Suppose you discover that a registered sex offender is living in your neighborhood. You have young children and you want them to be safe. What should you do? What should you say to them?
There are ways to be sure your child is fully aware of the potential danger of sexual assault without having to go into detail about what the crime involves (and without terrifying them). Ultimately, you know your children better than anyone so you are the best judge on how much they need to know and what sort of safety precautions you want to create. In the case of a two parent home, it’s a good idea to keep open lines of communication on the topic between the child and both parents (it’s not just mum’s/dad’s responsibility).
Whatever your home situation, communication with your children is just as important as with any relationship. Communication is more than simply passing on information; it is a necessary tool for building trust and respect. Furthermore, our actions often communicate to children more than our words. Kids take their cues from the adults they are around the most – generally, their parents. They will learn to respond to life by how they see you responding.
Here is a brief list of practical ways you can talk to (and listen to) your children when it comes to a neighborhood sex offender:
“Think about what you will say before talking with your child.
• You don’t want to terrify your children.
• You want to give your kids factual information and skills to keep
You may want to show your child a photo of the offender.
• You don’t need to go into detail about the crime the sexual predator
committed—that’s really scary stuff.
You CAN give your kids this information and recommend specific action:
• This photo is of a person they might see around, and this person has
tried to trick kids before.
• If this person tries to talk to them,
º Your child should immediately take 3 steps back,
º Run away,
º Tell you or another trusted adult.
Listen to your children if they come to you with scary information or rumors from school.
• Acknowledge your child’s fears. Kids can easily translate vague adult warnings into stories
about lunatics and monsters.
• Be prepared to reassure your children with factual safety information.
• Reinforce safety skills.
One of a child’s greatest protections is the ability to say “No” to adults when appropriate. This is very hard for children to do. Help them discover when it’s a good idea to say “No,” then help them practice saying it out loud.
• Reassure your kids that you won’t be mad if they make a mistake. It’s part of the process of learning
to be safe.
Listen to your child. Relationships based on love, respect and open communication will let your children bring questions and fears to you. It will also help you discuss scary subjects with your children in matter-of-fact ways.” – from Sex Offenders: What Should You Tell your Children
It is a terrifying fact that parents cannot completely eliminate the chances of their child being harmed. A healthy parent-child relationship is one in which, from the moment you hold your baby for the first time, you know you will do everything to protect them, to love them, to provide for them. You would give your life for that precious 8 lb bundle. So, as that sweet baby starts walking, talking, making friends, and attending school, it’s only natural that a parent will begin to realize just how difficult it is to keep their child safe 24 hours a day. It’s just not possible.
In a way, it’s a good thing – kids need to learn from their mistakes and grow up to be independent, well-adjusted adults with meaningful relationships. Enjoy watching your children grow and develop; don’t allow your fear of the unknown keep you from allowing them to explore their world (safely). Preparing them to face a family member, friend, neighbor, or stranger who might try to do them physical harm can be a regular, natural activity which gives both you and your child extra peace of mind.