Although Gavin de Becker’s book Protecting the Gift is a most uncomfortable read, I recommend it to parents whenever discussions of child safety come up. One of the many practical pieces of advice is how to tell when your child is ready to be left alone–ready to play a major role in assuring their own safety. Can you answer yes to all of the questions below?
The Test of Twelve
- Does your child know how to honor his feelings? If someone makes him uncomfortable, that’s an important signal.
- Are you as the parent strong enough to hear about any experience your child has had, no matter how unpleasant?
- Does your child know it’s okay to rebuff and defy adults?
- Does your child know it’s okay to be assertive?
- Does your child know how to ask for assistance or help?
- Does your child know how to choose who to ask? For example, he should look for a woman to help him.
- Does your child know how to describe his peril?
- Does your child know it’s okay to strike, even to injure, someone if he believes he is in danger, and that you’ll support any action he takes as a result of feeling uncomfortable or afraid?
- Does your child know it’s okay to make noise, to scream, to yell, to run?
- Does your child know that if someone ever tries to force him to go somewhere, what he screams should include, ”This is not my father”? Onlookers seeing a child scream or even struggle are likely to assume the adult is a parent.
- Does your child know that if someone says, ”Don’t yell,” the thing to do is yell? The corollary is if someone says, ”Don’t tell,” the thing to do is tell.
- Does your child know to fully resist ever going anywhere out of public view with someone he doesn’t know, and particularly to resist going anywhere with someone who tries to persuade him?
The organizer of one of the local parenting groups I’ve worked with before recently asked me if I could recommend a sort of “Best of” book list for a new mom who was joining their group. It ended up being a really fun reflection for me–which books I like the most, which would be helpful for someone who is just starting their parenting journey… (with the disclaimer that, of course, no one who has an infant has time to actually read~) The list ranges from advice about understanding kids’ emotional lives, to childhood sexual development, to basic behavior modification, to advice about feeding and toilet training.
Do you know someone who is about to become a parent? Want a starter book list for yourself or for a loved one? See below–and let me hear from you if you have book recs for new parents that you think should be on this list.
- The Whole Brain Child by Dan Seigel & Tina Payne Bryson. This is always my top parenting book recommendation. It is so helpful (and easy to read!) for understanding your child’s inner emotional life.
- How to Talk so Kids will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk, AND Siblings without Rivalry both by Faber & Mazlich. These two books are classics, for a good reason!
- Your 1 Year Old, Your 2 Year Old, etc by Louise Ames & Frances Ilg. This is a series, each book focusing on a particular year of life, and offering great basic child development information about what to expect from kids that age. So much of the angst parents experience can be relieved by knowing that their child’s latest worrisome or obnoxious behavior is developmentally normal. Highly recommend these books. (they are really short, too!)
- Toilet Training The Brazelton Way by T Berry Brazelton & Joshua Sparrow. Children don’t generally react well to being pushed to toilet train when they aren’t yet ready. This book gives parents a clear, simple, child-centered guide to an area of parenting that can be really difficult.
- The first 43 pages of “Parenting the Defiant Child” by Alan Kazdin. (not pictured.) This book gives a great basic overview of some behavioral myths and facts. I don’t love the rest of the book but the first 43 pages should be handed out at hospitals in order to dispel some of the unhelpful, inaccurate ideas out there about shaping behavior.
- From Diapers to Dating by Deborah Haffney. Great information about childhood sexual development for parents. Might as well get yourself educated from the beginning!
- What’s the Big Secret by Laura Krasney Brown This book is for kids, and it does a great book explaining bodies & reproduction. It’s written for the youngest kids–once your child isn’t ripping pages & eating paper when they ‘read,’ they are ready for this book.
- When I Feel Angry (or When I Feel Sad, or When I am Missing You) by Cornelia Maude Spellman. These are also titles for kids. The author is a therapist, and each book does a great job of explaining emotions to kids, and giving them basic support for how to manage them. Highly recommended!
- Child of Mine: Feeding with Love and Good Sense by Ellen Satter. Child of Mine is the go-to book for advice on feeding kids in a nutritionally & psychologically healthy way.
- Protecting the Gift: Keeping Children and Teenagers Safe (and Parents Sane) by Gavin DeBecker. (not pictured.) It’s not a pleasant read, but for any parent who has concerns/fears about child safety (from human predators, specifically) this book is the evidence-based guide for how to recognize and listen to your intuition and teach your children to do the same. It also has the helpful “Test of 12” for measuring whether your child is ready to be left alone.
Note: the book links are affiliate links, which means that if you click & buy, I get a tiny little percentage of the purchase price, at no additional cost to you. So, if you do, thanks!
Like ice cream comes in different flavors, I, too, come in different versions of myself.
When I have slept well and enough, eaten healthfully, gotten exercise and happy time with loved ones, and don’t have big worries hanging over my head, I am generally a good version of myself. I’m more patient and peaceful, I laugh more, care less about small stuff, and am more generous with myself and those around me.
However, when those conditions aren’t met, I am more likely to be the grouchy version, or the inflexible version, or the anxious version of myself. Those traits (grouchiness, inflexibility, anxiety) are always in me, but when I am at my best, they just don’t show up in quantities that are a problem. But when I’m not at my best, my unique human imperfections are more evident, more frequent, and more annoying to those around me (so I’m told. ;^) )
Each of us has a unique set of human imperfections, but the size and severity of those traits are always affected by our overall wellness. For this reason, when parents focus on their child’s problem behaviors, it is sometimes more helpful to steer them towards ways to help that child be the best possible version of themselves.
If you have noticed that your child is exhibiting more unwanted traits lately, start addressing the problem by focusing on general well-being first. How is sleep? Healthy foods, exercise, drinking water? Would they benefit from some extra connection time with you? How is school? What might be stressing your child out? Are they sad or worried about something?
If we can reduce the stressors (whether physical, situational, relational, or psychological) we’ll also likely trigger the happy side effect of reducing the unwanted behaviors. So the next time you aren’t pleased with certain behaviors, remind yourself to also focus on increasing your child’s overall wellness. Bringing out the best version of your child (or yourself) is a wonderful way to get back to the smoother, happier path.