I didn't intend to have a three part series when I wrote about Little Boys and Bathrooms. The discussion that was generated in the comments (and since then in my inbox) has been so rich that it seemed to warrant a bit more conversation.
One of the points that was raised by a very thoughtful email from Yvonne was how to avoid making our children unnecessarily fearful. Clearly, one of the most precious parts of childhood is the innocence. Specifically, when it comes to threats to their physical safety I have found that it can be tricky to make our children appropriately careful without making them overly fearful.
I find the discussion of 'bad touch' to be particularly challenging when there is so much about sexuality they do not grasp. My conversations about the need for privacy, modesty and safety have centered on the fact that some people hurt kids in that way thinking they can frighten them into keeping it secret. While some may find even this a bit too much information for young children, I think it is similar to explaining why parking lots are dangerous and why helmets should be worn. Some things in this world are dangerous. Part of parenthood is equipping our children with the ability to evaluate situations and make wise choices accordingly.
We have also emphasized unconditional love and honesty with them apart from safety conversations. I hope they are grasping that they can tell me and their Daddy anything without fear of rejection.
My desire is absolutely not to overemphasize things in a way that make them fearful. I just want them to be careful. I think many predators groom or select victims based on access and what they think they can get away with. It is my hope that by making them confident and shrewd they will be seen as far less vulnerable.
Two tools that helped open the door to age appropriate conversations in our family have been The Safe Side video and a board game called Safetyville. (I am not advertising for any sort of profit here, just sharing resources.) We don't drill this in their heads constantly, but every few months we break out the video or the game casually for a refresher. Since they enjoy both it is not a big deal.
Additionally, when I read it a couple of years ago I found the book The Gift of Fear by Gavin De Becker very enlightening in terms of learning to listen to your intuition about dangerous situations. The author reframes fear in such a way that it is viewed as a gift to us rather than a sin, as long as we keep it in perspective. His most powerful point, in my opinion, is that human beings are the only animals who try to rationalize our natural fears away rather than heeding them.
I am intrigued by the fantastic reviews for his follow up book Protecting the Gift which centers on teaching your children to be safe. De Becker is not a "Christian author" so I am curious is anyone has read it--and how it stacks up to Biblical principles.
Again, I hope I am not misunderstood as promoting sinful fear. Nothing could be further from the truth. I think this is not an all or nothing proposition, but rather a continuum. If sinful, paralyzing fear that does not honor God is on one side, reckless, ignorant fearlessness is likely on the other. I think with prayer, discernment and wisdom we can find ourselves living in a healthy middle place.