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BODY BOUNDARIES -- A SIMPLE WAY TO PROTECT YOUR CHILD AGAINST ANY CHILD PREDATOR.
EMPOWER YOUR CHILD WITH BODY BOUNDARIES
They are around our children every day! They may pick them up from school, they celebrate Christmas and Thanksgiving together, and every other special occasion that happens in their lives. They could be at church, school, in the supermarket or at the mall. They can be in your parks, at the baseball games or football games with their friends, they can be next door or at sleep over’s at someone else’s house. Evil doesn’t wear a sign. It’s doesn’t look a certain way. Sometimes, evil is disguised as trust. But, how can you teach your child that strangers are not the only people who can hurt them? How do you educate them about being safe around the people they love and trust?
Today I watched a special on Oprah that was about pedophiles and how they think and prepare their victims to assault. I wanted to see it so that I could understand more about what signs to look for with children. I’ve completed my Guardian Ad Litem class and am waiting on my first case. I wanted to know everything that I could about how to protect children or recognize certain signs. I realized that it really goes back to what I taught my children. I knew as a mother they needed every advantage to be safe. But, being safe isn’t something that even the perfect parent can guarantee if they are not with their child 24/7. In a perfect world, children should never be victimized. But, yet it happens every day of our lives, According to the National Child Abuse & Neglect Data System (NCANDS), child abuse is reported on an average of every 10 seconds. Children die every day as a result of such abuse. Can you imagine that it happens every 10 seconds?
One sex offender on this show gave one of the best descriptions of what happened to the child as the result of his heinous crime. When asked what he felt about his actions and what happened to the life of the girl he victimized, he said “I took her life and murdered the person she could have been”. What a powerful description. On this panel there was a father, a grandfather, a cousin, and a friend. Talk about covering all aspects of your family and friends. The father molested his own daughter. The grandfather a 5 year old granddaughter, the cousin victimized his family member starting at the age of 7 or 8 and continued for 12 years. The friend targeted 12 year old and early teens. It makes it hard to trust anyone. But, teaching your child to be afraid of everyone or to distrust everyone is not the answer either.
That’s a real problem. How do you tell your child that they need to be careful around family and friends without going over the top and having them afraid to trust anyone? Your goal is not to have your child believe the worse about everyone. But, you do need to teach them that evil does come in all faces, ages and sizes. In order to be the best judge of what is right and what is wrong, you need to establish a boundary system. Children are smart, but they remember simplicity. In order to teach your child, you must be honest with them about why you are teaching them, but you don’t want to go into great, graphic detail.
By establishing what is not appropriate touching, you can eliminate the need to use the graphic explanations. You don’t have to use words like vagina and penis to get your point across. Be simple and use terms they all know. It will make it easy to remember and it leaves no doubt about whether they are in danger of having their body boundary crossed.
We have “stranger danger”, but how do you teach them parent danger, grandpa danger, Uncle Joe or Aunt Karen danger? I don’t know if anyone really knows the answer to that. But, I can tell you a little about what I taught my boys, and nieces that worked. My son’s are now 18 and 20 years old. I also have a 16 year old host daughter from Germany that is with us for a year. I have used the same advice and warning system on her.
I was blessed with wonderful grandparents and family all the way around my life as a child and am blessed that my children were given the same love and support in their grandparents. But, if they weren’t great grandparents, or if we were divorced and our children were going to a different house away from our protection, would they know what to do? Would they be able to defend themselves and more importantly, would they tell you?
I can honestly tell you that I feel that my children would have told me. To this day, I am the person they come to with concerns, when they are ill, when they want to tell me about friends or something from school, work or just to talk in general. When they seen something on the news that they didn’t understand or agree with, we discuss it. You cannot shelter them from everything. They will see a TV, they will hear their friends talk and they may meet someone who will try to exploit them. Before I explain the Boundary System, let me explain some other important key elements to this system.
