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The Bad Touch:
When a stranger touched my little girl…

I tickle and wrestle with my little girl and my little boys too, when they initiate.

They have granted me that privilege as a caring, loving father.

I will not tickle and wrestle with your children. Aside from being wildly inappropriate and crossing boundaries, they do not know me.

As a family, we have been living through a massive house renovation. Our little house has been a bee hive of activity, activity done by strangers; electricians, drywallers, plumbers, and carpenters.

The kids have watched all improvements with excitement, until Monday of this week. First it started as a tickle of my daughter, then a quick wrestle with my son.

Why was this complete stranger touching my children?

The most respectful interpretation is that this man, a father himself, was innocently reliving his rough housing past or perhaps didn’t know how else to interact with young kids. The least respectful interpretation is terrifying to me and I shake with anger.

I believe what was most upsetting to us, as parents, was that the kids felt weird about it too, knew something was wrong, but didn’t have the skills to do anything. We have spoken about this kind of scenario many times with hypothetical situations and role play. They have also received instruction on strangers and safe touch at school.

How do you teach your children about strangers so they will recognize an unsafe situation for what it is and apply their skills?

Without sending mixed messages, how do we teach that not everyone is nice and there are bad apples out there that need to be feared?

We focussed on 4 areas: Talking to strangers, the Tickle List, Trusting instincts (and no secrets) and Safe touch areas.

While “Never talk to strangers” is an old cliché with some merit, we do want our kids to talk and interact with strangers when mom and I are present. We want them to be friendly and respectful and these skills need to be practiced and developed.

I don’t want my children to fear all strangers or the world in general. If they need help, they may need to find a stranger – ideally one with a uniform on, a name tag on, or one with children. If 99 people out of 100 are safe and kind, that one creepy bastard terrifies me and I need it to alarm my children.

As an exercise, we went through a list of people we knew, and “if they were allowed to tickle or wrestle with you”. Most of our family and good friends were on the “YES Tickle” side while the mail man, workmen, some family, bus drivers, and even teachers were on the other side.

The stranger talk led to an interesting age appropriate discussion on “safe” touches and “not-safe” touches. We have declared the parts of your body that are covered by a bathing suit are never to be touched by anyone except mom, dad, or the doctor (“because they are in the body business”).

As parents, we need to be constantly vigilant to keep our children safe. While we can fear total strangers, statistics might suggest bigger threats to our children’s innocence might be closer to home.

I want our children to trust their instincts; to develop and hone these instincts – to “listen to that little voice that says this doesn’t feel good” (my son’s explanation). Kids need to judge people by their actions, not by who they are in relation to the child. Many family trees have crooked limbs full of creepy uncles.

We talked about how strangers should NOT be interacting with them if we are not present. They need to fear the man who needs help looking for his little dog or the stereotypical stranger with candy or an XBOX that needs testing. We have no secrets in our house. No secrets is our best defence against a creepy stranger that might insist on secrecy…

This is a continuing conversation in our house on the topic of strangers. I want to give our kids the tools to listen and act when that little voice that says ‘something isn’t right here’. Every future conversation touches on these ‘stranger’ points, but I want to know from you…

How have you dealt with strangers who have touched your children and/or the talk and tips you have used to help prevent and minimize stranger danger??

Do you disagree with our approach?

Please help continue the conversation so all of our children can remain safe!

Until next time…

Comments

comments

  • doug Jul 31, 2014 Reply

    Jeff great post. The message we give the kids in our child care – takes place during the parenting classes we offer – is that no one should touch their private parts, except to keep them clean and healthy. I like your approach; it’s very difficult to rely on the old cliche, yet build social skills with safe strangers. I think beyond focusing on the issue of safe and unsafe touch, is the issue of empowering our children to share their fears and uneasiness without hesitancy, and that takes the confidence to share fears without looking like a wimp. And that takes moms and dads who validate all sorts of childhood fears, not dismissing them – i.e. “there are no monsters in your closet, just go back to bed” or “don’t be so shy, just give her a hug.”

    • Jeff Sep 16, 2014 Reply

      Hey Doug!
      Thanks so much for being a part of the Vibe and thanks for your thoughts! You are so right about empowering the kids! Validation of THEIR fears and emotions is a huge point and likely worthy of its own article! Look forward to your thoughts!

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