Parents of young kids today are an anxious lot—and with good reason. Our world has never been such an unsafe place as it is nowadays. And we are not talking about global events or natural calamities. We are talking of sheer day-to-day survival at the individual level.
When I learned to cycle at age seven, it became a regular feature for me to cycle to the provision store, crossing two colonies and a ‘main road’, to buy bread, butter, biscuits and other daily needs of the household. By contrast, when my twelve-year old decided that she was really too old for me to escort her home from the bus stop (at the colony gate, mind you) I was on pins and needles for at least six months till she was safely inside the house. And even now, at fifteen, if her school bus is more than ten minutes late—a frequent happening, given Delhi traffic—I am tempted to turn the world upside-down!
Traffic, kidnappings, molestation, accidents, bullying, wrong company—the list of potential dangers is endless. Here are some pointers and coping strategies for harassed parents as they bring up their kids in a world where nothing and no one can be trusted.
1. A Core Of Inner Strength
Since the world seems to have turned into some version of a jungle, one needs to apply the jungle law—to survive you need to be strong. So, one of your most important tasks as a parent, is to give your child a core of inner strength and survival skills. A child who is mentally strong and emotionally centered is less likely to be targeted by predators and is better equipped to deal with uncomfortable or dangerous situations.
A child’s inner strength comes from feeling cared for and secure. So, make your kids your priority, above everything else. Don’t overprotect or spoil him, but keep your parenting radar alert and if you feel something is bothering him, drop everything to sort it out. Listen to your child with your whole attention and forge strong bonds of communication, where he feels comfortable confiding his fears and apprehensions in you, and confident that you will support and help him.
2. Anti-Bullying Skills
Bullying is the bugbear of most parents with non-aggressive kids. It could be kids in class, in the playground, in the bus, in the park—it could, unfortunately, even be teachers in school, a servant or even a family member at home! The best thing you can do to fortify your kids against bullying is to build their self-esteem, because a child who believes deep down that she deserves good things in life will never lie down to be bullied. So, discuss interpersonal behavior with her and make her understand that it is not acceptable for anyone to coerce her in any way whatsoever.
A postscript here: try to keep the home atmosphere as harmonious as possible. If there are overbearing elders or neighbours or friends around, protect your kid from them when she is little, and as she grows up, teach her to deal with such people in a calm, non-combative manner. Role playing is very helpful in this, where you both play out various bullying scenarios and how to deal with them. Excellent practice for adult life!
3. Basic Life Skills
A child who is able to deal with physically intimidating situations develops a core of confidence to deal with all kinds of problems. Start by teaching your kids to cross the road safely and basic first aid. Teach him to be careful and meticulous. Encourage him to participate in sports and dance on a regular basis, learn swimming, go for adventure sports and learn at least one form of self-defense—whatever comes his way. This will hone his physical and mental co-ordination and his motor skills. A physically co-ordinated and mentally strong child is almost impossible to intimidate or manipulate!
4. Adequate Supervision
Make your kids’ safety and security your first priority, not only when they are infants and toddlers, but also as tweens and teenagers. Playgroups are a safety net as mothers can take turns at supervising playtime. Make sure you are in touch with the adults in charge of playdates, school trips and extra classes. If you need to be away, choose your caregivers and babysitters with the greatest care.
5. Anti-Predator Skills
With various kinds of human predators all around us, most of whom are difficult to identify, it is important to let kids know from an early age that while most people are good and kind, there do exist some bad people and we need to be careful about them. You need to instruct your kids not to get friendly with strangers, and to allow NO ONE to touch them inappropriately. Show them the difference between ‘good touch’ and ‘bad touch’ and make them understand that it is fine to scream, shout and draw attention if anyone tries it with them. And most important of all, be their friend and win their trust so that they confide in you.
6. Withstanding Peer Pressure
Peer pressure is a major safety hazard nowadays as most kids are desperate to ‘fit in’. Instances of undesirable behavior, from something as minor as misconduct in class or falling standards of work, to something as major as smoking, drinking and even criminal activities, are frequently attributable to peer pressure.
However, confident kids who are encouraged to be strong and positive will instinctively shy away from destructive friendships and seek peers who bring out the best in them. So, identify your kids’ areas of strength—be it studies, music, dance, debate, sports, indoor games, community service or handicrafts—and encourage her to excel at it. Kids who excel seldom feel the need to seek negative kinds of approval from their peers!
7. Mobile Apps For Personal Safety
Finally, when your kid steps out of the house—for a play date, for a coaching class, for an outing with friends, for a birthday party—make sure she is carrying a mobile phone. It could be a family member’s or a spare one if she’s too young to have her own. There are a number of mobile apps which have been developed over the past few years, which will alert you and the authorities, along with her location, if ever she finds herself in a tight spot. Here’s a recent newspaper article with the details.
And of course, a pepper spray can is always a useful fallback!