Key Element 1. LISTEN TO WHAT YOUR CHILDREN SAY and VALIDATE IT
I will always listen to my children when they want to talk, no matter how old they are. Because if you don’t listen when they just want to talk, what makes you think they have faith that you will listen when it is something important like my teacher touched me today? I have protected my boys there whole life and most of the time, they never even knew it. I don’t mean that I was hovering around, jumping out of the corners screaming, stranger danger, stranger danger. I mean, I protected them, because I taught them how to recognize the signs, how to defend themselves if anything ever happened and gave them the confidence to judge other people and feel comfortable when their decision led them to not trust someone. They were protected with their own knowledge, education and confidence. So even when I was away, they still had a level of self protection that other people were not aware of. My boys were smart, and they were good at judging caring people from creepy people. They knew that if you don’t feel comfortable, then you need to move away from them and never, ever, put yourself into a position to be alone with someone you already don’t feel you can trust.
Most important, no matter if you got yourself out of the situation on your own or you enlisted another adult to help you, mommy and daddy need to hear about what happened and how you handled it. You may get information over load about things that are not dangerous, but you have a dialogue and open line of communication. Over their lifetime, they will tell you something that will make you thankful that you listened to every story that was about something, or was about nothing. Either way, you thank them for telling you, and then you praise them for thinking through the situation and using their skills.
It’s important to be able to feel comfortable with your children spending time with family and friends and know that if anything strange happens, they know to trust their instincts. Our policy was “if it doesn’t feel right, it’s wrong” and “when in doubt, call mom and let her make the decision on whether it is safe or not.” There is nothing wrong with questioning something an adult does, especially if mom and dad are not there and it may be putting you in a bad situation. That was really important to start teaching them at the earliest age possible. If they are learning to walk and talk, it’s never too early to teach them to trust their instincts. Our instincts are a built in defense mechanism that is there to warn us and give us a chance to get to safety or make safe choices. You should always praise your child for trusting their instincts.
Key Element 2: MOMMY AND DADDY ARE SUPER HERO’S; AFRAID OF NO ONE AND NOTHING
Here is what I realized as a mother to be. There was nothing in this world that I wouldn’t do to protect my children. I mean nothing. I would take a bullet for them if it came down to my child surviving or me. I believe that every parent who loves their children would pretty much do the same thing.
The next important thing that I taught my children and some people may disagree with this. But, it was important to me. I wanted them to know that mom and dad are bullet proof, knife proof and no one, no matter what they say, can ever hurt us.
No matter what anyone could ever tell them or say about hurting mommy and daddy, we know how to defend ourselves and we know how to protect them. No one could ever hurt us. We were invincible when it came to bad people who try to use hurting mommy and daddy as a reason not to tell us something. The next most important lesson was to let them know that if you don’t tell someone, then that person who is hurting them, will continue to hurt them. They would always use the bad things against them to always try and make them do what they wanted, because that was what bad people did. So that lesson was as soon as you can get away, tell mommy and daddy right away so we can get the bad guy and protect them from ever allowing anything to happen to them.
Key Element 3: USE CODE WORDS AND MAKE IT FUN
We established another rule, code words for pickups.They were taught that if a stranger or someone they knew came to pick them up for any reason, they had to have the code word. Only mommy, daddy and the boys new that word. So, if they came to pick them up at school, they had to have the same code word. They were self protecting when using this. It's about empowering your child to protect themselves. It sounds so simple, just two words. But, those two words may make the difference of them getting in a car with someone for the right reason, or getting in a car where you may never see them again. Our code words were not just any code words. We made them up together. We made them funny and things that no one would think of but us. To give you an example of one of our code words, we used “picking boogers”. I know, it’s gross, but trust me when I say that children remember the weird; and strangers don’t think outside the box like that. They think common and devious. They don’t prepare themselves for people like me or kids like mine, and that is why we had an edge on bad people. We changed the code word every 3 months unless it was used. If we used it because maybe their grandparent picked them up from school unexpectedly, they knew it was ok. They were on the emergency pickup list. But it is still empowering for them to practice using the words. If we used the words, then we would change it so it would be different the next time.
There were times when my parents picked the boys up because I was ill, or had to work late. Before they walked out the door of the office, they would ask them quietly me-maw or pop-pop, what is the code word mommy gave you to pick me up? I never told anyone unless I asked them to pick the boys up. My family supported me and always played along with the children.
