According to the Missing Persons Bureau, “A child goes missing every 6 hours in South Africa.”
It is important to be extra vigilant with our children, especially if we are in crowded places, or sharing accommodation with relatives.
We are generally alert and do all we can to protect our children at home, yet we send our little ones mixed messages when we are out in public or when visiting relatives. Children will instinctively shy away from strangers or relatives, not wanting to speak to them and this makes us feel uncomfortable, probably because of the way it reflects on our parenting skills.
We want our children to be well mannered and so we encourage them to greet a friendly stranger oblivious to the fact that in our quest to be good parents we may in fact be making them vulnerable to predators. Make an excuse for your little one if you feel uncomfortable, but by withdrawing your child is intuitively taking the first step in protecting himself. His intuition or “inner voice” is a child’s best tool to protect himself and giving your youngster permission to recognize and act on his instincts immediately is a wonderful gift you can give him for life.
Children should never feel compromised. This includes not having to hug, kiss or sit on a relatives lap, as well as Father Christmas and other fantasy characters. Knowing that you support their choices and that they can go to a toilet and phone you on their cell phone the moment they feel uncomfortable, and that you will act instantly, empowers even a very young child and makes him feel safe in the world, without creating a fear of strangers.
“NO,” is a word that two-year-olds know well and said emphatically can be a powerful tool your child has to defend himself. Encourage your child to say: “NO and STOP” when they are no longer enjoying a game especially with an adult, or if someone touches them.
Empower your child to resist temptation by role playing different scenarios with him where you offer him all kinds of treats that may entice him away from his friends or family, such as puppies, toys, babies, and high tech games. Teach him how to disengage at the first sign of temptation and find you or another adult he knows well.
Emphasise the importance of contacting you before going home with someone from school. It only takes a minute for a teacher or child to phone you or your partner. Children in a safe environment such as school can often act without thinking, and role playing what to do if you are late or not there to pick them up will prevent them from going home with someone they don’t know.
Love and attention from mom and dad protects children from seeking it from other adults; research has shown that girls who have a close relationship with their fathers are less likely to seek attention from other males. Children need to feel connected and so a lonely child will gladly accept the compliments a responsive adult pays them without considering the inherent dangers of the seduction that is happening. The child who is “outgoing and chats to everyone” may in fact not be chatting to his own parents.
We need to take the time to listen to our children and find out what our children need and how we can best fulfill their needs so they don’t turn to others. Empowering and loving your children are the best ways to help protect them when you can’t be there, but so is trusting your own instincts and intuition. Gavin de Becker in his book, ‘Protecting the gift: keeping children and teenagers safe,’ says parents have: “The wisdom of the species.” If it doesn’t feel right it’s not good for your child.
By Claire Marketos
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