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Protecting Our Children’s Futures

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The Exceptions to the Rules…

The most important role we have as parents is to protect our children. One of the ways we protect them is to prepare them for their futures by teaching them how to function in society. We teach them to accommodate others’ needs, to be friendly, to be polite. We explain that these skills and that this good behavior is necessary, will help them make friends, and smooth the path forward in life. All of these lessons and all of this advice is well meant and true EXCEPT for the moment when our children need to be rude, need to fight, need to insist, need to disagree, or need to ask more questions.

The most frightening and heartbreaking stories involving children start with, “I did not want to be rude,” or “I felt that something was not quite right, but I told myself that I was being silly.” How do we teach our children the skills they need to deal with the exceptions to the rules? How do we teach them that there are people who will try to take advantage of their kindness, their innocence and their good natures? There are many answers to these questions, but to me, reminding our children of five essential guidelines while we teach them societal rules such as being polite, kind, considerate, and helpful will help.

These five essential guidelines are:

1. Trust your instincts. If something does not “feel” right, listen to that feeling and follow through on it with action, usually getting out of a situation, a place, or away from a group or individual.

2. Never let anyone make you feel ashamed to ask questions.

3. It is your absolute right to be safe. If anyone threatens that right, it is your responsibility to do something about it. Go to an adult, walk away, scream, make a scene, do everything and anything that you have to do.

4. At some point you may NEED to be rude, or to fight and that is perfectly OK.

5. And last but not least, always be aware of your environment and behave accordingly.

Children need to know the rules of society, but also that there are people in the world who do not follow these rules. The five guidelines I have selected are by no means complete. I see the list as a background “mantra” for parents as they go about the daily business of child rearing. Kids need to know that rules have exceptions. For example, don’t spit your food out or make gross noises at the table unless you are choking. When you are having dinner at someone’s house, it is polite to eat what you have been served without complaint unless you are allergic to it.

Children need to know that we support them to do what they need to do to be safe and that their safety is our first priority. They need to know that we will forgive a lapse in manners or awkward, unexplainable consequence with a friend or acquaintance, but we could never forgive ourselves for not arming them with all the skills they need to be safe in the world. 

[AUTHOR: Hilary Doubleday]

July 21, 2013

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