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Teaching your child to pay attention to and trust the “knowing” feeling inside them sometimes takes a backseat to protecting them. Although parents do need to watch over their little ones and keep them safe, they should be careful not to extinguish the natural protective instincts or feelings of knowing we are all born with.
Our world is not always a safe place and not all people are good. It would be wonderful if we could shield our children from the reality of dangerous people and situations. The truth is, we are not always going to be with our children. And life is full of surprises, not all of them good. Teaching your child to trust their instincts and to be aware of their surrounding can be as natural as all the other things you teach them as they grow.
With babies and very young children, the primary way of preserving their natural protective urges is to validate their feelings with words and body language. They need to get feedback from you as they experience the world. When they startle when a pan hits the floor, casually say, ”That was loud, wasn’t it? Your affirmation of their everyday experiences will help them trust all their feelings.
As they get a little older, feel free to discuss what they already know to be true. “That lady on TV was scary! Or, “It hurts to be left out. Reflecting back in a simple way what you see your child experiencing will let them know their perceptions are valid.
If your way of relating with your child about feelings common to everyone – pleasure, love, anger, fear, has been natural and consistent, then talking to them about dangerous situations and untrustworthy people will be natural also. Letting them know that their protective feelings or instincts are real and that they should pay attention to them will set the stage for later discussions.
For now tell them a few simple rules: Always stay with the big person you’re with. If anyone tries to give you a gift, or asks you to help them and it feels like a trick, it is. Scream “No, you’re not my Mommy (or Daddy). EAnd run to the nearest mom, policeman, store clerk.
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Children in early elementary are much more “worldly” in a sense. Going to school with children of many different family styles and backgrounds helps keep those instincts active. Feeling compassion for an embarrassed classmate, or disappointment at a friend who breaks a rule keeps that inside “knowing” active.
Children have an innate knowledge of right and wrong, fairness and unfairness and of safe and unsafe. As they develop a greater awareness of the world around them, some of the trusting innocence is lost to reality. This is a natural process and a parent’s part is to stay positive, but “real”.
Stranger danger is explicitly taught in most schools. Teaching children simple self-defense can build confidence in their ability to survive a dangerous situation. Role play various scenarios if not overdone can empower an older child to trust their instincts and respond quickly.
All danger aside, you want your child to be able to trust the information they are receiving from their senses. Just as the saying goes- dogs and children are good judges of character. Believe your child. Show understanding. Sometimes you will have to help them sort it all out. Just letting them know that you trust their perceptions and their instincts will give them permission to trust them too.
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As time goes on, life will provide more cause for using and trusting instincts. Children of this age group face moral dilemmas often in school and on the playground. As children venture out from the safety of their parent’s continual vigilance, they will face predicaments that call on their instincts.
Sleepovers and slumber parties are opportunities for doubtful discussions and activity. Have them at your house! Be the parent chaperon on camping trips and extracurricular events. Make sure supervision is reliable if you can’t be with your child.
Have the family sit down together and develop some agreed upon safety rules. Write them down and post them. Review the family’s safety rules before a vacation, outing or shopping trip. Tell them to trust their instincts and follow the plan!
Respect your child’s unwillingness to do something they don’t feel ready or comfortable with. By honoring their reluctance, you are showing them their “inner knowing” is reliable and trustworthy. This self-knowledge will help them develop confidence in their ability to make sound judgments.
Remember to be respectful of your child’s developmental readiness when you discuss sensitive matters. You will do just fine, Mom and Dad, if you trust your own instincts.
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