspcc.org)
83% of girls and 79% of boys report experiencing harassment. (anti-bullying institute.org)
64% of children who were bullied did not report it. (anti-bullying institute.org)
75% of shooting incidents at school have been linked to bullying and harassment. (anti-bullying institute.org)
This stuff is awful. Think of all the kids you know in your neighborhood and at your kid’s school. Statistically speaking, someone is going to harm an unfair number of them. And it’s not going to be a robber or a random kidnapper. It’s going to be a neighbor, a babysitter, another kid at school, a relative, or a supposed friend. It’s going to be someone who wins trust and sees vulnerability as opportunity.
For those of you who’ve never really thought about this, don’t get overwhelmed. Worry and overwhelm are wins for the enemy. These facts, while scary, do not mean that everyone is out to get our kids. And it’s important that we don’t get so bogged down in the horrible what if’s that we give up on practical steps to protecting our children.
Trust my intuition and stand by it.
Sometime ago we were talking to another Christian couple about safety and how to decide who to trust. They recommended a book by Gavin De Becker, entitled Protecting the Gift. I ordered the book that night, and am so glad that I did.
A true expert in the arena of threat-assessment, De Becker offers so many great insights and resources. I highly recommend his book. For me, the main takeaway was to trust my instinct. If I’m having an internal response to a person or a situation, it’s happening for a reason. Trusting that response and taking action could absolutely be the difference in protecting myself or my child.
I was recently at the zoo with both my kids. There’s a new splash ride that looks like a lot of fun, but we had a little dilemma. My daughter is not tall enough to ride it on her own, and my son is too small to ride it at all. As we walked away from the ride, a young man approached me. “My wife will hold your son while you and your daughter go on the ride.” The wife was standing about 20 feet away, holding a baby. Something about the guy immediately gave me a bad feeling. What’s crazy is that I felt really rude saying no, but I did say no. I shouldn’t have felt rude at all. Leaving my child with someone who I do not know is not something I would do, but social circumstances have a way of creating certain pressures.
I have realized that I care less about being rude than I do about protecting my child.
Do my research.
My neighbor’s babysitter seems really nice and good with the neighbor kids.
All of my friends send their kids to the daycare down the street.
The elementary school we’re zoned for has great ratings.
These are the kinds of things I think to myself and want to take at face value. Simply trusting the decisions made by others doesn’t really help me protect my children. If I want to protect my children, I have to do my research.
For sitters, I always check backgrounds, call references, and perform in-person interviews.
At this time, we do not take our kids to daycare. If I did, I would confirm their credentials with the state. I would confirm that proper background checks are performed, that staff is monitored, and ask to review policies for procedures like changing diapers and nap routines.
When sending my kids to elementary school, I will check the school’s site for their safety policy. How do they handle the suspected threat of violence? Is there a parent-participant safety council? What is the restroom policy? How do they handle bullying? Can I expect to be notified about any of the above issues?
When it comes to my child’s safety, it’s not enough to assume that others have done the research I ought to be doing for myself and my children.
Participate in building a safe environment.
We are in the midst of writing a family safety plan. We already have some of the elements in place, but we want something that is clearly outlined in one, central location.
All members of the family are not always on the same page. Oftentimes, my husband and I don’t even realize we assumed different things until a situation arises. We are currently putting together a family plan for exactly this reason.
Elements of our plan include: Emergency contacts; What information our kids need to memorize (For toddlers, 911 and our last name. When they are older, our phone number and address); Who can be responsible for personal routines with the children (like changing their clothes, taking them to the potty, giving them baths, putting them to sleep); How to handle sleepovers (Who can sleepover at our house? Do we allow the kids to sleepover at other places?); Pool safety; We do not keep secrets; What to do if you get separated from mom and dad in a public place like the grocery store.
As a part of building a safe environment, I want to make sure that our school is a safe place. If the school where I’m sending my children does not have a robust safety plan, I will volunteer to the Principal to help in establishing a parent-involved safety council. This does not need to add more work to the school’s already over-burdened staff, but can serve to support the ultimate goal of safety for all children. It might even be organized through an existing parent-teacher association (PTA).
Regarding caretakers, we have standards. Those who care for our children know what decisions they can make in the day to day moments, and what decisions need to be run by mom or dad.
We make sure they know what the kids can and cannot eat, what the kids’ routines are, and what is the particular safety concern for that stage in life (like opening baby gates for a toddler). Perhaps most importantly, we try to make it clear that reaching out to us is never a bother. Open communication is always better.
Talk to my kids.
I want my children to know they can come to me with anything. I will not be shocked by or mad at them. If they do something wrong, they know that I will always forgive them. If someone else makes them feel icky, it is always safe to tell me.
I’m taking care to foster this with them by talking to them about all sorts of things. I ask them about their days, about what they liked or didn’t like. When we leave playdates, we talk about how things went.
Just the other day there was a little girl at the pool who wouldn’t give my daughter’s toy back to her. At first it was no big deal, I redirected my daughter to another toy. But eventually it was kind of a big deal. The girl kept taunting my daughter, dangling the toy and snatching it away. Eventually, we were ready to leave and the little girl still refused to give the toy to my daughter or me. I had to get her mother and request intervention. On our drive home, I talked to my daughter about what it made her feel like for that little girl to take her toy. We talked about how some friends don’t always place nicely and what we can do in those situations.
I’m trying to give my kids the words to talk about things like that so they have the foundation for bigger discussions in the future, when emotions will be heightened and problems with friends are more complicated.
As a part of talking with our kids, we clearly use the correct language related to their body parts. We talk to them about covering their private parts, and about the only times it’s appropriate for them to be uncovered.
We make it clear that we do not keep secrets from each other, and that nobody should tell them to keep something secret from mom or dad.
I recently heard on a podcast that it’s better to talk to your kids about “tricky people” than “stranger danger.” Stranger danger actually implies that the only people they should be cautious of are strangers, when statistics clearly argue otherwise. Tricky people more accurately describes people who might make them uncomfortable or try to be tricky about a situation.
God is real. He loves me, and he wants what is best for me. Spending time with him in prayer is one of the greatest tools for protecting my children. I pray with my children and on my own. We pray for their safety and well-being. I pray for guidance, for his direction of my intuition. I trust God’s hand on my heart.
Those are my practical steps for protecting my children. I hope this is helpful information, but please know these are my steps and they are not necessarily comprehensive.
If you are interested in learning more about how to protect your children, or what to do if you suspect abuse, including bullying, please look into some other resources. I encourage you to trust your instincts and to take action. If you are unsure of who to contact, the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence free hotline is (800)500-1119.
American Society for the Positive Care of Children americanspcc.org
Darkness to Light https://www.d2l.org/
More information about stranger danger vs. tricky people here.
Safely Ever After safelyeverafter.com