Once, my dad decided as a joke to change it. My son grabbed his brother and sat down in the chair at the school and said, we can’t go. My dad realized quickly his mistake and instantly explained that he was just testing them and gave them the real password. But, my son’s instinct was right. I was very proud of him and so was his pop-pop.
Key Element 4: When in doubt and you feel you are in danger… Be Loud and Confident
Children should be taught that when in doubt, and there is no one around that they know can help them, the best defense is to point out your suspicions in the most public and loudest way you can.
When my son’s were little we had to pick their dad up from the Airport. We had hit that age where we were really stressing stranger danger and what to do if someone touched you. My son took it a little more to heart than I realized. My then 4 year old was walking beside me and I was carrying my then 2 year old. While we were walking he stopped and dropped down to one knee to tie his shoelace. There was an older man that was walking towards us and saw that my hands were full and seen him struggling with his lace. I was about to sit down my son and diaper-bag to kneel down but the helpful citizen was quick and got to him before I did.
When he looked up at the man who had said "let me help you with that", he went into full stranger danger mode and began kicking and screaming for all that would hear, “this is my body you’re not my mom you’re not my dad, help, help. I have to admit that we were both quite startled by his outburst, and he did draw a lot of attention to us all very quickly. I did have to explain to a few people that we had just been practicing stranger danger games in the car on the way to the Airport. Thankfully, the older gentleman was kind and somewhat amused after learning why he reacted that way. After thanking him for his kindness, he smiled at us and said, “You did well, I don’t think anyone could try to take this child and get away with it. He has very powerful lungs and some pretty strong kicks. “
Granite, he was in no danger. But, his instincts were right. He only saw this large adult that he didn’t know squat down in front of him and he separated mommy from him. When he touched his shoe, he reacted naturally like we had played in our games. His reaction was fast because we told him that every second counted if someone was trying to harm them. It’s easier to apologize for making a mistake by over reacting than it is to waste precious time that could get someone’s attention and potentially save their life. As you can see, the lessons as strange as they are, do work.
Key Element 5: MAKE IT FUN, MAKE IT MEMORABLE
There are so many opportunities that parents have to teach their children about what is ok and what is not ok when it comes to someone doing something to mislead them or harm them. Time in the car, we played a “What if I was “ games; I would say something like, what if you were walking a long and I was following you, what would you do? Or, what if I stopped you on your way to the bus and told you that your mommy and daddy told me to pick you up today? They got points for right answers and at the end of the week, if they banked 20 points, they redeemed it for a reward like ice-cream at Sonics with Mom and Dad, a trip to the park that weekend for 1 hour, or anything that was rewarding to them for remembering what to do in certain situations. The reward of knowing that they knew what to do was comforting to me and well double rewarding because we were able to spend the extra they earned making memories at the parks or eating ice cream, riding bikes, or even watching planes land at the airport.
THE BODY BOUNDARY SYSTEM
IT’S SO SIMPLE, YOU WILL WONDER WHY WE DIDN’T THINK OF IT YEARS AGO!!!
It’s difficult to broach the subject of a family member or friend hurting them. But, as mentioned above, if you give them Body Boundaries to use then no matter who the perpetrator is, they instinctively know that there are certain areas that are completely off limits to everyone, No Exceptions.
You are going to have to educate them on the fact that sometimes bad people can be people you trust and love. No matter what, no one ever had the right to touch them anywhere on their body that made them feel uncomfortable. So we established body boundaries. .
Kids like it simple, nothing over the top because you lose them really quick when you try to over load them with information. So I decided the best for my kids was to generalize the entire area so that there is no mistake. First we educated them on the never removing their clothes just because someone wanted them too. They knew that they were not to touch other people’s bodies just like they should not allow others to touch their bodies. I decided that they should know what mommy and daddy approved of and did not. That way there would be no doubt if what someone was asking them to do was going to be OK. So, we told them that if a boy or girl, grown up or older person, family or friend, ever asked them to remove their clothes for anything that wasn't going to take their baths or getting out of the pool and changing into dry clothes that it was against the rules. The other thing was that they should respect that they should go to the bathroom or a bedroom alone to change their clothes, unless it was with one of their friends and they were just changing really quick. It sounds like a lot to say, but its not and it's simple. They know the boundaries. They were educated on the dangers of strangers and the dangers of people who pretended they loved you, but were using that love to try and hurt them. Just for the record, no my children did not run away or scream when someone hugged them.
