Keeping Kids Safe From Sexual Predators

Safety advice from Pattie Fitzgerald.

Have you had a horrible feeling in the pit of your stomach lately, too? As a parent, it’s difficult to make it through any news story about child molestation, but this latest round of headlines, detailing the criminal acts committed by two teachers at the same elementary school in California, has been especially troubling. It’s left me wondering…am I doing enough to protect my child at school? What red flags should I be on the lookout for? And how I can teach my kids about personal body safety in a way that still lets them feel comfortable in their bodies? For help answering these tough questions, I asked Pattie Fitzgerald, acclaimed safety expert and author of the children’s book, No Trespassing – This Is MY Body!, for some practical tips both parents and kids can use. –Jacqueline, TMC Web Content Producer

Tips for Keeping Kids Safe From Sexual Predators

For Parents:

1. Be a Visible Parent. Since one of the biggest deterrents to child predators is the possibility of getting caught, it’s critical to send the message to teachers and coaches that you are involved in your child’s life, both at home and at school. You don’t always need to be the room mom, but take time to introduce yourself and let your child’s teacher know that you are aware of what happens in the classroom. Say something along the lines of, “Katie and I talk about your class every day! She loves telling me all about her day!” This is innocuous if the person you’re talking to has nothing to hide, but can put an “unsafe adult” on short notice. Every so often, you may want to pop in unannounced to class, a little early or late, to say hi or drop something off. This doesn’t mean being a helicopter parent — it’s just a way to demonstrate that you are aware and involved.

2. Ask Savvy Questions. Parents who stay tuned in to their child’s day-to-day activities at school are better equipped to notice warning signs when something unusual happens. Rather than ask the guaranteed-to-get-to-get-you-nowhere, “Tell me what you did at school today?”, get in the habit of asking more probing questions such as, “What are three great things that happened at school today and three not-so-great things?” or “I’ll tell you three things I did at work today and you tell me three things that you did at school today.” This is a great game to play at dinner time!

3. Trust your radar! Approximately 90% of child sexual abuse is committed by someone the child knows and has a trusted, established relationship with — not by a stranger. A parent’s radar should go up if anyone tries to develop a special relationship with your child, using excessive favoritism, a lot of flattery, gift-giving, lots of energy or attention that also includes their spending “alone time” with the child. For example: teachers, coaches, tutors, etc. should not be offering to provide transportation for one child or take them on special outings that exclude you. They shouldn’t be offering to “relieve” you of some parental duty, especially for free, if it means they need to be alone with the child. Remember, a coach or teacher doesn’t take your child to the beach, or out to dinner, or shopping, or to the movies. He/she doesn’t invite your child to spend the night at their house by using it as an excuse to go to an early outing the next day. It’s part of the grooming process, and it slowly blurs the boundaries, putting a child in a possibly risky environment. If you do catch any of this happening in your child’s life, trust your own “uh-oh feelings” and speak up! Safe grown ups will apologize for any misunderstanding and work to rectify the situation. Unsafe grownups may try to undermine or marginalize your concerns. In this case, don’t ignore the warning signs and take action. Your children — and many other children and their parents — will thank you!

For Kids:

1. No secrets! One of the most common tactics sexual predators employ to keep their young victims silent is to tell them that what happened is a special secret or secret game. To stop this kind of manipulation in its tracks, starting from a very early age, set up a family system of not keeping secrets. Your children need to hear from you directly that if an adult ever tells them to keep a secret or play a secret game, they need to tell you right away — and they will never, under any circumstances, get in trouble for doing so.

2. Who’s the Boss? Children must know that they are “the boss of their bodies.” That simply means that their body belongs only to them, and that no one should try to play an uncomfortable or “yucky” touching game with them. Especially with their “bathing suit areas” or “private parts” of their body. This is especially important at swim or other sports lessons where you may not be around. Talk to your child beforehand and make sure he or she knows to immediately alert you (or another parent they know or lifeguard) if anyone tries to play a “touching game”.

3. Trust Your Uh-Oh Feelings: Even very young children have that little voice inside them that tells them, “uh-oh, something is not right here.” Let your child know that it‘s okay to trust these uh-oh feelings. Try something the lines of , “If your tummy feels kind of weird or you have a little voice inside you that tells you ‘this doesn’t feel right’ or ‘run’ or ‘get closer to Dad/Mom’ then listen to it.” We don’t want to raise rude children, but we do want to raise children who are able to speak up and say “No!” when their uh-oh feelings tells them that something is wrong.

4. Review The Safety Rules with your kids often. These are simple “do’s & don’ts” that will help empower them and make them less vulnerable to a predator’s tricks. For example… Safe grown ups don’t ask kids for help! I don’t have to be polite when someone does something that makes me feel scared or uncomfortable! These are two of the Super 10 Safety Rules for Kids and Grownups, a set of kid-friendly ground rules for personal body safety we use in the Safely Ever After Program. As children begin attending preschool and kindergarten, it’s a great time for them to learn these commonsense safety basics. You can find the rest of them here. As parents we have the power to protect our children.   It just takes a little “safe-smarts”!

Pattie Fitzgerald is the founder of Safely Ever After, Inc. and is recognized as a leading expert in the field of childhood sexual abuse prevention education. She is certified as a Child Safety Educator and Child Visitation Monitor, and has been working in the field of child advocacy for over ten years. As a former preschool teacher, Pattie blends her expertise as an educator and, more importantly as a MOM, to teach parents and kids every where the most effective, up-to-date safety strategies WITHOUT using fear tactics.

The Mother Company aims to support parents and their children, providing thought-provoking web content and products based in social and emotional learning for children ages 3-6. Check out the first episode of our children’s series, “Ruby’s Studio: The Feeling Show,” along with our beautiful children’s booksmusichandmade dolls, and more.  We want to be a truly helpful parenting tool… For you!

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