Being a safe adult means that a child can trust you to be there for them when they need help.
We often talk about what it means to be a safe adult when a child discloses abuse to you. In fact, this is a critical part of the fifth step of the 5 Steps to Protecting Children™, React Responsibly. It’s important that kids know they can come to you and talk to you about anything, and that you will offer guidance and support.
But it’s also more than that.
Safe adult status matters more than just when it’s “crunch-time.” We know life can be stressful, and it is easy for kids and parents to get overwhelmed. This is why it’s so important to have an open line of communication with your kids at all times, so no matter what is going on in your life, they know they can communicate their feelings with you. By being a safe adult in good times, you’ll automatically be a safe adult for them to turn to when things are bad.
Cultivating a healthy, trusting relationship with kids is actually one of the best protections against abuse. Children will be less vulnerable to people who would violate their boundaries and more likely to tell you if they are uncomfortable or if abuse occurs. The Monique Burr Foundation for Children teaches kids that a safe adult is someone who:
- is an adult that can get them help if they’re ever hurt or unsafe.
- doesn’t break the 5 Safety Rules, or try to get the child to break them.
- the child feels comfortable with and can easily talk to about things that may be difficult to talk about.
- the child can trust to keep them safe.
You don’t need to be a parent to be a safe adult. You might be a teacher, coach, mentor, aunt/uncle or anything else. The principles of safety are the same, even if the execution looks different. You are still the person the child can come to when they need protection. In this clip from our Protecting Children During a Crisis training, our Director of Partnerships Ashley describes what this can look like:
So, how do you be a safe adult?
Set and Maintain Clear, Protective Boundaries
- This is a crucial step because boundaries help us to respect each other and feel respected. A child who knows that you will respect (and even protect!) their boundaries will have an easier time trusting you to take care of them.
- It may help to have a Family Code of Conduct in place so that boundaries are easily defined. When someone crosses a boundary, you’ll know and be able to quickly intervene.
Develop Protective Bonds
- Really listen when the child talks to you. Show them that you’re interested in their opinion; involve them in conversations and show them that their input is valuable.
- Participate in their favorite activities with them. Show them that you value their time and interests. Find creative and healthy ways to connect with them.
Talk openly and honestly about difficult subjects, including child sexual abuse
- When we talk to children in age-appropriate ways about our bodies, sex, and boundaries, children understand what healthy relationships look like. It also teaches them that they have the right to say “no.” This conversation looks different depending on how old the child is, but by discussing tough topics together you become the go-to “expert” for your child. Be clear that your child’s safety is of the utmost importance to you.
Being a safe adult looks different for every situation, but it ultimately comes down to being trustworthy and ready to act in the child’s best interest. To learn to implement steps to protecting children from sexual abuse, check out our full-length training Stewards of Children®.
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