Step 2: Making the Child Feel Safe and Special
My 8-year-old girl is becoming a little lady. At nighttime, we don’t just lie in her bed, like we used to, snuggling and reading books. She is changing and I’m realizing I must change too if I want us to stay close and connected. One thing I’m discovering is that she has a life that’s all her own! Her world is filled with things she wants to talk about, like friends, school, tests, and of course, herself. Naturally, I want to know all about it. But as we have transitioned I have begun to discover exactly when she wants to share her thoughts with me. I thought asking her right after school would be a great time to talk. So for a while I tried asking her on the car ride home from school.
“How was your day?” I ask.
“Good,” she says.
I give it another shot. “Hey, so what specials class did you have today?”
“P.E.” she replies.
Okay, let’s try this again. I move in with more specifics. “How is it going with so and so?”
“Fine.” She replies.
I can just hear the announcer declaring, “Strike three! You are out, Mom.”
You get the idea, right? I try being interested, but not too interested; excited, yet casual, and anything in-between to connect to her. This is our job as moms. And in trying, I have learned that right after school is not her time. She wants to go home, turn on a show, and “veg” for about 30 minutes. Later, she emerges ready to play but not talk. However, late at night, when I am really tired and I want to relax and be by myself, that is when she wants to share her thoughts and feelings about life. She will talk about all kinds of things: her stuffed animals, goofy jokes, what job I think she might have, and sometimes I get the really good stuff. In those moments, she will ask me advice about her friends, her troubles, her insecurities, and other precious questions that flow from her young heart. And I love it! My goal is to be one of the main places she can come to figure out life, to feel loved regardless of what else is going on, and to be sounding board as she grows. She needs a place like that. My experience from being a therapist for 15 years has taught me this if she doesn’t find it with me she will find it somewhere else, with someone else.
Grooming: A Predator’s Method
What does this have to do with protecting your children? You need to know that sexual abusers often use that same plan to develop a connection to your child – first to their hearts and then to their sexuality. A sexual predator wants to form a close relationship with a child in order to get access to that child’s mind and body. He will use all of the same tools I am using as a mother to stay close to my daughter. He wants something that will make the child open up and trust him by leading the child to feel safe or special or understood by him. The official word for this is “grooming.” But I think the word grooming just sounds so creepy like this big, gross, dirty man is getting close to my kid by grooming him. If we think of it that way then we could end up responding with, “I am not going to let some gross man groom my child!” That word can make us check out because we already feel our children are secure against that kind of threat. But we have to educate ourselves with the fact that the sexual predators usually gain access to children by taking advantage of a prior “normal” connection to a child in order to win the child’s trust.
What Do I Do?
Naturally, we hope and maybe expect that any child would be able to tell the difference between our well-intentioned interest and someone else’s manipulative intentions. But the fact is children have a hard time telling those apart… unless we provide them with two things:
- Connecting that is specific to their unique temperament and needs
- An understanding of the difference between good connection (love for the sake of the other) and bad connection (for the sake of the adult)
In future posts, I will spend time exploring what those two critical factors look like in practice and why they are so important to the well being of our children. Remember, to get with a friend and really talk this out. This is the kind of conversation that can change your kid’s lives and can change your hearts too.
image by: chrisroll at FreeDigitalPhotos.net