Welcome to the March 2013 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Tough Conversations
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have spoken up about how they discuss complex topics with their children. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.
Some months back, I was watching an episode of Dateline about protecting kids from child predators. It was a segment with the theme "My Kid Would Never Do That" that puts parents' certainty in their children to the test. It's a recurring segment on Dateline, where they'll test kids on whether they'll open the door to a stranger when they're home alone or give out identifying information or, for older kids, drive with someone who's been drinking.
In this case, they were setting up a situation where small groups of kids in the mid-elementary age range (6-11 years old or so) were put at a table outdoors working on some projects. The kids thought they were alone and unobserved since the producer and other adults had gone out of sight. Then a hired actor drove up in an ice cream truck and worked at tempting the children to enter the truck without seeking their parents' permission. He promised them free ice cream if they'd just come on board.
There's a sneak peek explaining the segment available here:
Now, I have some reservations about putting kids through these "reality" experimental situations. I've seen some episodes where the kids got really, really upset, whether they gave in or not, and it's usually setting them up at least for some embarrassment. That said, I found it really helpful for thinking about how to approach the subject of being wary of sneaky people with Mikko.
I first heard the term "tricky people" from this blog post at Checklist Mommy. Safety expert Pattie Fitzgerald recommends the term over the oft-repeated "stranger danger," because telling kids to be afraid of strangers doesn't actually protect them. For one thing, it's often not strangers that hurt kids but people they know. For another, once a shady adult has introduced himself, bingo, not a stranger anymore in the kid's eyes. And for a third, most strangers are completely benign (grocery store clerks, families at the park), and sometimes it's a stranger who could come to the rescue in a risky situation, like a friendly-looking mom or a cop.
So … what Pattie recommends telling kids to beware of is instead "tricky people," and I changed it to "sneaky people" when talking with Mikko. He didn't quite understand what "tricky" meant, whereas one of the shows he watches, Jake and the Neverland Pirates, has a song about Captain Hook being sneaky. Since he identifies sneaky with bad guy, I figured that was a good bet.
- Sneaky people try to get kids to do things in secret.
- Sneaky people try to get kids to hide things from their mom and dad.
- Sneaky people don't want kids to ask their parents' permission to do something.
- Sneaky people want kids to go somewhere with them without telling their parents.
- Sneaky people ask kids for help even though they're grownups and don't need help.
- If you're a kid who needs help and your parents aren't around, find a mom with kids and ask her for help. (Women are much more likely to stay with other kids until they get the help they need or locate their parents, and are much less likely to be … well … sneaky.)
This framework I thought was brilliant. It made so much more sense than "stranger danger" and covered a much wider range of possibilities. It covered sketchy teachers, uncles, coaches, doctors, even peers, who are not strangers but who might want your kids to do things in secret or without your permission. And it wasn't too scary to talk about with Mikko, the way just flat-out discussing child molestation or kidnapping would be. I don't want to scar the kid for life — I just want him to have a good head on his shoulders and know how to resist any of the sneaky people who would want to hurt him (even if he doesn't quite understand why or how they would hurt him, and thank goodness he doesn't yet).
So we had this conversation about sneaky people, and I thought it went all right. I knew I'd have to reinforce it again, and again, and again, but I thought the basic premise had sunk in. "Don't let sneaky people tell you do something in secret. Don't go anywhere away from us with anyone without asking us first. If someone tells you to keep something a secret from us, tell us! We won't be mad at you."
Mikko nodded along.
When I was watching that Dateline episode, Mikko came into the room and started watching it with me. I was afraid he might get upset over the suggestions of someone harming kids and the implications of what that meant, or about the drama visible as the kids struggled with whether to do what they knew was right or to go along into the ice cream man's oh-so-interesting truck as he suggested and get free ice cream.
Well, Mikko was upset, all right.
He was upset that the one boy in a group who refused to enter the truck didn't get free ice cream!
"Will that boy get ice cream later?" Mikko asked, highly concerned about this situation.
"Um … well, that's not the point," I said. "The point is that person in the truck is being sneaky and trying to get kids to go into the truck without asking their parents for permission first."
Mikko nodded. "Uh-huh. So … that boy isn't getting any ice cream?"
"He might get ice cream, but he has to ask his parents first if it's all right."
"Will the ice cream still be free if he waits?"
"Riiight. It doesn't really matter. I'd much rather you were safe than had free ice cream. I can buy you ice cream! That ice cream guy is being really sneaky. He might be a bad guy. You should always ask us first if someone offers you ice cream or wants you to go somewhere."
Mikko considers this. "And then you'll give me ice cream?"
