Ritu and Abhi are the quintessential urban couple. Married since nine years, they are a ‘career couple’. While Ritu works for a high profile finance company as an account manager, Abhi is senior manager in a leading IT firm. Both have jobs that demand a lot of their time and attention. Six-year old Rhea is their only child and after school she spends the day at a reputed daycare centre. Of late, looking at all the horrible sexual abuse crimes happening against young children, Ritu and Abhi are worried. Their careers are important to them, but not more than their child’s safety. What do they do? Should Ritu leave her job for a few years to be with her daughter? And will even that ensure complete safety? How can they keep their little daughter safe in this big, bad world today that seems to have lost it’s moral compass?
Most couples today, whether working or stay-at-home, are facing the same dilemma as Ritu and Abhi. There is so much ugliness involving kids that you get to read in the news that it’s natural for parents to be worried. But it’s a tricky scenario: On one hand, you want to leave no stone unturned to protect the child. On the other hand, you don’t want your child to grow up with feelings of mistrust for the entire world! So how do we find the balance?
Let us look at some ways to ensure safety of our children. With a few precautionary measures, a little bit of alertness, some re-jigging of schedules and a change in perspective, you should be able to ensure the safety of your kids, without having to compromise your career.
8 steps to ensure protection of your child from sexual abuse
1. Begin with the basics
Protection of your child from sexual abuse starts with teaching them about safe and unsafe touch. You can have this discussion with children as young as three. Use age-appropriate terminology when you talk to your children. Teach them about body parts, private body parts and about not allowing anyone to touch them inappropriately, especially in the private areas. There are plenty of books, leaflets, videos, animations and websites dedicated to this topic. Refer to them for help. It is a good idea to use the terminology of ‘safe’ and ‘unsafe’ touch rather than ‘good’ and ‘bad’ touch, as that can get confusing for the child. Sadly, the abusers are often people who are known to the child. Hence, an inappropriate touch by someone the child is attached to may not necessarily feel ‘bad’ to the child, yet it is an unsafe touch. Also, it is not enough to have this conversation once and then forget about it. Recap the same from time to time, say every few months or so.
2. Listen to the child
If you are serious about protecting your child from sexual abuse, then no matter how tight your schedule, make sure you allot some quiet time with the child, where you both can have a conversation. Parents today focus on ‘quality time’ with kids; so they read to them, teach them stuff, buy enriching games for them and take them places. While all this is important it is equally important to create an emotional space where the child simply talks, and you listen. Make sure you converse and communicate with your child without any agenda. It is when the child is totally relaxed, and feels completely comfortable, that the child’s deepest thoughts, fears and worries will come up.
3. Create your support system
Not just your partner, but your in-laws, parents and siblings can become your support system when you need them. Build relationships with them that are mutually satisfying, so that they are there for you whenever you need them. Even if you don’t live in joint families or your parents don’t live with you, you can always create a robust support system around you comprising of trustworthy friends and neighbours. Build solid friendships that work on give and take, where you can fall back on each other as and when needed.
4. Build relationships with parents of your child’s classmates
Often, you will find that they are in the same boat as you are. If you have a good relationship with other parents, you can split school related responsibilities—such as picking up and dropping your child from school and other activity classes. This will ease the load off you while also ensuring safety for your child.
5. Trust your gut
As parents, most of us have an inner radar that tells us what is or isn’t safe for our child. So if any person in your child’s surroundings makes you uncomfortable, no matter who it is, trust that inner wisdom. It is your internal radar warning you to be careful—and careful you should be! Remember, your child’s safety comes above everything else, so don’t wait till you have proof or you are 100 per cent sure. Be it your child’s school bus driver, a neighbour, or even a family member, if you have a doubt, do not leave your child alone with that person.
6. Be aware of the safety measures adopted by your child’s school
Find out more about how your child’s school is ensuring protection of children from sexual abuse. You can do this without becoming a confrontational parent. Remember the school and you are on the same side, so it is important to work as a team. Be in touch with the PTA member parents of your child’s class and communicate with the school through the PTA. Usually the PTA is a highly empowered forum and can be used effectively to bring about positive changes. If your child stays in a day care, find out what safety measures are being adopted there too.
7. Teach your children how to protect themselves from sexual abuse
For older kids, whether boys or girls, enrolling them in self-defense classes is a must. With younger children, train them how to deal with situations where they may feel unsafe. This could entail shouting out loudly and calling for help, biting or kicking to ensure that they can escape from a person who may be behaving inappropriately with them and so forth. Essentially, drive home the point that it’s okay to do whatever it takes to escape from such a situation. Also help them identify trusted people to whom they can report such incidences in your absence. These could be the class teacher, the school counsellor or a grandparent among others.
8. Make surprise checks
If you are leaving your child in a day care, or with a maid while you go to work, make sure you have done a thorough reference check of the individual / institute caring for your child in your absence. Once in a while, pay a surprise visit to the day care or show up at your home when your maid is not expecting you to check on what’s happening.
There’s goodness in the world
Last, but not the least—do not become a permanently suspicious parent. Everyday, express gratitude for all the people in your child’s life, who are protecting your child. Remember, for every stranger eyeing your child with bad intentions, there are guardian angels in the form of friends, relatives, teachers, sometimes even strangers protecting not just your child, but humanity itself. Of course, there are kidnappers, abusers and molesters, many of them getting fearless by the day. As parents, we must do more than our best to protect our children from such evil people. And yet, this should not blind us to the presence of goodness in the world. Let us stop and appreciate all the good people who share space with us ̶ in our families, in our children’s schools, on the roads, everywhere.
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