The Non-Fearful Approach
"'Telling a child that some bad people exist
is very different from telling him that the world is a bad place, full
of bad people' [says author Grace Heehinger]."
"All parents may sometimes be reluctant to teach
their young ones about strangers, concerned that the information will
make the kids fearful. But remember that information empowers children.
'What terrifies a child is ignorance,' says John Walsh, founder of the
Adam Walsh Child Resource Center...'You owe it to your child to give
him appropriate, intelligent information,' he asserts. And you owe it
to yourself, for your own peace of mind."
As the founder of Yello Dyno's Fun Way, I have found that fear regarding children's personal safety is a real concern among parents. And not just the fear of losing a child, but the fear of even discussing this topic with their children. Parents do not want to scare their children. Even when I have approached friends with safety knowledge, a few have said, "You're not going to scare my children are you?" My response is, "They are probably already scared." And even the most protective parents and guardians can't protect their children from the information that comes at them over television and in school.
Children are egocentric. They think that the things they hear about will happen to them. During the extensive media attention on 12-year-old Polly Klaas's abduction and murder in Petaluma, California, in late 1993, a Time magazine article reported that, "The number one topic among third-graders was abduction." With all of the media attention focusing on the sensationalism of kidnapping and abuse, very little attention was given to proactive solutions. No wonder children often feel afraid and helpless. Also, children become afraid when they sense that their parents are afraid.
My response to parents who are worried about scaring their children is: Why should it be scary to teach kids how to stay safe, to teach them to say "no" if they don't like being touched in a certain way, to run or yell if they feel threatened, and to always ask for their parent's permission before going anywhere?
Taking the non-fearful approach to child safety reminds me of a story I once read in Reader's Digest about a little girl who asked her father about a troubling issue of our modern times. The father, who was on his way to work, told his daughter he would answer her question, but first he wanted her to carry his briefcase to his car. She agreed. But as she attempted to pick up the briefcase she found that it was too heavy. She told her father that she couldn't lift it. He knelt down and explained to her that some things in the world are like his briefcase, too heavy for her to carry right now. When she was a little older she would be able to pick up his briefcase, and when she was a little older he could answer her question, because then she'd be able to handle it. Sharing safety information with our children is similar: you tell your children only as much as they can handle for their particular age. For example, you cannot explain to a three-year-old the concepts of how some people use "lines" to lure children away (parents must take the responsibility to watch children who are three or younger at all times). But by the time a child is four you can start introducing the concept of "tricky people" and describe some of the simple lines they use. Then you can build on this knowledge as the child grows up.
As parents it is our job to educate our children about topics that are important to their welfare. However, when we have to share knowledge about scary issues we do not have to make the information fearful. My concept of safety education does not involve telling our children that there is a man on every street corner waiting to steal them.
And just as we do not describe the ramifications of being hit by a car when we tell children to look both ways before crossing the street, similarly, we do not have to scare them about personal safety. I prefer presenting safety education in a non-fearful, empowering format.
I've seen first-hand the benefit of safety education with my own children and their friends. One night my son and daughter and a couple of their friends (ages 8 to 14) were together. I asked them to watch two videos. First, I showed them an evening news report on the abduction and subsequent murder of a child. Their feelings of fear and helplessness filled the room. Could this happen to them? They all felt that yes, it could.
I put in the second video. This was an educational program that described how children can protect themselves from ever being abducted. While we watched the program, each child's expression changed from fear to confidence. We discussed the information and how they personally would respond in a variety of situations. As I praised their correct answers and guided them to a clearer understanding of what they can do to stay safe, I could literally feel them becoming stronger and more confident. This was such a dramatic example of the power of non-fearful education for me. There are no two ways about it, knowledge empowers children. If we give children the right knowledge and training, they will generally be able to pull themselves out of a crisis.
The "30 Simple Ways" presented in this book are valuable tools for parents. Along with these safety lessons, there is an educational tool that charms children and makes it possible for them to understand difficult concepts. It is music. The Yello Dyno Program has been offering safety education through music for many years. Music is powerful, fun, non-threatening, and easy for children to remember. Parents are always surprised when they find that their children want to play and sing the safety songs over and over again. Countless parents have expressed their joy - and relief - with the music's success. Without question, music gives parents an invaluable aid in this challenging area of parenting. Teaching through music is therefore one of the cornerstones of "the non-fearful approach."
The success of non-fearful safety education will be realized when your children feel strong and confident as they grow up safer in an unsafe world. How wonderful for parents to have this peace of mind!
Copyright 1994-2007 Yello Dyno, Inc. • "Yello Dyno" and the Yello Dyno character are federally registered trademarks of Yello Dyno, Inc.