Thursday, May 26, 2011

How to communicate with your kids

I know this is said all the time but I feel the need to repeat it....keep the lines of communication open with your children.  This is so important.  If you start when they are young, it will be easier in most cases.  I have open discussions with my children about almost everything.  Learn your child's triggers....what they will and won't open up about.  Know the signs that they are internalizing something.  I know it's easier said and done and I know you're child will never truly be open with you about everything.  They do need their privacy as they get older but they should be able to realize what they need to share with you versus what you would like them to share with you.
One important thing I learned last year is that parents do not talk to their younger children about certain things because they think they are too young.  Too young to understand, too young to "tell" or too young for something to happen to them?  All of the above have been given to me for reasons on why they did not discuss certain things with their child.
I have openly discussed many things with my children since they were 3.  This is an age where they are becoming more independent, more social and more curious.  At this point my children were also enrolled in preschool so I knew I had to talk with them because they would have me to supervise them 24/7.  Here are a few things I think you need to speak with your child about at this age:
1. Stranger Danger
2. Inappropriate touching
3. Seeing or hearing things that don't seem right

Let me explain. 
***Stranger Danger is very important for children to know.  There are children who are very welcoming to new people and need to be taught that not every new face is a friend.  My daughter, while shy when meeting new people, had trouble "getting" this one.  We would role play scenarios.  The one we always had a problem with was, "What would you do if someone asked you if you wanted to look at his dog/cat/bunny/etc and it was in his car?".  My daughter would always answer,"Where?! I want to see it!".  Wrong answer. We explained to them that if you didn't know someone you should always find mommy or daddy (someone you know).  You should never talk to a stranger if your mommy or daddy are not with you.  We would discuss that it is important that if you need help then it's ok to talk to a stranger (I know this is hard for them to understand at times).  I make sure they know that if they are in any kind it's ok to go with a police officer or fire person.  I know that sometimes this could be a mistake, but overall it's the right choice.
This advice has gotten my children out of questionable situations more than once.  First time, there was a strange van parked by the end of our long driveway at the end of our dead end street.  My stepdaughter and son were just taking a walk to the end of the drive.  There was a suspicious looking man in the van just watching them.  My stepdaughter said he made her feel very uncomfortable and my son (who was about 5 at the time) said something didn't feel right.  They instinctively knew how to react and came right back to the house.  The van was gone when I went down to check it out. 
Just last Easter a man approached my son at my dad's church's Easter egg hunt.  He just walked up to him, leaned in close to whisper that he liked his haircut.  Weird and so very wrong, right?  Thank goodness someone saw it and told the minister.  It was chaotic out there and only one person noticed it.  The stranger walked off without a care in the world.  No one in the congregation knew who he was.  To this day we don't know if he was a visitor or if he just ambled off the streets.  Scary because who approaches a child that way.

***Inappropriate touching.   I spoke to my children about this at age 3.  Yes, you read that right, age 3.  We discussed privacy even before that.  My children know that no one is ever to see the without their clothes fully on except mommy, daddy or a medical person.  If it's a medical person mommy or daddy will be with them.  No one is ever to touch them in what we call their private sports.  I explained to them that private means something for their eyes only.  It is to be covered because it is for them alone to see.  Obviously, as they get older, we will discuss sex and such.  I've spoken started to ease the way for that conversation with my son but will let my husband handle the more delicate things that is best said between men.  I am very passionate about this subject.  I have family that was abused as children and I will not allow it to happen to my children.  They understand.  I will explain this more in seeing/hearing things that don't seem right. 
Talking about this openly with my children has paid off.  Last year my daughter was eating lunch in the school cafeteria.  She was laughing and having fun with all her friends.  Well, one friend wasn't happy that she wasn't paying him enough attention.  He went under the table and grabbed her private area really hard.  Not only did it hurt but she was mortified.  She knew what he did wasn't right.  She didn't want to get him in trouble but she did the right thing and told the cafeteria aid.  I'm very proud of her.  I know the boy was only 5/6 but he needed to learn you can't touch someone like that.  The school handled it very well and took action to educate and punish.  You have to deal with inappropriate behaviors swiftly and with consequences or a child will continue them.

