The holidays are upon us which for many means spending time with family and friends, and enjoying the season together. This time of year presents a great opportunity for us as adults to take a few extra steps to ensure our children are as safe as possible.
Statistics show that about 90% of all children who are sexually abused, are abused by someone the family and child knows and trusts. Given this statistic, it is important that we take a few simple steps to create safe environments – namely safety in numbers and respecting children’s boundaries. The encouraging news is these steps are non-confrontational and can be implemented by various caregivers.
During a holiday gathering, two cousins with a significant age difference go to watch a movie together in the basement. How might you minimize the opportunity that something could go wrong? Safety in numbers. Are there other cousins that could watch the movie with them? Could they watch in a more visible/accessible location? Can someone pop in every once in a while to make sure they don’t need anything?
Over winter break, your child’s music/sports coach offers additional private lessons. How might you minimize the opportunity that something could go wrong? Safety in numbers. Are there other students that could practice with them? Are they practicing in a visible/accessible location? Can someone pop in every once in a while to make sure they don’t need anything?
We want children to have healthy and affirming relationships with the adults in their lives, but when we have situations where adults and children or significant age difference children are secluded one on one, the risk for abuse increases. Simple ways to ensure we are creating a safe environment is to set the standard that children will not be alone with an adult or a much older child/youth. Maybe ask for another adult or a few children to tag along. Another solution is to ensure one on one time is observable. Keep in mind, it’s not about accusing anyone of potentially harming your child, but rather eliminating the opportunity for something to happen.
During a holiday gathering, great aunt Sally asks for a kiss from your young child. Your child hesitates and hides behind your leg. How might you handle the situation? Respect children’s boundaries. Can you ask if he/she would give a high five instead? Can you suggest that maybe he/she will warm up later? Can you comment on your child’s development – he/she is going through a shy phase lately?
Over winter break, your child and their friend are having a tickle “fight”. They are laughing and having fun, but then the friend says, “Stop!” and your child continues to tickle. How might you handle the situation? Respect children’s boundaries. Can you remind your child to listen to their friend’s words? Can you teach your child to recognize the change in facial expressions or body language? Can you redirect the children to another activity and revisit later with your child?
Most of the time, adults/children who cross boundaries may not realize they are doing it. A great example is when a child clearly states, in either words or actions, they are not comfortable with something and we essentially force the child to do it anyway - ignoring the fact that the child has set a boundary and we have stepped completely over it. This sends a very mixed message to children about their bodies. It’s confusing for a child who doesn’t want to have physical contact with someone, for any reason, to have other trusted adults invalidate their feelings and force that contact. Conversations around respecting boundaries are really about consent. When we hear someone say things like “No” or “Stop” we need to honor that request. Even if a few moments ago they may have been laughing as well. Use these moments as catalysts for conversations about how we recognize someone is not ok with what is going on. Did they stop laughing? Was there a change in their facial expression? How can they recognize there has been a shift in their level of comfort? Having open and direct conversations about boundaries with their own bodies and the boundaries of others, and giving children language and skills to manage situations in a respectful and healthy way, is a building a protective factor that will serve them now and beyond.
This is a special time of year for many. Taking a few extra steps can go a long way in creating safe environments for children and youth. Enjoy your holidays, have an extra cookie, play with your kids and celebrate the love of family and friends. Happy Holidays from the staff at Illuminate Colorado.