It's kind of like my coaching on emergencies. First of all, he keeps thinking it's 9-9-1, so that's no good. Or I remind him that if he's lost, he's to stay still and let me find him, and he blithely reassures me that he's much better at finding things than I am (says the kid who can't find items he's holding in his own hand). Or when I say he should go with firefighters if they come into our burning house, even though they'll look kind of scary in all their gear and masks, he just looks at me like I'm so silly: "Mama," he says, "I'm very big and strong. I can save myself. You're a girl, so maybe you need firefighters to help."
So … we continue the conversations, and throw some feminist training into the mix. My kid's clearly a sitting duck at the moment, but I have hope that someday — someday — he might be the only kid to ace one of those Dateline tests!
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:
(This list will be updated by afternoon March 12 with all the carnival links.)
- A Difficult Conversation — Kellie at Our Mindful Life is keeping her mouth shut about a difficult topic.
- Discussing Sexuality and Objectification With Your Child — At Authentic Parenting, Laura is puzzled at how to discuss sexuality and objectification with her 4-year-old.
- Tough Conversations — Kadiera at Our Little Acorn knows there are difficult topics to work through with her children in the future, but right now, every conversation is a challenge with a nonverbal child.
- Real Talk — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama explains why there are no conversation topics that are off limits with her daughter, and how she ensures that tough conversations are approached in a developmentally appropriate manner.
- From blow jobs to boob jobs and lots of sex inbetween — Mrs Green talks candidly about boob jobs and blow jobs…
- When Together Doesn't Work — Ashley at Domestic Chaos discusses the various conversations her family has had in the early stages of separation.
- Talking To Children About Death — Luschka at Diary of a First Child is currently dealing with the terminal illness of her mother. In this post she shares how she's explained it to her toddler, and some of the things she's learned along the way.
- Teaching 9-1-1 To Kids — Kerry at City Kids Homeschooling talks about the importance of using practical, age-appropriate emergency scenarios as a springboard for 9-1-1 conversations.
- Preschool Peer Pressure — Lactating Girl struggles to explain to her preschooler why friends sometimes aren't so friendly.
- Frank Talk — Rosemary at Rosmarinus Officinalis unpacks a few conversations about sexuality that she's had with her 2-year-old daughter, and her motivation for having so many frank discussions.
- When simple becomes tough — A natural mum manages oppositional defiance in a toddler at Ursula Ciller's Blog.
- How Babies are Born: a conversation with my daughter — Justine at The Lone Home Ranger tries to expand her daughter's horizons while treading lightly through the waters of pre-K social order.
- Difficult Questions & Lies: 4 Reasons to Tell The Truth — Ariadne of Positive Parenting Connection shares the potential impact that telling lies instead of taking the time to answer difficult questions can have on the parent-child relationship.
- Parenting Challenges--when someone dies — Survivor at Surviving Mexico writes about talking to her child about death and the cultural challenges involved in living in a predominantly Catholic nation.
- Daddy Died — Breaking the news to your children that their father passed away is tough. Erica at ChildOrganics shares her story.
- Openness — sustainablemum prepares herself for the day when she has to tell her children that a close relative has died.
- Embracing Individuality — At Living Peacefully with Children, Mandy addressed a difficult question in public with directness and honesty.
- Making the scary or different okay — Although she tries to listen more than she talks about tough topics, Jessica Claire of Crunchy-Chewy Mama also values discussing them with her children to soften the blow they might cause when they hit closer to home.
- Talking to My Child About Going Gluten Free — When Dionna at Code Name: Mama concluded that her family would benefit from eliminating gluten from their diet, she came up with a plan to persuade her gluten-loving son to find peace with the change. This is how they turned the transition to a gluten-free lifestyle into an adventure rather than a hardship.
- How Does Your Family Explain Differences and Approach Diversity? — How do you and your family approach diversity? Gretchen of That Mama Gretchen shares her thoughts at Natural Parents Network and would like to hear from readers.
- Discussing Difficult Topics with Kids: What’s Worked for Me — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now shares parenting practices that enabled discussions of difficult topics with her (now-adult) children to be positive experiences.
- Tough Conversations — Get some pointers from Jorje of Momma Jorje on important factors to keep in mind when broaching tough topics with kids.
- Protect your kids from sneaky people — Lauren at Hobo Mama has cautioned her son against trusting people who'd want to hurt him — and hopes the lessons have sunk in.
- Mommy, What Does the Bible Say? — Amy at Me, Mothering, and Making it All Work works through how to answer a question from her 4-year-old that doesn't have a simple answer.
- When All You Want for Them is Love: Adoption, Abandonment, and Honoring the Truth — Melissa at White Noise talks about balancing truth and love when telling her son his adoption story.