LITTLE THINGS ABOUT LITTLE ONES
Dr. Gayatri Bezboruah
Teaching our children to pay attention to and trust the "knowing" feeling inside them sometimes takes a backseat to protecting them. Although as parents we do need to watch over our little ones and keep them safe, we should be careful not to extinguish the natural protective instincts or feelings of knowing we are all born with.
Our world is not always a safe place and not all people our little ones come in contact with are good. It would be wonderful if we could shield our children from the reality of dangerous people and disastrous situations. The truth is, we are not always going to be there, with our children. And life is full of surprises, not all of them good. Teaching our child to trust their instincts and to be aware of their surrounding can be as natural as all the other things we teach them as they grow.
With babies and very young children, the primary way of preserving their natural protective urges is to validate their feelings with words and body language. They need to get feedback from us as they experience the world. When they startle when a pan hits the floor, we casually need to say, "That was loud, wasn't it?" Our affirmation of their everyday experiences will help them trust all their feelings.
As they get a little older, we should feel free to discuss what they already know to be true. "That lady on TV was scary!" Or, "It hurts to be left out." Reflecting back in a simple way what we see our children experiencing will let them know their perceptions are valid.
If our way of relating with our children about feelings common to everyone - pleasure, love, anger, fear - has been natural and consistent, then talking to them about dangerous situations and untrustworthy people will be natural also. Letting them know that their protective feelings or instincts are real and that they should pay attention to them will set the stage for later discussions.
For now, we need to tell them a few simple rules: Always stay with the big person you're with. If anyone tries to give you a gift, or asks you to help them and it feels like a trick, it is. Scream "No, you're not my Mommy (or Daddy). And run to the nearest mom, policeman, store clerk.
Main points to address:
* Our children are born with natural protective instincts. Reflecting back what our children are experiencing in the moment helps preserve those instincts.
* Teaching our children to trust their feelings can keep them safe.
* Keeping safety rules simple minimizes hesitation when instincts are activated.
* Our children in early elementary are much more "worldly" in a sense. Going to school with children of many different family styles and backgrounds helps keep those instincts active. Feeling compassion for an embarrassed classmate, or disappointment at a friend who breaks a rule keeps that inside "knowing" feeling active.
Our little ones have an innate knowledge of right and wrong, fairness and unfairness and of safe and unsafe. As they develop a greater awareness of the world around them, some of the trusting innocence is lost to reality. This is a natural process and as parents our part is to stay positive, but "real."?
Stranger danger is explicitly taught in most schools. Teaching children simple self-defense can build confidence in their ability to survive a dangerous situation. Role play of various scenarios, if not overdone, can empower older children to trust their instincts and respond quickly.
All danger aside, we want our children to be able to trust the information they are receiving from their senses. Just as the saying goes - dogs and children are good judges of character. We need to believe our children and show understanding. Sometimes we will have to help them sort it all out. Just letting them know that we trust their perceptions and their instincts will give them permission to trust them too.
Main points to address:
* Many schools teach stranger danger and simple self-defense.
* Learning about the world and its dangers is a natural process.
* Be positive, but "real"
* Trust our children's inner sense of right and wrong, safe and unsafe.
As time goes on and our children are in their teens, life will provide more cause for using and trusting instincts. Children of this age group face moral dilemmas often in school and on the playground. As they venture out from the safety of their parent's continual vigilance, they will face predicaments that call on their instincts.
Sleepovers and slumber parties are opportunities for doubtful discussions and activity. It helps if we have them at our house! We should be the parent chaperon on camping trips and extracurricular events, and make sure supervision is reliable if we can't be with our children.
It helps if we have the family sit down together and develop some agreed upon safety rules, and review the family's safety rules before a vacation, outing or shopping trip. And then we should tell them to trust their instincts and follow the plan!
We must remember to respect our children's unwillingness to do something they don't feel ready or comfortable with. By honoring their reluctance, we are showing them their "inner knowing" is reliable and trustworthy. This self-knowledge will help them develop confidence in their ability to make sound judgments.
We must also remember to be respectful of our children's developmental readiness when we discuss sensitive matters. And the truth is-we will do just fine, if we trust our own instincts.
Main points to address:
* Children will need to rely on their instincts to a greater extent as they grow older.
* We have to be a chaperon. Have the sleepover at our own house!
* Develop a set of family safety rules together and review them periodically.
* Respect our children's reluctance or discomfort. Listen to them, then honor our own instincts.
Dr Gayatri Bezboruah is Professor of Paediatrics, Gauhati Medical College, Guwahati. She can be reached at [email protected] or [email protected]