Whether you have little boys or girls, it is all relative with this simple technique. We teach our children to dress, tie shoes, wear hats, coats and gloves. When they start dressing themselves, they start learning immediately what their personal areas are. They know when they go to the potty that we have little names we call them, like for my boys, we would say pee- pee, my sister would say wee- wee for her girls to make it easy to learn. But, what is the first thing you put on when you get dressed? That’s right, the under garments. There starts your new found boundary system.
For boys, it is never ok for ANYONE to touch you anywhere that your underwear covers you. Not the front, not the back and no one should ever ask to see you in your underwear. As you can see, you’re not pointing out people, because you can’t put a face to danger. You put a boundary on your child that he can relate to and there is no question on whether it is right or wrong.
For girls, it is never ok for ANYONE to touch you anywhere that your two piece bathing suit covers. So simple, yet it covers all the areas that are personal and leaves no question as to whether someone is trying to cross the boundary or not. It simply is never ok, for anyone.
The older your children become, the more they learn. This allows them to grow at their own speed. They know what not to allow people to do without making it graphic and ugly. Boundaries are clear lines drawn in the sand that leaves no room for misinterpetation. Our children need to know what their boundary lines are and they need to be empowered to say, NO! I know that is wrong and I don’t care who you are or what you say. You will not do that to me. You do the rest by being their support system, keeping the lines of communication open, teach them in ways that are not obvious that they are learning, keep it simple, fun and most of all, cherish your children knowing that you are empowering them with self confidence, giving them resources to use to be good judges of others intentions. The rest is easy. Stranger danger is still important. Don’t walk away with someone you don’t know, never allow yourself to be alone with an adult that makes you feel uncomfortable, trust your instincts and listen to your body. It will warn you if something is not right and always, always go with your gut. If you feel like it is wrong, it is wrong!
As I mentioned, my boys are now 18 and 20. They definitely considered me over protective. But that was ok with me. You see, the greatest gift I received besides the obvious of being blessed with my sons growing up without trauma in their life is that because they knew what to do and understood the body boundaries when something happened to one of their friends, they instantly recognized that it was wrong. They would come home and always share their concerns. We helped when we could and if we couldn’t, we partnered with the police to help us make sure they were safe. Sometimes, it’s not always about your child, sometimes it’s about the ability to recognize the abuse in someone else. When it comes to children, who better to understand a child, than another child?
The last tip I will leave you with is this. It is one of the most important rules and tip. Never, ever make your child feel that they were wrong for coming to you with anything. Whether you agree or disagree with their concerns, you need to be positive and commend them on coming to you with whatever they want to share. If you judge your child, or make them feel that they were wrong for telling you, or you react with anger, you will lose the biggest opportunity you will ever have to protect your child.
He/she will lose trust and respect in you. They will no longer feel that you will be open to everything they come to you with. They need to know that they will never get in trouble for telling you about what they think, feelings they have or concerns they may have about things that happen to them or their friends. Keep in mind, sometimes the friend they have trusted you with by sharing their worry just may not be a friend, it may be them and they are just testing you to see your reaction before telling you the truth.
Don’t blow the opportunity by being reactive. Breathe, count, do whatever you need to do in order to remain calm. Don’t answer to quickly if you are not certain that what you are going to say is right or the truth. Trust is a hard road to repair.
Our children deserve to be safe. Everything that you do to protect them, educate them and teach them to react on instinct just may give them the edge they need to save their life or the life of someone else one day. This is called confidence.
Don’t make your child afraid. Give them the right resources and options to keep them safe. If they are a good judge of safe and not safe, right and wrong, and good or bad, their confidence and self respect will be higher.
Children with a healthy self respect and confidence about making independent decisions are not the targets for child predators. They prey on the defenseless, those who don’t confide in others and who have low self esteem. Empower your child and teach them body boundaries so the message is clear about what is ok and what is not. The rest is easy. Just love and cherish them!