Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Keeping Children Safe (And Parents Sane)

The title of this post is taken from the subtitle of an excellent book I read recently called Protecting the Gift: Keeping Children and Teenagers Safe (And Parents Sane) by Gavin de Becker. I'd put the book on my to-read list months ago, but I only got around to reading it last week. And I am so glad I did.

De Becker is an expert in predicting violent behavior. He advises clients like the C.I.A. and the Supreme Court as well as presidents and movie stars in order to keep them safe; he also co-founded an organization to assist battered women and children. He has studied all the different horrible things that can happen to people--the type of things that grip a parent's heart when we think about what could possibly befall our children if we aren't there to protect them. Sounds like a book you don't want to read before you go to bed, right?

Yet Protecting the Gift is not as scary as I thought it would be. This is because de Becker tells parents that we are equipped with the tools we need to protect our children. The main thing we need to do, he emphasizes, is listen to our intuition. That little voice that says, "Don't let your child walk home alone yet," or "I don't trust the parents of my child's school friend." Too often we talk ourselves out of listening to our instincts, he says, out of a desire not to offend or because we simply tell ourselves "It's probably nothing." It may be nothing, but what's the harm in listening to our intuition? It turns out that a lot of danger can be avoided when we listen to what our "wild brain" (as he calls it) is trying to tell us.

De Becker says, "To tap into this resource, to reinvest in our intuition, to know how to avoid danger, to know, for example, who to keep our children away from, we must listen to internal warnings when they are whispers. The voice that knows all about how to protect children may not always be the loudest, but it is the wisest."

Personally, I felt empowered knowing that as a mother, I am as fierce as any other animal mother when my children are threatened. This book convinced me that I could do anything I had to do to protect my children. Most of what I need to do, however, is not physical defense. First, I have to choose not to be a denier.

What do I mean by that? Well, as the book makes clear, children are much less likely to face danger at the hands of strangers than with people they know. (The book includes tips to prevent kidnapping and attacks by strangers, but statistically speaking, your child is very unlikely to be kidnapped by a stranger.) Accordingly, we as parents need to realize that predators count on denial. If we say,"Oh, that would never happen because we only know nice people," or, "Not in this family," we are willingly burying our heads in the sand. How much better to be informed, and to use the knowledge found in this book to train our children not to be victims!

Some of the information in the book that I found most useful included descriptions of tactics used by predators to charm children (and their parents), and how to stop the possible predator in his tracks. There are lists of questions to ask child-care providers, doctors, schools, and parents of your child's friends before you let your child visit their home. Also, the Test of Twelve is a list of things your children need to be capable of before they are allowed to be in public without you. I intend to start teaching these skills in an age-appropriate manner so that when Miss Pink and Mr. Blue are somewhere without their parents, they'll know what to do to keep themselves safe.

Maybe I sound paranoid, but I promise you that the book isn't written to make you unnecessarily afraid. Personally, I'm glad to have some guidelines that are based on statistical facts rather than irrational fears. As de Becker promises, "By the end of this book, you'll know more and be uncertain less; see more and deny less; accept more and hesitate less; act more and worry less. How can I be so sure? Because if nature selected you for the job of protecting a child, odds are you're up to it."



  1. I read this book several years ago and recommend it highly. Also the Gift of Fear book is excellent.
    I practice and discuss these skills with my now 14 and 11 y/o even to this day, even more important now. Thank you.

  2. Sounds fantastic! Are you intersted in guest posting this on Tales later this month?

  3. Sounds like a must read. Thanks for the review!

  4. This post couldn't be more timely. Really. Timely. You wouldn't believe it if I told you...and you did read my last post about letting them cross the road, right? Well, let's say they won't be crossing the road for a long, long while.

  5. That sounds excellent. I'm going to look that up.

  6. Sounds fantastically helpful-- I just put it on my wish list. Thanks for the heads-up. :-)