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Teaching Safety by Empowering Your Child

April 22, 2021
By Mara Mauze, PhD, ABPP

We recently participated in the cardboard kids project, sponsored by Child Safe SA.  The goal of this month is to teach children about health, safety, and wellness.  We know parents are often proactive teaching their children about safety related to seat belts, helmets, and crossing the street.  But some topics, like physical boundaries and abuse, can be more difficult or uncomfortable to discuss. Statistics show that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 13 boys experience sexual abuse and 91% of perpetrators are someone the child knows (neighbor, coach, relative).  It’s important to start having these conversations with your children and we wanted to give you some tips for successful discussions at your house.

Use Anatomically Correct Terms for All Body Parts.  Many children know the correct terms for things like elbows, knees, and ankles but use different words for private parts.  When we use nicknames for private body parts (buttocks, nipples, penis, vagina) we inadvertently teach children that it’s not okay to talk about these parts or that these parts are embarrassing or shameful.  Using anatomically correct terms for ALL body parts teaches children that it’s okay to talk about their bodies and what happens with them.

Teach Children About Their Bodies.  Children have many questions about body parts and differences between boys and girls. Answer these questions factually.  When your child is in the bathroom, give them options.  “It’s time to wipe your bottom. Do you want to wipe your bottom or should I help you wipe?”  “We need to wash your penis.  Would you like to wash your penis or would you like me to wash your penis?”  This teaches them they have control and choices over who touches their bodies.  Talk about the people who can see or help them with private body parts (Mom, Dad, pediatrician) and who should not.

No Means No.  As adults, we know the importance of setting boundaries with our bodies but we can practice this with children in little ways.  Teach everyone in your household that when someone says “No” or “Stop” we stop immediately.  At our house, when we are tickling the kids if one of them says “No” or “Stop” we immediately stop and put our hands up and say “No means no.”  This teaches children that it’s okay to say No and that the no should be respected.

Secrets versus Surprises.  Often when children are being harmed, they are told by the perpetrator that what is happening is a secret that should not be told to parents. Consider making it a rule that your household does not have secrets from Mom and Dad.  We talk a lot about secrets versus surprises. Christmas or birthday presents aren’t secrets, they are surprises.  Teach your children that if someone tells them something should be a secret, that is usually something that needs to be told to Mom and Dad. We also ask our children what they were told not to tell us.  My dad started this tradition when I was little.  Every morning after we’d had a babysitter, he would casually ask “What did the babysitter tell you not to tell us?”  We have implemented this same tradition with our children.  They have not yet reported anything concerning to us but it’s also a good way to gauge what’s happening when you are not home (i.e., the boyfriend came over or they had ice cream for dinner).

Limit and Monitor Technology Usage.  Our household has very limited technology usage.  However, as children use technology for school or have older siblings or babysitters who are using technology, it’s very possible they will see or hear things you would not want them to see or hear.  Establish guidelines early for technology.  The American Academy of Pediatrics has some wonderful family media guides available.

Talk to Your Children and Ask Questions in a Comfortable Setting.  When you pick your child up from a playdate, birthday party, or other event, save your questions for the car ride home or safe environment.  As parents, we may pick our child up and say to the child “did you have fun?” and we may ask the hosting parent “Did everything go okay or did my child behave?”  This can put your child in a position of having to answer this question in a situation that may not be comfortable.  Instead, when you pick your child up consider saying “I’m so glad to see you” and then ask questions in the car.  Good questions to ask are things like “who all was there? Who did you play with? What was the best part? Was there anything that you didn’t like or that made you uncomfortable?”  If these become a standard part of your routine, your child may be more willing to share.

Trust Your Child’s Instinct.  Teach your child that their body sends them signals.  Young children may not be able to identify that something made them “uncomfortable” but may recognize that a situation made them feel “icky” or made their stomach hurt.  If your child says these things or expresses that he or she does not like playing with a certain child or adult, trust that instinct.  Trust your instinct as well.  If you get a weird vibe, listen to that vibe.

We know these conversations are difficult and uncomfortable but they are also essential to empower our children to stand up for themselves and to help keep them safe. If we can be helpful in identifying resources or language to help you talk to your children, please let us know.

1 comment

Cindy Hinds Celebration of Life

April 01, 2021
By The Acorn

Please join us for a celebration of life and tree planting in memory of our dear friend and teacher, Cindy Hinds.

Saturday, April 17, 2021 at 10AM

The Acorn Playground

    

 

 

 

         

2 comments

Acorn Update Regarding Mask Mandate

March 03, 2021
By Mara Mauze, PhD, ABPP

Dear Acorn Parents,                                                                                            

We are aware of the recent press conference where Governor Abbott lifted Covid policies and mandates.  We are also aware that currently only 6% of the state of Texas has received a COVID 19 vaccine and that variants are on the rise.  However, from the beginning we have looked at the Center for Disease Control and their recommendations from medical professionals on how to safely reopen our school and keep it open.  We have confidence in our protocols, as better air filtration, frequent hand washing, mask wearing and social distancing have helped us to remain open and without spread of COVID-19 within our school community.

