The “What If?” Game: Confident, Competent Kids

Categories: Our Perspective, Take Two For Prevention

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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. 

When I was a child, my mom played a game with me that she called “Opposites.” This must have started when I was about three. Is that too precocious? Maybe I was four. Anyway, in the Opposites Game my mom would say a word, and I was supposed to shout out its opposite. “Inside,” she would say. “Outside!” I would call out. “Hot, hot, hot!” – “Cold, cold, cold!” The idea was to think of it quickly, and as I got older, to be sure that a word actually had an opposite. “Dog!”  – “Cat?” We’d laugh. We played this game while she was doing dishes after supper.

I don’t have many early childhood memories, but I stored this one. I think it was because my mom was always cheerful about it and I felt empowered. After each exchange I got an “Excellent!” or “That’s right!” It was like instant gratification with a heavy dose of competency. My mom could think up any word, and I could fling out its opposite.

Yep, I was a good thinker.

That might be why this is one of my most favorite Two Minutes for Prevention videos. I get such a big kick out of the empowerment kids would have if their adults would take on this practice.

The video describes the “What If?” Game. First of all, who would have thought that talking with little kids about safety from sexual abuse, or any other threat for that matter, could be made into a game? But it’s a great idea. It’s kind of like teaching a child what to do in case of fire in the house. Think about it in context. Maybe even walk through it.

My brother had a rope ladder because his bedroom window was over a downward sloping driveway.  I think I was supposed to just jump, because mine wasn’t.

But I digress.

The object of the “What If?” Game is for an adult to pose situations to the child that the child might face in real life, and in which she may need to problem solve or find solutions for her safety.  These would naturally be age-appropriate because the scenarios would reflect the child’s actual potential circumstances.

What if you climbed a tree just fine, but then you weren’t sure how to come down?

What would you do if were an aisle away from me in the grocery store and you heard shouting?

The idea of course is not to barrage a child all at once. And definitely not to ask a flurry of sexual abuse related challenges in one go. Maybe just two or three questions at a time – in the car or while taking a walk. Really think about potential, upcoming situations that might vex the child, and see if the child himself can think of a solution.

What if during your overnight at Jeffrey’s you wake up in the night and feel scared?

What would you do if Jeffrey’s brother Marcus asked you to look at naked pictures?

What if you got hungry before Mrs. Bostrum got up to make breakfast?

And we play the game over time.

It works best if we’ve talked about a boundary issue, and then later when it’s relevant, we pose a “What If?” Challenge.

For example, some afternoon while driving home from preschool a parent might choose to teach the child the difference between a surprise and a secret. A surprise is like when you and daddy get mommy a birthday present, and you don’t tell me about until my birthday. You save it for a surprise, right?  Surprises usually make people happy. What’s another kind of surprise?

…   

But a secret is something that you hide from somebody because you think it might make them upset or mad. ‘Like if you had a friend over and you two were throwing ball in the house and you broke my lamp and decided to hide it under the bed. That would be like trying to keep a secret. We never keep secrets in our family, because secrets hurt people.  It’s better to get it out in the open. Can you think of another kind of secret?

Then, that Friday afternoon the parent might play that “What If?” Game again. Isa, what would you do if Joelle had her boyfriend visit while she was babysitting and told you not to tell me – that it was a secret?

I think it’s good for us to realize that there are any number of good solutions for the challenges we pose. ‘And that the best solution is usually the one the child thinks of.

I’d tell daddy in his ear when he got home might be as good an answer as I’d tell her I don’t keep secrets from my mom!

If we’ve been doing this about common, everyday possibilities, then it feels natural to offer some sexual abuse or boundary scenarios.

What would you do if you ended up as the last one on the bus with a teenager?

What if Aunt Michelle tells you to come in her room and close the door?

What if cousin James were to ask you to watch him undress?

There are so many good things going on in the What If Game. The child feels that the adult is interested in preparing her. There’s a feeling of partnership about situations that could be faced. It says, There’s nothing we can’t work through together.

What’s true is, offenders often choose children who are vulnerable in some way, either through a lack of parental support and awareness, or who just seem to lack self –esteem, or who feel uncertain of themselves.

The What If? Game creates a feeling in the child that he can problem solve, even on his own. This feeling of confidence and competency is itself protective as the child goes out in the world.

Because like the video says, Kids who are empowered are often times safer.

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.

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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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