This series is in response to Where’s My Parenting Script?! Please check back each Wednesday in the month of August for more tips.
Hi OKC moms! As I was reading Katie’s recent blog post on her call for parenting scripts for tough safety topics, I found myself relating to those questions on many levels. As a mom of two young children and a professional working in the field of child trauma, these issues are often on my mind. I also resonated with the authentically described journey of going through new parenting stages ourselves as our kiddos hit new life stages. It can feel at times that about the time we get a good handle on one stage, our kids are off to the next one. The beauty and challenge of parenthood is that it never ceases to grow and challenge us in new ways. New stages naturally bring up a whole set of new questions and uncertainties in the parenting department. It is common that this in turn will bring forth mom anxieties as we navigate the new terrain. And let’s be honest in our media and social media culture today, it seems we are regularly educated on each and every way our child could possibly die or be damaged. This creates additional challenges for our generation of parents as our exposure on safety issues is on overload. So how do we do take advantage of this unprecedented level of awareness on these topics to reduce risk while raising strong, empowered, resilient kids? I think it’s possible and through this series, I hope to share some of my knowledge and experiences to provide practical tips on a few of the “big” safety topics. To get us started here are 5 tips to empower and equip you on tackling safety topics with your kids:
1) Take advantage of free resources: There are lots of free excellent guides online on age appropriate ways to talk about important safety topics. They often have ideas for language to use and what to teach at different ages. In this generation of raising kids, media can be a foe but it can also be a friend; take advantage of the positive benefits of the easy access to resources. (Stay tuned in this series for a few recommendations as we explore a few of the “big” topics.) As pointed out in Where’s My Parenting Script?! there are lots of great books at your library that can also kick start the conversation.
2) Start the conversation: Most parents just aren’t sure how to jump out there with such serious topics. I find a calm, matter of fact demeanor is the way to go. I often start our safety talks with statements like “Now that you’re getting older it’s important for kids to know about…” My oldest is in the stage of relishing the idea of being a big kid and starting conversations this way grabs her attention but this statement can really work as they get older too. A natural time for us to talk is before bed and nap time when we are sitting together reading books and talking anyways. Car rides are another time I find we are having conversations on various topics and its fine to use your commute to work in some of the info. Also look for other natural times to bring up topics as situations come up. Know it’s okay that if your child asks a question you’re not sure how you want to answer in the moment, say something like “that’s a good question, I want to think about that…” It’s okay to take time if you want to gather your thoughts or find the answer! Don’t feel like you need to be the expert to start the dialogue.
3) Keep the dialogue going: To really reinforce the info, especially with young kids, it won’t be a one and done conversation. You will continue to talk about it and find natural ways to keep reinforcing the themes in day to day life. Sometimes with teens they start to appear pretty self-sufficient and it’s easy to overlook continuing to talk with them about safety topics that relate more to their age like internet safety, suicide prevention, etc. Starting age appropriate conversations at younger ages sets the stage for open dialogue that can continue as they grow. Remind yourself you don’t need to have every conversation right off the bat, you will layer in new ones at new stages and as new situations require.
4) Be creative with what works for you and your child: I remember growing up, I was a pretty shy child and even the idea of talking with my own mother about topics related to sex or the female body was not something I was interested in (despite her well intentioned attempts). My mom and older sister decided to provide me my education in this area by planning question and answer sessions they would have with each other when I was in the car with no escape route and I had to overhear. We would laugh even at the time but it still accomplished the goal of my primary education in the matters coming from home and kept it light-hearted.
5) Make it fun: Speaking of light-hearted, it’s okay to make it fun! In fact if you want to keep kids engaged, make it fun! With young kids you can make it fun to quiz them on what you’re discussing, give high fives for right answers, etc. For example, my husband and I became concerned he wouldn’t see our daughter when backing his truck into the garage. This thought occurred after she ran with enthusiasm around the house and out of my sight in two seconds flat when she heard his truck pulling up one day. He decided we needed to do some practical training in our driveway about vehicle safety. She had so much fun as they practiced and rehearsed with her power wheels truck where she should be and what she should do when she is near a moving vehicle. That was over a year ago and she still remembers the info and follows the plan.
A truth we have to grapple with as parents is that we cannot totally eliminate risks, but we can be proactive in empowering our children by equipping them with important knowledge and life skills on these issues.
Stay tuned for more posts in this series covering specific information on parenting scripts on prevention related to sexual abuse, bullying and substance use.
Heather Askew is a fellow metro area mom and a Licensed Clinical Social Worker that specializes in working with children and families impacted by trauma. She was born and raised in Oklahoma and moved to the metro area to attend college. She married her high school sweetheart and they have two of the best kids in the world. She is passionate about the joys and struggles of intentional living, matters of faith and the heart of parenting.