Keeping our children safe is important to every single parent. And there are so many areas to consider when thinking about safety. Stepping out of the sleep bubble, today I am going to share my tips for keeping kids safe when playing with other kids. Yep, sometimes dangerous situations can come up with just littles playing together. As a therapist, mom, and even once a little kid myself, I am all too aware of some of the dangers that come through innocent play. What dangers am I talking about? Child on child sexual acts, or introducing or sharing pornography between children, or even something that seems innocent enough as play kissing. Those are just a few examples. There are many more that are common between children. As a mother, I know I can’t control everything but I know I can make a difference in the exposure my child might have to many dangers by being proactive and creating some ground rules now.
Today my goal is to share some of the rules we have in our home. My hope is that this list will get you thinking and talking with your partner and children and deciding what your rules will be around play. Your list could be totally different! There really is no right way to do this. Or in other words, the right way is the way you choose for your family because you are the only person intimately involved with them and will know what is right.
I would also love to know what you do to keep kids playing safe? Please share in the comments to help me and others brainstorm what will work for them!
1. No playing in bedrooms. In our home bedrooms are for sleeping not for playing. We also get dressed in our bedrooms and read bedtime stories. And that’s about it. We don’t have toys in the bedroom because I don’t want children playing in bedrooms and I also want bedrooms to be mostly boring to support sleep.
2. Keep the door open/and only play in open areas. I prefer playing to happen in common areas in the home. It’s much easier to monitor and it’s much harder to do or get away with inappropriate play. However, if you have a playroom do your best to make it easy to monitor. Keep the door open (or even better just take the door off), place a monitor in the playroom, or choose a room near high traffic areas.
3. Talk to your children regularly about their body and appropriate play and boundaries in regards to their bodies. There are some amazing resources out there for these conversations. I like to tell my toddlers early on that they are in charge of their body and I model for them respect for their bodies by asking their permission to hold or touch their body.
4. Say no to sleepovers. Did you see a post by @simpleonpurpose where she shared some statistics around sleepovers? It was eye opening. In our family we have decided not to do sleepovers, and when we stay with family we have our family unit sleep together instead of breaking off. It is tricky sometimes, and has made some things difficult, but I think it’s worth it!
5. Limit and monitor screen time. Nothing is 100% secure anymore. Be careful. Be diligent and know that a child who sees something inappropriate will want to act or play that out. If you see something in play that seems off, it is! Your child has seen this somewhere else. Maybe through the media, or perhaps in play with another child. Try to figure out where your child was exposed to this type of play without drawing too much attention to it. I recently watched The Social Dilemma and it affirmed our decision to keep screen time as low as realistically possible for our children.
6. Say no to smartphones. I don’t know how else to say this: If your children have access to a phone (or iPod or iPad or anything) with the internet (even through a friend) they are seeing porn. Maybe not seeking it out but definitely seeing it. This becomes especially challenging when your children’s friends have smart phones at a young age. I know I can’t protect my children from coming across pornography forever, but I will do everything I can to keep them innocent as long as possible. We’ve used the book Good Picture Bad Picture by Kristen A. Jenson. There are many others that can be helpful in teaching children what pornography is and what to do when they see it. Check out the previous work of @kollinkartchner who passed away recently. He shared the harmful effects on children and teens from smartphones and saved and continues to save many lives.
7. Know the families of your children’s friends. This can be a hard one! And I know the older my children get the harder it will be. To be honest, I don’t have a foolproof way to handle this, but my two mottos are 1) My trust is not given freely, each family has to earn it. And 2) follow your gut. First impressions are so insightful and if something doesn’t’ feel right that is enough reason to stop it. I recommend reading the book Blink by Malcolm Gladwell to learn more about your first impression and what it can mean. I also like getting together with new friends as a family or couple to just chat and get to know them, opening up the line of communication with them.
8. Discuss rules and expectations frequently. We try to discuss family rules regularly. Roleplaying is another great tool for children to practice sticking to family rules. We give our children time to share frustrations around our rules or how they want things to be different. We do our best to listen and understand. We want our children to feel heard and their opinion valued. This can also be a chance to do a better job explaining a rule or the reason we have the rule. The more my children understand the more likely they are to follow that rule.
There you have it. I don’t think this is a comprehensive list. I know this list will change for our family over time. And I know, there are still many holes in our plan. One of the hardest parts for me to swallow is knowing I have no control over what rules and boundaries my children will experience in another home. We are relatively new to kids playing over at friends’ houses without me joining them for a scheduled playdate. Is it polite to ask families what rules they have in place? Is it okay if I tell parents I don’t know them well enough to let my kids play inside at their home yet? Honestly, I don’t know. And I will probably mess up a bunch and look like a complete idiot a time or two or ten, but I am willing to do that for my kids. I will do whatever it takes to keep them safe.