***Seeing/hearing something that doesn't seem right.  A basic lesson for all kids should be that if something doesn't seem right it probably isn't and you should speak with an adult immediately.  I have given my children guidelines and they know the difference between something that isn't right and tattling.  Yes, it backfires sometimes but better safe than sorry.  I have told my kids that if they are ever threatened by another person (child, adult, I don't care who) they are to get out of the situation and tell me or daddy immediately.  If we are not available they are to tell a trusted adult.  I was very clear in my wording that people will tell them that they were hurt or kill them or their family if they tell.  I told them to agree never to tell if necessary to get out of the situation and then to tell.  Never, never keep it from us.  I told them that once they are with us they are safe and the person threatening them has no power.  There will be know hurting or killing, though I may want to once I find out.  My children have seen how passionate I feel about this.  They need to know I am like a mama lion and will hurt anyone who tries to harm them.
My daughter seems a magnet for these things.  My poor, sweet child.  Just last week one of her friends kept peeking under the bathroom stall at school.  This is most definitely something that doesn't seem right.  Especially after we've discussed privacy rules and how to handle situations. My daughter asked her to stop  several times.  Finally, she was left no choice but to tell her teacher.  In my book, it doesn't matter who is looking under a bathroom is wrong period.
My son has had some issues too.  First, earlier this year in the school bathroom.  (These places are a danger zone for kids.)  Him and another friend went to use the bathroom.  A kid from another class, same grade was in there.  He threatened to beat them up.  My son knew that he had to tell the teacher and did so.  Just this week, a student in his class was talking trash about him to my daughter during an assembly.  Saying all sorts of nasty stuff.  It's not the first time but we tried turn the other cheek.  I'm done with that.  It's bullying plain and simple.  This child put my daughter into the mix and that was the end of that.  A note went to school with details and the teacher called me.  It was very helpful another classmate overheard and told my son what was going on.  I heard it from them both at the dinner table.  Story was confirmed as true and now the school is dealing with it.  Kudos for my kids for standing up for themselves and one another.
And finally, the big one that happened this weekend.  My daughter went to a friend's house after school Friday.  She's been there many times without an incidents.  She was supposed to be home at 6:30 but the mom sent me a text and asked if she could go with them to her sister in laws house because the girls were having such a great time.  I thought nothing of it and said ok.  I thought it was the sister in law I had met before and who's daughter's my daughter gets along with great.  I learned a lesson there...verify where your child is going.  Still, I know the mom is very vigilant and responsible when it comes to my daughter.  She treats her like her own.  When my daughter got out of the car it seemed like all was good.  I found out differently minutes after we came inside.  She told me how her friend's older brother (he's 12) and the cousin (girl 11) were watching something inappropriate on tv.  I had her go through the whole story.  The older kids were in the parents bedroom watching the Lady Gaga concert.  The girls were sneaking in to spy on them.  Typical kid things.  The first time they were chased out something was on the screen that was partially blacked out.  I've never seen it so I'm not sure which scene this is.  Both girls saw that before they were told to leave.  Then they snuck back.  Only my daughter saw the tv this time, her friend was behind her.  They must have switched channels and my daughter saw a woman going down on a man.  It was obvious on how she explained it.  No 6 year old can make something like that up.  She said a woman was kissing and licking a man's pee pee.  And it was disgusting, she said.  She knew it was something she shouldn't see.  I guess the cousin told her not to tell or she'd be in trouble.  We still haven't sorted that whole part out.  I'm so glad she listened to me and came to me with it.  I believe my response showed her that she can always come to me and I will take care of it.  Nothing bad will happen to her or me.  I'm so proud of her because I know she was uncomfortable, worried and scared, but she did the RIGHT thing.  I spoke with the friend's mom and she was horrified.  She handled it and I know it's not her fault or something that goes on in her house.  We all learned a tough lesson that day.  I'm thankful that my daughter doesn't seem scarred from the experience.  I'm thankful my husband took it well when I told him and didn't rip someone's head off.  I'm glad the mother listened and took action.

In the end the message is always the to your children about these tough subjects.  They need to be prepared on how to react if and when something like these incidents come up.  Trust me, they will be in one of these unfortunate positions at some point in their lives.  Give them the tools to respond properly to them.  When the grabbing incident happened to my daughter I was horrified that most of my friends told me they had never even thought to talk to their children about this.  I'm saddened by this.  The earlier they know the better.  There are so many children being abused in different ways and it's usually by someone they know.  Trust me, I know this to be true.  Please speak with your children.  It can cause you and, most importantly, them a lot of heartache.

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