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Predator Prevention: Self defence for kids...

Another article by Phil Thompson featured in Blitz magazine on the subject of self defence for kids...

Because most abused children are victimised by someone who is known to them, it is vitally important that they know what to look out for, to be able to recognise when they are in danger and take action to escape.

Here is the text version in case you can't see the attachments very well:

“Empower Your Kids to be Safe…”

This is the third article in our series, based on the book “Empower Your Kids to be Safe…For Life”. We have explored the dangerous myths around child safety including the “Stranger Danger” myth, and also exposed some of the most common “luring’ tactics used by child predators. In this article we are going to explore a few of the specific strategies for identifying, recognising and avoiding predatory violence. This information is adapted from the chapter titled “Avoidance through awareness and intuition”. That chapter includes vital information on intuition as well as other relevant information including why martial arts is beneficial for kids, but because we have limited space here we will include only a few of the other key points. I believe it is always better to prevent, rather than circumvent, and that is what this article, and most of our education is all about.

Who are the Dangerous People?

Because most abused children are victimised by someone who is known to them, it is vitally important that they know what to look out for, to be able to recognise when they are in danger and take action to escape. As I have already explained, many kids have been taught to relate ‘strangers’ to danger, and think that they are scary, nasty-looking people who hunt and hurt children. As we know, that is not the case. Most strangers are nice, caring people who would never hurt a child. Additionally, if a child is in danger and needs help it is important that they know who to ask for assistance. So it is important that kids know that it is not what someone looks like, or who they are that makes them dangerous; it is how they behave. They need to know that in most cases the predator will act very nice and friendly to them, as that is the best way to gain their trust and lure them into a dangerous situation. If dangerous people were all big, mean, scary-looking people they would be very easy to spot, but they are not, so we need to know what the signs are (we covered some of those specific “lures” in last month’s Blitz article).

Fostering Self Esteem and Confidence

Because we know that confident, self assured children are far less likely to ever be a target for a sexual predator, or to harm others, or themselves, it is imperative that at all times parents work towards fostering positive self-esteem in their children. This is not a parenting advice article and I am not for one moment trying to advise you on how to raise your kids, I am addressing this purely from a self protection and safety perspective. Outside of the positive influence on all other areas of their lives, children with strong self esteem and confidence are less likely to be victimised or to victimise others. That is a fact. So it is worth keeping that in the front of your mind, even when the going gets tough, which we know it does sometimes.

Think of the child’s self esteem in terms of a bucket of fresh, clean water. Every time the child is told or shown by a parent, teacher, peer, coach or whoever else, that they are useless, no-good, stupid, ugly, worthless, a ‘loser’, an outcast, or that they are not valued or listened to, the water level in that bucket drops. Conversely, every time that child is told or shown that they are a winner, they are doing great things, that someone is proud of them, that they matter, that they have talent, that they are loved, that they are valued, that their opinion matters, that their contribution counts, the water level rises.

Because parents can’t always necessarily control what happens in this regard outside the home environment, it is vital to ensure that their focus is always on doing whatever they can to keep that bucket topped up. Better yet, if possible, get it overflowing. Why? Because apart from the other myriad of benefits, children who believe in themselves, who know that they are loved, know that they are valued and feel included, become ‘hard targets’. If the bucket is getting empty, you can also be sure that there is a predator out there just waiting to help fill it and thus groom the child for victimisation. The principle here is very simple; if more is poured into the bucket than is taken out, your child’s self esteem will flourish and they are instantly safer. Parents can not necessarily rely on anyone else to keep the bucket topped up, but they can always have control over how much they pour in. Every day find a way to pour more into the bucket.

Creating an Environment of Open Communication and Trust

Fostering an environment of open communication and trust with your kids is one of the most important things that you can do to help keep them safe. Children who know that they can share their problems or concerns with their parents without fear of being judged, embarrassed, scolded, or punished for it are the safest kids there are. The more open and honest the communication environment with your children is, the more able and willing they will be to share what is concerning them or seek your advice on sensitive matters. This is important for many reasons, including:

A Friendly Ear...

If a child feels unwilling, hesitant or afraid of sharing their worries with you because they are afraid of what you may say, do, or think of them, or feel isolated and alone because they think they can’t turn to you for help, they have just become a perfect target for a predator. An unhappy or frightened child, who is not getting the attention or support at home, will look for it elsewhere. The predator is highly perceptive and will capitalise on this opportunity quickly. They will be the friendly, understanding, empathetic, encouraging ear that your child needs, to their own end. If a child knows that no matter what they tell you, whether you like it or not or are comfortable with what you hear or not, you will support them and help them find a solution, you are automatically shutting down the opportunity for a sexual predator to groom them with a friendly ear.

