As parents, we tend to expect that our kids will pick things up from classmates at school.
Like comparing who has seen what movie, who can afford some new gadget, who is allowed to have a phone, or even who knows what swear words.
But I never fathomed that rape might join the list of discussion points among first graders.
I stopped in my tracks and turned to face her, asking her where she had heard that term.
She told me that before school had gotten out a couple weeks ago, she heard another student dare a kid to rape a classmate.
She had also heard the word used by the Witch in a song in Into The Woods, so we added alliteration and non-literal word usage to our list of sophisticated topics of the day (thanks a lot, Stephen Sondheim).
Once I recovered from the initial shock that I was having this conversation with my 7 year-old, it wasn’t as difficult as I would have imagined (had I actually been able to anticipate that conversation to begin with, of course).
And I realized that there were some important lessons to be shared as both a teacher and a parent when it comes to these “unexpected extracurriculars:”
#1: Keep the communication channels wide open at all times. This advice shows up in the parenting books so often that there are probably readers out there rolling their eyes right now. But let’s get a little more specific with this.
Had my response to questions about sensitive subjects in the past been met with embarrassment or shame, I seriously doubt my daughter would have been willing to ask more.
We also needed time together when she felt comfortable striking up the conversation — for some parents, that’s in the form of a bedtime routine that includes specific questions like, “What made you feel happy today?” or “Was there anything that made you feel confused?”
#2: Build off your child’s existing schema. Part of me wondered, is now the time for the talk? But I knew I did not want her introduction to the topic to revolve around sex at its very worst.
So, instead, we built our discussion around concepts with which she was already familiar. In this case, I focused on the notion that we have always taught her that she is “the boss of her body” (meaning that no one has the right to touch her body without her permission). Thus, the information came across as a more natural next step in an ongoing discussion, rather than an onslaught of bombshell-style information she may not have been ready for when she asked her innocent question.
#3: Revisit the idea of safe adults. This entire facet of our conversation reminded me just how complicated it can be to ask our children to talk to adults when someone says or does something that makes them feel uncomfortable. What if it’s a friend who says it? How do we know when we should just walk away, or when we should get help? How do we tell if what they are saying is actually threatening people’s safety? Who are the safe adults at school we should talk with?
These and other questions are essential and not nearly as straight-forward as we would hope. But as long as we keep it an ongoing discussion, we can hopefully increase the odds of our child learning to correctly discerning the answers.
As we become more aware of the unexpected lessons our kids and students face, we will be better equipped to help them navigate them. Please share ways you have approached these kinds of lessons with your kids at home and/or in the classroom.
featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto