The safety net

The safety net

Uncomfortable situations

The safety net

The growing-up years of a child are of utmost importance in shaping them and when something traumatic happens, it is important to keep the communication open. In the light of a 4-year-old girl child being assaulted at a summer camp in the city recently, Bengalureans talk about how to educate young children about staying alert and keeping themselves safe.

Choosing a safe environment for one’s children is the parents’ responsibility, says Sudhakar Kamath, a businessman. Father of 3-year-old Abhimanyu, Sudhakar says, “Children need to be taught that there are 2 types of danger — inanimate and animate. As an adult, one knows the people they are around and those their children are exposed to. An adult has the discretion to identify who is not worth associating with. Explaining about these people in a low yet firm tone can make the children understand that.”

Sudhakar adds that keeping the environment safe for children is the best option. “Avoiding a situation is best than dealing with things later. When children have to be elsewhere, they should be guided to stay with their friends and people the parents are familiar with and not socialise with strangers,” he says.

Parents like Sharmista BS, a homemaker, make sure that she or her family is around when her 4-year-old daughter Arushi mingles with others. “I have told her that sitting on other people’s laps is inappropriate and that she shouldn’t accept goodies from strangers.” She adds that while no one can be trusted blindly these days, she has clearly explained to Arushi about who can touch where. “Children tend to forget things easily and it is important to remind them these on a weekly basis. Also raising an alarm when a situation arises has to be communicated in a clear manner.”

Sharmista adds that stress needs to be placed on what children watch on television too. “While there are many educational videos and movies, not all of them including cartoons are safe for children to watch. Any cartoon or video that gives children an idea that pushing or hurting someone is cute, isn’t healthy. I always monitor what Arushi watches and while I communicate the message, I make sure that she doesn’t get scared,” says Sharmista.

Keeping communication channels open is the best way to avoid any stressful situation, says Jeffrey D’Cruz, father of 2-year-old Jaden. “While explaining about an inappropriate touch is important, encouraging children to communicate with their parents is a must. However busy parents are, they should make some time for them,” says Jeffrey. He says that though these conversations are sensitive, they must be done from a young age, in a sensitive manner. “Always keep a watch over the child’s behavioural patterns and make sure he or she isn’t uncomfortable around someone or at some place. While one may feel the need to overly protect their child, they also need to gel with people.”

Medical professionals, who deal with youngsters, say that making a clear bifurcation between an appropriate and inappropriate touch is much needed. “Educating young kids about ownership of their own body is important. Verbal communication should always be supported with non-verbal communication — whatever one says should be practised by themselves. Often parents are uncomfortable talking about such topics and these inhibitions have to be eliminated,” says Meera Ravi, counsellor and founder-trustee of Prerana Academy.

Meera adds that a clear explanation of who is allowed to touch the ‘swimsuit area’ is requisite. “Also parents need to be accepting and encourage their children to talk to them about anything, to avert any adverse situations. Around 50 % of the cases I see, which mostly comprise people in their 30s and 40s, have gone through abuse at a young age. Around 20% of the cases have also been parents who come with children who went through some sort of abuse. It is often the parents who are in a state of denial and seek other answers for a situation.” She asserts that clear communication channels between young children and parents is the need of the hour.

Empowering children to be able to say a ‘no’ is also important. “When a child isn’t comfortable in a situation and refuses to accept or do something, his or her thoughts should be prioritised. This will help enforce their trust in the parents,” says Meera. The message of a ‘good touch’ and a ‘bad touch’ is communicated differently for different age groups, says Dr Adarsh Somashekar, consultant pediatrician, Ovum Hospitals.

“For young children upto 5 years, just like they are taught about other organs, private parts can be explained to them in terms they relate to. A group discussion in a fun yet meaningful manner works best for children in the age group of 5 to 12 years. There are many videos and books available to explain this,” says Dr Adarsh. He adds that children should be encouraged to ask questions and having transparent interactions always help them handle situations better.