Protecting Children During the Holidays

The holiday season–hopefully–brings cheer, music, fun, parties, and goodwill.  But we’re actually more vulnerable during this time because we tend to let our guards down and presume that others have to. And with all of the running around and mingling we do, it is easy to toss young ones into the care of whomever is available without full investigation.

The parties, the drinking, the food, the music, the lights, and the contact with loved ones we haven’t heard from all year can be intoxicating. Yet, it is precisely this spirit evil-doers take advantage of.

As the Season is upon us, now is a good time to review some safety tips.

Trust no one.  Keep your eyes and ears open. Be leery of individuals that seem eager to please, or who seem particularly interested in caring for your children or others. Whether or not a person has children of their own, or are caretakers is not necessarily an indication of their evil intent. People who have, or care for, children should not automatically be trusted just because of their status as parents or caregivers. Some perpetrators intentionally choose to harm others’ children.

Plan in advance.  Haste makes waste. Securing child care at the last minute limits your options and may force you to hire someone you have not fully considered.

When you attend an event that involves multiple children, simultaneous activities,  and other adults, think before-hand about which adults will be responsible for childcare and protection.

Talk to your children—of all ages, and gender—about safety.  It should now be common knowledge that little boys need protection, too. You should already be unashamed about accompanying your little mister into a boys’ or girls’ bathroom. You should also be constantly reminding your female and male children about stranger-danger, trusting their intuition, strategies for alerting others that they are in danger, and situations to avoid.

Also, specifically discuss holiday-related scenarios that could involve perpetrators. For instance, discuss scenarios that involve a perpetrator claiming to be shopping for a loved one, or a perpetrator claiming to need help choosing a gift or help carrying shopping bags. Have your children think of scenarios, too.

Teach your loved ones to be leery of people who are very talkative. The longer a conversation persists, the more comfortable we tend to feel, and the potential for our guard being let down increases. Perpetrators con with their mouths and can be very charming.

Remind your children that they need not be afraid if a perpetrator instructs that a loved one will be harmed if what occurred is repeated, and that perpetrators say this because they are really afraid of getting in trouble for doing something they know is wrong.

Teach your kids the buddy system.  Teach your children to always know where loved ones, such as their siblings, are. If there is a room designated for children at a relative’s house or other holiday event, teach older siblings to check in periodically on younger siblings, and to let younger siblings know where to find their older siblings.

Only-children may use this plan with peer cousins.
Holidays, with all of the loud laughter, noise, and festivities, are a perfect time to take advantage of people, as screams are difficult to hear over all of the excitement. Always having an idea of where your little ones are and what they’re doing is important prevention.

Evaluate your children’s interactions with others.  Perpetrators are very manipulative. They can appear to be very fond of the children they commit evil against. You might even think that based upon how much they appear to care for your child, they could or would never hurt the child. Don’t be fooled. Perpetrators often show special affection to their victims. They may be very playful with them, or appear to extend the time they play with their victim.

Teach your children that when they make anyone—their peers and adults—aware that they are done playing with them, or have tired of a particular interaction—they are entitled to the interaction ending. In other words: “Stop” means stop!

Do not let your children think that it is rude to not interact with others, or to limit their interactions with others. Sometimes children sense things about people and situations that they cannot or do not explain. Teach your children to trust their intuition, and that they do not owe anyone any level of interaction.

Give your children language for ending interactions, such as “I’m done playing now,” or “I said ‘stop’!” Role playing that includes your child saying what may need to be said exactly the way they might say it, should make them more comfortable saying the words in real-time.

Talk to your children about their experience at events, after the event.  Parents often complain that their children do not talk to them. But could that be because you don’t talk to your children? Initiate conversation with your children about what happened at events they have attended. Ask if anything happened that made them uncomfortable. Ask if anyone or anything seemed strange. Abuse of any kind is difficult to discuss, and is especially difficult to initiate conversation about. Children, especially young children, tend not to have vocabulary for certain experiences. They may want to tell you that something happened, but lack the words or courage.

Finally, observe your children’s mood and behavior after events.

Abuse or intimidation is typically unsettling, and may manifest as a change in behavior or functioning.