Providing the safety net

Rising concern

Providing the safety net

Three-year-old Parineeta Chabria, a cheerful toddler, suddenly became  quiet and irritable after a trip to a family friend’s house.

Her mother Sanskriti ignored it initially but realised that something was wrong when the toddler stopped eating and didn’t want to be cuddled. When asked what the matter was, Parineeta broke into tears and said that she had been assaulted by the family friend’s son.

In the backdrop of increasing episodes of assault on small children —  a three-year-old was assaulted at her daycare centre  and another toddler was abused at the nursery she goes to — parents in the city are thinking of ways to communicate to their children the need to stay alert.

It isn’t easy to deal with such a situation, says Sanskriti. While Parineeta is slowly getting back to her usual self, she still flinches when she sees anyone from the perpetrator’s family. “Apart from reassuring her that her father and I will be there for anything she needs, I remind her that she doesn’t need to tolerate anyone she feels uncomfortable around,” she adds.

Children need to know that their parents will be around to protect them as this helps in building confidence, points out Tasneem Nakhoda, counsellor with ‘Tattva’. “This depends on conversations that the parents and children have on a daily basis. There are many ways to communicate the concept of ‘safe touch’ to a child, for example through animated videos,” she explains. “Constant reminders are important as children forget things easily,” she adds. It is difficult to foresee such situations and thus teaching the child to react accordingly is important. “Parents also need to be alert and watchful. Once a parent notices their child behaving strangely, it is important they find out the reason. Often parents shush the child, which could lead to further damage,” says Tasneem.

Tasneem observes that around 40 percent of the cases she has seen are  incidents which have happened to children between the ages of 7 to 16, and where a family member or someone known to the family is the culprit.

Getting the message across to toddlers is difficult, says Sneha Pai, an office-based clinical research associate. Mother to one-and-a half year-old Vidisha, Sneha talks to her child in her mother tongue and tells her that she should say no to people who pull her cheeks or try to pick her up. “I don’t allow anyone to pick her up when I am around and keep reminding her about the same,” she says.

Paromita Moitra, a teacher, says that it can be challenging to explain to a child about something being wrong without scaring them. “Thankfully, my four-year-old daughter Pragya attends the daycare centre at the same school I teach at. I have communicated to her about the concept of  ‘safe touch’. She asked me a few questions which weren’t easy to answer but I tried to explain things according to her age. I have also explained to her that she needs to shout when she is in pain,” says Paromita, adding “It is a routine for Pragya to narrate her entire day to me.”

Saying no to people can be difficult for children but Paromita has communicated to her child that she needs to be firm with people who offer her a drop home and say no to sweets and chocolates, even if it is friends or family. “I advise her to be in groups of people, so that there is no chance of  getting lost or being alone,” she adds.

Roopashree, mother to two-and-a-half year old Tara, says,  “It is important to make the child understand that they can talk about the smallest of things to you. Look the child in the eye when he or she is explaining things to you. This makes them realise that they are important,” she says, adding that there is also  no need to label body parts with childlike names. “There should be no shame attached to it. This allows the child not to shy away when a situation arises.”

Dr Safiya MS, a child psychologist with Mind & Brain Clinic, says, “Being alert and watching the behaviour of the child is important. Look out for warning signals.” Handling a situation after it occurs can be disturbing both for the child and the caretaker, she adds. “After sufficient information has been collected to understand the situation, one shouldn’t keep talking about it. Reassurance and effective communication is essential at all times,” she sums up.

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