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Encouraging children to speak up and speak out

Even as adults, it's sometimes hard to find the right words to say when you see something happening that isn't quite right. You might be too surprised to think on your feet, not feel like you have the right "tools" at hand, or just not know where to go to get help. You might even feel pressure to remain silent. Sometimes it feels easier to say nothing and hope the problem goes away.

But as you've got older, you've probably found from experience that the more you do speak out, the easier it becomes. You may have also noticed that if you spend a bit of time thinking in advance about how you're going to talk about it when you do speak out, that when the time comes to do so, you'll feel a lot more confident about it. As a parent or caregiver, you're now in a position where you're spending a lot of time explaining to your child why something is right or wrong, and you may have found that being a parent has given you more confidence to assert yourself when you see something wrong in the "adult world", too.

Your child is going through a lot of the "figuring out" that you vaguely remember from your own school years. While teachers do their best to promote a happy environment, the schoolyard can still be a jungle, and your child may have been bullied or seen other children be bullied. Peer pressure is very strong during the school years, making it even more difficult for children to find their voices and speak out against what they know is wrong; however, keeping silent rarely fixes anything. These formative years are also an exploration of one's own identity, and it's an important opportunity to develop compassion, confidence, skills of persuasion and the ability to act on one's beliefs.

Children need to feel empowered to speak out about unacceptable behaviour that they might see happen to others, and they also need to develop the confidence to speak up for themselves. We all teach our children about "stranger danger", but statistically speaking, abusers are more likely to be familiar faces to the child. It's especially hard to speak out against someone you know, and so it's important that your child feel that they can speak with you and with other adults who they trust. Developing these self-protective behaviours is necessary not only to prevent abuse as a child, but to prevent it as an adult.

CCCSF handThe Constable Care Child Safety Foundation’s logo features the helping hand, which represents an exercise in protective behaviours that you can do easily at home with your child. Get your child to write the name on each finger of an adult who they know and trust, and explain to them that if something happens to them that makes them uncomfortable, they should go to these adults one by one; if they feel like the issue wasn't resolved by the first person, they can go to the next person on this list.

Even now, children are often told "don't be a tattletale", or encouraged to keep secrets that can be harmful. Does your child know who to speak to? Do they feel encouraged to do so? Are they confident in speaking up, and speaking out? These are all skills that you can help your child develop, and Constable Care can help too: our website has information about bullying, protective behaviours and many other issues that children face. We also run a Fun Scary program, visiting schools with a puppet show that talks to students in Years K-3 about the difference between fun-scary (sliding down a slide) and bad-scary, and that there is always someone to talk to about the bad-scary stuff. We teach children to understand emotions that are still quite new to them, and how to identify safe adults to talk to. Schools can book the Fun Scary program by contacting our Arts and Education Coordinator at 9272 0007, or send us an e-mail to find out more information.

Your child may simply not know how to speak out when they feel that something isn't right. Acting on their values isn't always easy, but as parents we can guide and encourage them. We can ask them "what would you do if…?", and read them stories about people who have acted on their values, not only in the schoolyard but even to change the world. By equipping our children with these skills, and leading by example, we can help them grow into the next generation of confident, assertive, and caring adults.

Written by Lara Silbert

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