iPhones, texting, YouTube…we seem to be a technology-dominated society. Of course, at 42 years old, I am probably a bit insecure in these high tech times, since the first time I ever turned on a computer was in college! Don’t get me wrong, I am a definitive fan of technology as it aids me in my business, in keeping up with my kids’ whereabouts, and in providing research at my fingertips…not to mention great recipes at a moment’s notice. But when it comes to protecting our children from child predators, detection is key and there is no technology in the world that is more valuable than feelings that stir inside of you and your child—TRUST YOUR GUT!
When I used to work in private practice as a counselor, it was always my preference to work with the preschool and early elementary aged children. Most of my colleagues thought I was nuts! But what I found was that these precious youngsters had not yet developed the defense mechanisms that so many of us, as we grow older, consciously or even subconsciously hold onto. Their emotions were pure and their actions in play therapy were so telling. Most of all, in most cases their gut instincts were “dead on” when dealing with potential or existing harm. So many of these children had a “stomach ache,” “butterflies in my stomach” or “felt icky” around certain people, no matter the level of trust they had for that adult or older individual. The problem in the majority of those situations? Parents did not recognize their child’s gut instinct or, worse yet, they told their child “that’s silly” and moved on.
Detecting danger and protecting children from the most sinister of criminals is most effective when we clearly see that making changes “from the outside in”—fighting for more stringent laws, battling the internet industry, or ensuring that your child’s school/camp performs background checks on all who come into contact with your child—is only HALF the battle. Even more effective is implementing changes in our own lives and the lives of our precious children “from the inside out”—fueled by open and honest communication with our children, as well as a respect for your child’s own gut feelings.
According to recent statistics that can be found on numerous child advocacy websites, every 11 seconds a child is abused. In more than 90 percent of child abuse cases, child predators are people you and your child know. Even scarier, they are people you trust. A minister, the dentist, your kid’s soccer coach and, in my case—my now ex-husband.
There are “red flag” behaviors that even the most trusted of potential predators will often display that trigger “that uncomfortable feeling in the pit of our stomach.” But are you listening? And, even more importantly, are you teaching your child to listen to their gut as well? Here are a few key tips for parents of Preschool and early elementary children on how to Trust Your Gut…and your child’s gut, too:
• Communicate! Chat with your young kids about their relationships with trusted adults. Sit down to play, name your child’s toys/dolls with known trusted adults’ names, then gauge your child’s responses or reactions to these “characters.” These are not formal “sit down” sessions designed to scare your kids; rather, these are open dialogue opportunities in casual play situations.
• Play the Circle Game with your young child. Walk outside and have your child stand in the driveway. Using sidewalk chalk, draw three concentric circles around him or her. Explain that these are the circles of comfort. The outside circle is for strangers. The middle circle includes friends, schoolmates, teammates and close family members. The inner circle—or “personal circle”—is always within your child’s own control. Explain to your child that he/she decides who comes into that circle—close enough for a hug—and who does not. This game is a great way to empower your young child to control what goes on in his/her personal circle!
• Teach children, at any age, the difference between a welcome and an unwelcome touch. Talk openly about “places on your body where your bathing suit covers” and be sure to use anatomically correct names for your child’s private parts. Stress with your child that no matter whom the trusted adult is, if the touch is unwelcome, it is okay to say “no” and get out of the situation.
• Always believe your child if they tell you or their play/acting out suggests that they have experienced an unwelcome touch. If we are promoting “trust your gut” it is vital that we respect and trust our kids’ guts as well. Emphasize that your family does not keep secrets and that your child has done nothing wrong.
• Recognize that talking to your young child about “stranger danger” is not enough. Besides, most child predators are NOT strangers to the victim.
• Check out the wide array of resources available to help parents “trust their gut” with great tools, tips and even kid-friendly sites to better communicate with kids about child predators:
American families are part of a raging epidemic. The epidemic, however, is not that there are more child predators in our country or that child predators have greater access to our kids via technology. The epidemic is that parents are AFRAID TO TALK TO KIDS ABOUT THIS TOPIC. Whether you are concerned this topic will scare them, uncomfortable speaking openly about their body parts or just plain foolish enough to think that this only happens to “other people’s kids,” it is time to talk now!
Child predators are like fire ants. When you apply fire ant killer on your lawn, the ant predators are in danger. When the Queen or her colony suspects that your yard is no longer a safe option for them to live and feed, they will move to the next safe yard to continue their evil deeds. Interpretation? If you openly communicate and maintain an open and safe environment for children to “trust their gut,” your child is no longer a viable victim and the child predator will move on.
Just imagine if we all empowered our children, even the youngest ones, to detect, communicate and trust their gut…the possibilities are endless!
Darlene Ellison, M.S. is the author of “The Predator Next Door…Detect, Protect and Recover from Betrayal.” She is the proud mother of two and her story, as the ex-wife of a child predator who was arrested in a major FBI sting operation in 2005, has been featured across the country. More information about her story, her book and her presentations is available atwww.darleneellison.com. Her book can be ordered on her site or atwww.amazon.comand is filled with valuable parent resources/tips.