As such, we will continue our school year as we began it.  Staff and faculty will continue to wear masks.  Children who come with masks will continue to be encouraged to wear them.  We will continue to utilize our outdoor space as much as possible and we will continue our policies of frequent hand washing and social distancing.  As always, we will maintain a spirit of transparency and openness and will notify you of any cases in our community.

We also ask for your continued diligence as a community, particularly as we move into spring break.  Should you choose to travel, consider quarantining or being tested upon your return to minimize the risk of bringing illness into our community. The states around us (New Mexico, Oklahoma, etc) continue to have state wide mask mandates. Please be diligent about following the safety parameters as we move into the last part of the school year.

We know that the strategies we have in place have been shown to help mitigate the spread and so we plan to continue them in an effort to maintain the health and safety of our entire community.  We thank you for your cooperation and wish you a healthy spring break.

Mara, Wendy & Rich

The 2020-2021 Marathon

February 22, 2021
By Mara Mauze, PhD, ABPP

 

I’ve been talking with other parents lately and the general theme I hear is that parents are tired.  We are worn out, exhausted, and some of us feel a bit broken.  This morning I was talking with two other moms, and we all agreed that we woke up this morning feeling grouchier and more unsettled than usual.  Last night, when I put my 5-year-old to bed he cried for a long time and said “Mommy, I’m sad.” I asked him why, and he said, “I don’t know, I’m just sad.”  When I walked into HEB today and saw completely empty shelves where milk, butter, and eggs used to be, I felt a little panicked and my eyes filled up with tears. What’s going on? We’ve been fine!

            Here is the reality.  For the past 12 months, most of us have been in a state of uncertainty.  Our current daily life involves wearing masks, keeping our distance, wondering if our children are about to be sent home from school in quarantine due to an exposure, wondering if we’re about to be sent home from work in quarantine, wondering if and when we’ll get the vaccine, wondering if there will be summer camp and if there is, will we be comfortable sending our kids, wondering if it’s safe for our children to play with their friends, wondering if we can work from home one more day without losing it, and so on.  Add to that the past week when most of us did not have power or running water and grocery supplies are scarce, and we are all near our breaking point.

            If I’m being honest, it took me by surprise to feel so wiped out and low after the snow week.  But realistically, we have all been living in a state of perpetual uncertainty and prolonged trauma for a year.  At the beginning, we were very intentional about giving people grace and doing what we needed to do to manage our mental health.  However, the longer this goes on, the harder it becomes to keep going.  We’re at mile 35 of a race of unknown distance and the finish line keeps moving.  So here’s my (unsolicited) advice.

1. Give yourself a break.  We have been plodding forward for a long time. It’s okay to take a break.  Maybe you need a day to cry. Maybe you need a day to have your spouse or partner take over all household tasks and you sit in bed and read a book or sleep.  Maybe one day you hand over dinner and bedtime responsibilities and you go for a walk or take a hot bath. Perhaps you trade drop off responsibilities so one of you can drink a hot cup of coffee in the silence of your house or car. Perhaps you and your spouse trade off weekend days to each focus on yourselves.  Take care of yourself.  If you don’t there is nothing left to give to your children.

2. Be honest about your feelings.  It’s easy when someone asks how you are to say “fine” and say something funny or sarcastic.  But pick one or two people you can be honest with about how you feel.  I have three other mom friends I feel I can be totally honest with on my broken days.  They don’t fix it, but they will sit with me in that space and that eases the load.

3. Ask for help.  It is really, really hard for me to ask for help.  It is even harder for me to accept help.  But this is a long haul.  It’s okay to ask for help. Ask a neighbor to pick up milk for you if they find it at the store. Ask a friend if kids can play in her yard one afternoon and you’ll take the kids to your yard a different day so you each can have a break. If you are working on a big work project from home, ask your spouse to take the kids somewhere else for a few hours so you can focus.

4. Try to be patient.  Let’s be honest. We lose our patience with our children, our partners, our friends.  But they are all responding to these same situations in their own ways.  One of my children gets very physically active when he’s nervous or uncertain. Another is more likely to cry or tantrum.  Both of them need more physical contact when they are stressed. They need more hugs, more hand holding, more snuggles.  It’s easy for me to lose my patience with the tantrums or the frenetic activity but if I take a second and remember how much they are dealing with, it helps me be more patient. 

5. Find positive ways to channel the feelings.  A long walk or phone call with a friend can help me enormously.  My husband needs to be outside or go for a run.  My oldest needs one on one time or to run around outside.  My little guy needs snuggles or my physical presence near him to feel better.  Others need to log off work completely for an hour and go outside.  Find what you need that fills your bucket with positivity and helps you release the anxiety and stress in a positive way.

6. Remember that we are here to help.  If you or your children are struggling, please let us know.  We often joke about babies not coming with a manual and here we find ourselves in a situation where we are daily rewriting what we thought the manual suggested.  While there is no manual, we do have other materials in our parenting library that may be useful.  If resources beyond those are needed, we are happy to help your children and I have a number of resources for adults needing assistance.  We are all in this together.

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