No Secrets

An open communication environment also discourages secrets, which is a major point for keeping your children safe. Because most predators are known to the child, sexual abuse can’t take place without an environment of secrecy. One of the first things a Persuasion Predator will do is establish whether or not the child can keep a secret. If it is very clear that the child is able to tell, and will tell, most predators will not risk going any further. As you will see later in this book, the philosophy here is simple; teach your kids that when someone says “don’t tell” they should tell, as quickly as possible. No adult should be asking kids to keep secrets from their parents. This includes being asked to make a promise to “keep this a secret” or “not to tell anyone about this”. The child should know that it is OK to break a promise if that promise places the child in danger or protects a secret. Naturally some secrets are good, such as birthday surprises and presents, but a good secret is one that is eventually going to be told, and which makes the child feel happy rather than afraid, worried, or confused.

‘Good’ and ‘Bad’ Touches

Many parents and educators use the terms ‘good touch’ and ‘bad touch’ when teaching about self protection. I have heard several times people teaching “If a touch feels bad you should tell the person to stop”. This is of course absolutely correct, just not complete. A lot of sexual abuse does not feel bad; in fact it may feel good to the child. So it is important to define a bad touch specifically, as per the comprehensive section in our book on “Body Sovereignty” which is too long to print here. In that case the child will know that even though a touch may feel good on the outside, it is a bad touch because the person is breaking the law and trying to take away the child’s dignity.

OK to Say ‘Stop’ At Any Time

Sexual predators will often manipulate the child into consenting in some way to aspects of the abuse, as that then makes them feel obligated to carry it on. The predator may gain consent for a non-sexual activity at first to ‘hook’ the child in, such as a massage, hug, hold, play-fight, rub or stroke etc and then escalate to the next level. A child may even ask for these things because they feel good. Because the child has consented it makes it even harder for them to tell the person to stop, and also harder to tell a parent about it as they may feel it was their fault and feel ashamed. The solution to this is to always educate kids that even if they say yes and give their consent, it is OK at any point to change their mind and say no. It is their body and they are always in charge of it. Regardless of the circumstances sexual abuse is never the fault of the victim and always the fault of the offender.

Personal Boundaries

As part of educating kids to have sovereignty over their own bodies, it is extremely important that they be allowed to set their own boundaries and that parent’s encourage and respect those boundaries.

Children are incredibly intuitive and if they feel resistance to someone it should be respected and at a minimum a concentrated thought given as to why. They should never be forced to ignore their feelings, for example “Say sorry to Mr Smith for being rude, you didn’t even say Hello” or “Shake hands with Mr Williams right now!” as this just reinforces that their intuition means nothing and shouldn’t be relied upon.

What our organisation calls ‘Forced Affection’ is also dangerous. Telling the child to “Kiss Uncle Henry goodbye” when they don’t want to, and then forcing them to do it is successfully reinforcing that regardless of how they feel, they must do what an adult tells them to do even when it feels wrong. This also applies to the child who, maybe even just out of mischief, does not want to kiss Mum or Dad goodnight. It may be hard as a parent to respect that, but what you will be teaching them is that their body is theirs no matter what, and regardless of who the person is that wants to touch them, the decision always belongs to the child. That is a powerful message.

OK to Say ‘No’ To an Adult

Part of allowing and encouraging children to set their own boundaries is to let them know that it is absolutely OK to say ‘no’ and refuse instruction from an adult. Raising kids to be polite and respectful to their elders is in my mind a good thing, it is the way I was raised, but it is also about context. Kids need to know that as soon as an adult asks or tells them to do something that could place them in danger, they have no obligation to be polite at all and should flatly refuse and get to safety immediately. They should know never to deviate from that position unless they have consulted you about it first.

The Concept of Law

Children who have a good understanding of the concept of law, and also of the consequences of breaking the law, are far more prepared and likely to resist a sexual predator’s attempts. When kids understand that sexual abuse is a crime and is against the law they will have the confidence to be able to resist anybody who tries to victimise them.

The key points to make kids aware of are:

There are laws to protect them and keep them safe from dangerous people.They have rights, including the right to be safe and free from any abuse.It is against the law for anyone to touch them in their ‘bathing suit zone’ (any area that is normally covered by a bathing suit), or to ask the child to touch them in those places (as per ‘body sovereignty’ list, including mouth). Crimes can be committed by anybody including family and friends.Crimes can also be committed online, such as an adult trying to arrange a meeting with a child to abuse them, or sending them pornographic material or asking the child to send naked pictures of themselves.

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