I’m at a business lunch talking with a stranger. He’s a father of two, and he looks at me intently and asks “How do we keep our children safe? How do we protect them from all there is out there?”
In a memory, I’m nine years old and the fire is crackling in our lounge room. We’re all in our jarmies, squished together on the couch. Mum’s in the middle, she opens our new story – this time it’s Seven Little Australians. I’m an independent reader, and have been for some time now – but my Mum, she reads to us from this big, hard-covered, fully-illustrated tome and there is nowhere else I would rather be.
I’m talking to this guy who is tough and tattooed, but this day I see something else. A quiet boyish smile plays on the corners of his mouth, and his eyes mist as he lets a memory spill out. He’s a small boy arriving at Nanna’s and can smell the baking from her front door. She wraps him into her arms, and there’s a delight in her laughter that is just for him. Later that afternoon, he snuggles next to Pop and they watch cartoons together.
“There is this thing we’ve always done,” another man explains, with a shy look across to his wife. “We dance in our kitchen. It starts out with just us, but then all the kids come in and join us.” They giggle, and for a moment they forget I’m even in the room.
How do we keep our children safe? As parents we set boundaries, of course – we teach our children parameters of behaviour, and hopefully we go with them as they explore the edges and make decisions for themselves, using us as a guide, a credible source of information.
AND there is something else, both powerful and enjoyable, that we can do.
The biggest predictor of kids engaging in risky, antisocial, dangerous, delinquent behaviour is that they have done so previously. We can’t do much about the past (until my son achieves his ambition of inventing time travel). The next biggest predictor of delinquent behaviour is hanging around with the “wrong crowd” (see here). The two biggest predictors of children hanging around with the “wrong crowd” are:
- Disengagement from school, and
- Disengagement from family
The way we keep our children safe? We have to make it worthwhile to hangout within the boundaries. We can concentrate on making sure HOME is a good place to be (and school, but let’s tackle that another time).
I look to my parents as awesome role models on this. My school years were tough years, and my 9-3 Monday-Friday was filled with taunting, being spat on, a soft place to land a kick or a punch – or, worst of all, exclusion. The factors that contributed to me being bullied aren’t as important as the factors that ensured I survived.
Outside of the schoolyard, I felt wholly loved, and my home was my sanctuary. Our weekends and holidays were full of picnics, camping, Sunday roasts and board games. Our opinions were heard and encouraged; my high school days began with a cup of tea in bed; and there was always time for a cuddle on the couch. My Mum made my school lunch Every Single Day through to year 12 – a little care package and reminder she loved me right there in the middle of my day. We ate dinner every night around the table together. Our achievements were celebrated, and our losses were supported.
Don’t get me wrong, there was plenty of conflict and imperfect moments too.
But what my parents did was enough to hold me. It was enough to keep me safe. And through all of it, they were reliable, up-front, trustworthy sources of information about the world. It wasn’t always easy to talk to them about “stuff” – but when I did, I always got all the information I needed, and I wasn’t judged for asking.
Except for when I got my tattoo. Dad definitely judged me for that 😉
Here are some things you’re probably already doing a lot of the time, that help create a home environment worth hanging out in:
- Talk openly with your children, and with others, about the things you value, love, and appreciate about your children.
- Family mealtimes (with no TV or other devices).
- Work on projects together – whether it be home renovating; planting a garden; geocaching – or ask your kids for their suggestions.
- Find interests the whole family can share in. Personally, I would never make the choice to go fishing. But when I go with Stoick and my boys – the joy on their faces is like nothing else. I go, just for that.
- Make sure there’s plenty of times when all of and only your family are engaged in pleasant events together.
- Speak kindly to each other. Sarcasm, insults, name-calling: they have no place in healthy relationships. Ever.
- Say what you mean, and mean what you say. Our children need to be able to trust us as credible, reliable sources of information.
- Model the behaviours you want from your children. It’s not sufficient to tell them – they watch us, and actions teach louder than words.
I know I’ve raved about his book before, but for more on how to (and why you would want to) create nurturing environments for our children, I implore you to read Anthony Biglan’s “The Nurture Effect”.
Meanwhile, we are a village raising children together – what do you (or your parents) do in your home, to create an environment worth staying in? Comment below 🙂