Obviously, we need to educate our children regarding the fact that there are people who want to do them harm. We need to teach them not to speak to strangers, even when the strangers appear to be nice, never accept rides from people without previous arrangements, never allow people to touch them inappropriately, and so on. We need to teach them the facts of safety.
We can also teach them self-defense. When my daughter was 12 and very tiny for her age, we both took a wonderful self-defense class-called Model Mugging or Impact Training-where we learned to defend ourselves against an attack. Even a small child can learn powerful methods for getting away from an attacker.
In addition, there is another very profound way we can help our children to be safe. We can teach then to discern the difference between people whose hearts are open and people whose hearts are closed. Many children are highly intuitive and can often sense energy, yet when we don't discuss and validate this level of knowing, they might learn to discount their inner experience.
I once counseled a woman in her 50's named Miranda, who told me this story: "I was eight years old and walking home from school with my best friend. A car pulled up and a man offered to drive us home. This was before most children were educated about not getting into strange cars. It was a hot and dusty day, and both of us would have loved a ride home. However, something inside felt wrong, and I had been taught by my mother to trust my inner feelings. As my friend started to get into the car, I grabbed her and said, 'No. Please don't go with him. Let's just walk.' She didn't listen to me and got into the car."
Tragically, her friend didn't come home that night, and the next day she was found dead.
Miranda was deeply traumatized by the death of her friend. For years she thought it was her fault for not forcing her friend to walk home with her. It was only later in her healing process that she accepted her helplessness over her friend's choice, let go of feeling responsible for her death, and felt grateful for trusting the truth of her inner self.
How often do you inadvertently invalidate your children's inner experience? If your child said, "I don't like Uncle Bob," would you ever say, "Don't be silly. Uncle Bob is a very nice man and he loves you very much." If your child said, "I'm not tired," would you ever say, "Of course you're tired. You've been running around all day." If your child said, "My teacher is treating me differently than she treats the other kids," would you ever say, "I'm sure that's not true. You're just too sensitive." All of these statements invalidate children's feelings and inner experience and teach them not to trust themselves.
Part of our job as parents is to teach our children to trust a deeper level of inner knowing, the level that says in the heart or stomach, "This feels wrong." "This feels bad." "This feels dangerous." "I have to get away from this." We can't always know the truth from our mind or our eyes. Sometimes the truth comes through the body in our feelings.
For example, Miranda said that the man who killed her friend was very kindly looking and friendly. He had a big smile and looked like he would never harm a flea. On the outward level, there was nothing that spelled danger. But her body knew differently. Her body picked up a different level of information-the energy level. On the energy level, we cannot hide our intention. There is an energy transmitted from a person with a closed heart who is intent on doing harm, just as there is an energy transmitted from a person with an open heart who is intent on being loving. Miranda picked up the energy of this man's intent to do harm. She could not consciously know what he was going to do, but she did know that it didn't feel right. It felt wrong.
In addition to teaching our children to avoid all strangers and physically defend themselves, let's protect our children's innocence by teaching them to discern the difference between an open and a closed heart. Let's help keep them safe by validating their feelings and inner experience so they learn to trust themselves.