As part of our Two Minutes for Prevention series, Stewards of Children® author Paula Sellars provides additional insights and experience about the topic covered in the video below.
A couple of weeks ago we had a really good snowfall in Asheville, 18 inches in fact. I absolutely love snow, so I took the morning off, bundled up and went for an early morning walk. Crunching down my street I came upon at 10 year-old girl who recently moved into our neighborhood with her parents and her dog. We hadn’t met. I was a stranger.
This youngster, I’ll call her “Alex”, was having a hard time getting her plastic sled going down the steep hill across from her house. She was too lightweight in the deep snow. It simply wouldn’t pack down, and she was getting nowhere despite her enthusiasm. She needed the heft of an adult on that sled. And I love just about any physical challenge, especially in the crisp air.
We took turns, trying to get a good run packed down. We talked about our strategy, congratulated each other for good progress, and in between I asked a few questions about her family, her school, her interests and so on. I learned a lot about her. Alex’s parents were just inside the house across the street. They were not quite ready to come out yet she explained, and she was trying to “get some practice in” before they all went to the park for sledding. We developed a great rapport and had a lot of fun, working together on that hill.
Given that I am steeped in child protection conversations every day, I had a lot of self-awareness about my conduct with Alex. I never touched her, despite our very physical activity. I told her my full name, and where I lived. I pointed to my house, and described it. My deliberate intent was to make myself identifiable, and therefore accountable. Because I think in every interaction we can teach children what to expect from adults, even strangers.
But I was also aware that these very same interactions could be an opportunity for grooming. Any adult who has a constant awareness of the risks for child sexual abuse knows that. The difference is in the intent.
At the level of my intent, I was mindful to hold Alex as a separate being with personal authority. This is natural for me, because this is the way I feel about children. Being with a child as a separate, growing person with dreams to live and lessons to learn holds me in my place – I am a Steward of that child. That’s my role, even on a Friday morning sled ride.
The accompanying video tells us how to teach a child to notice being “comfortable” or “uncomfortable.” When we teach a child to notice comfortable/uncomfortable, we are reinforcing their ability to pick up on the intent of others. We are actually reinforcing a child’s natural intuition – their gut sense of what’s going on in an interaction.
I also like that the experts in the video remind us to teach children to come to us when they are uncomfortable, or even if they simply have a question about someone’s behavior. The message to children is, “You have the ability to sense your own comfort level. You have the right to evaluate and question the behavior of adults and older youth.” And most importantly, “If something doesn’t feel right, I’m the person who is ultimately responsible for looking into it.”
Every interaction with a child is an opportunity to deliberately impress the value adult accountability, whether we are a parent, teacher, coach or neighbor. We can do this with direct messages like, “Come to me if you are uncomfortable and I will help you sort it out.” And we can do it at the level of intent, in our one to one to one interactions with children.
We are all Stewards of Children.
For more in-depth learning, tools, and practical guidelines to help adults prevent, recognize, and react responsibly to child sexual abuse, take Darkness to Light’s Stewards of Children®. Find out more at www.D2L.org/Stewards.
Paula Sellars is Executive Vice President of Phoenix Possibilities Inc., a company that fosters social change and leadership through the skills of personal risk. Formerly a family therapist and cranio-sacral therapist, Paula specialized in family systems, adolescence, and trauma recovery. She designed and executed program content for an adolescent day treatment center, worked in supervisory capacities inpatient and outpatient psychiatric settings, and has worked extensively with families with sexual abuse dynamics. Paula is the author of Darkness to Light’s Stewards of Children®, a child sexual abuse prevention Docutraining® that uses consciousness training to effect behavior change. As a consciousness trainer with Phoenix Possibilities, Paula teaches the Cliff Jumping® Program and other leadership development programs for individuals, couples, and organizational groups. As a social change agent, she weaves her knowledge of the Enneagram, Spiral Dynamics and the Cliff Jumping Program to move communities to action. She is also a Oneness Blessing Giver through Oneness University in Chennai, India. Paula inspires vitality, spiritual connection, integrity and personal fulfillment.
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2 responses to “Empowering Children to Voice the Uncomfortable”
Hi. I have a friend who is struggling with a situation where they wish to prevent abuse of a pre-schooler. The situation is absolutely unthinkable, and involves a female parent and male child. Something seems so wrong. Is there a way for her to dialogue with someone who can help them? It’s long and complicated. The father now lives with his parents and the grandmother has reached out to me to ask to do research to see if there is any one who can help them. She is now primary caregiver to the children. She really hopes to find help and counsel to prevent was appears to be hopelessly destructive.
Victoria, thank you for your question and for taking an active role in trying to help in this situation. Getting involved is the first big step. I would have your friend contact the D2L hotline. 866- FOR – LIGHT. This way a professional can hear the whole story and direct your friend along the proper channels. Also if your friend shares where she is from they can connect her with someone appropriate in their area. And if you suspect, go ahead and report. A report is simply a request for a professional service to be provided. It is not an accusation. It’s a request for an investigation. And many times services get put in place that support the child and family.