Talking to Children: Scary News
A high profile case in your community can leave parents feeling panicked and helpless. It is important to remember that children respond to your tone and your unspoken messages. Instead of having your children worry about the unknown of what is being unsaid, this is a good time to reinforce safety rules and see if there are any new questions that this recent case may bring up for them. Let your children know that you are there to listen and help them solve problems. The ultimate goal is for children to get proactive and reassuring messages from their caregivers with questions instead of seeking out incomplete answers from kids on the playground.
Don’t assume that your child has or has not been a target of this particular offender. Explain that sometimes people break the rules about keeping kids safe and that other grown-ups are going to work hard to make things better for the people that were hurt. Graphic details are NOT helpful for children. Scared kids are not smarter kids.
You can remind your children that most people want kids to grow up healthy and happy, but that there are people out there who do break body safety rules. Sadly, people who break safety rules are usually people we know and often are people that we like.
This is a good time to remind your child that questions about body safety are welcome at any time. If someone does break a body safety rule they have the right to say no and ask for help right away. Even if a child doesn’t say no, because they are scared or confused, it still isn’t the child’s fault and they can still ask for help. Identify with the child the safety net of adults they have in their life that they can go to with a problem. Point out all of the people working to make this particular problem better. Most people want to keep kids safe.
Avoid asking about one particular person. If a specific suspect is brought up by your child and your child has a sudden shift in behavior or brings up past problems with this individual, don’t grill them about details or push for answers. Call the police agency who is investigating the case and ask about having a trained interviewer talk to your child.
If your child does report that they have been abused or targeted:
- Allow the child to talk if they want to, but don’t press for details.
- Report to the authorities.
- Let the child know that they didn’t do anything wrong.
Set the tone for open communication.
Select a comfortable location with minimal distractions, (turn your phone off). Maintain an open, reassuring and calm tone of voice. Let your child know that they are not in trouble, but that this recent case has reminded you that it is important to talk about body and online safety together. “What if” questions are a good way to make sure this connecting opportunity doesn’t turn into a one way lecture. Encourage their “What Ifs” to help cover any ground that they may still have them worried.
- “What if someone you like is the person trying to touch you in a way that you think might be against your body safety rules?”
- “I still have the right to say no and come and tell you. You won’t get mad?”
- “I won’t be mad at you. You are right. We need to pay attention to anyone who tries to get you to break your rules or makes you feel confused/upset, even if it is someone that you like or that I like. It’s hard to say no to people that we know, so even if we freeze and don’t say no, you can still get help.”
- “Do you remember the body safety rules?”
- “My private parts are my own. The only time someone would ever need to touch my private parts is to keep me clean and healthy, like at the Doctor’s office. When that happens, I can ask questions and talk to people about it, because clean and healthy touches are never a secret. Older people don’t need help keeping their bodies clean and healthy, so I shouldn’t be asked to look at or touch private parts of a grown up or older kid.”
- “What if a touch started out feeling clean and healthy and then doesn’t feel that way anymore.”
- “I can move away from a person who is breaking my body safety rules or making me feel uncomfortable. I can come and find you and talk to you about it.”
- “What if I’m not around…..”
Start Early. Keep it up.
Hopefully, your child knows the names for their private parts, how private parts are different from the rest of their body, and that all people have the right to set limits about their bodies. This recent story can be a chance to review and refresh long lasting lessons.
If this is a first-time chat, please know you don’t have to cover everything at once. Bring up conversations and scenarios intentionally, over time, knowing that education is power. Offer book resources to your child so that personal body safety is as accessible to them as preventing any other danger. Wrap up your chats by letting them know they can come to you with questions about things they may hear about this story or other stories so that they can walk around smart and not scared.