How to talk to my child about personal safety

Parents are being encouraged to discuss safety strategies with their children following the arrest of a man accused of sexually assaulting a 12-year-old girl downtown last week.

On Thursday, Winnipeg police said officers arrested 36-year-old Johnny Walter Donald Garson and charged him with sexual assault and sexual interference. The charges have not been proven in court.

Garson was arrested after a 12-year-old girl reported to police that a man had sexually assaulted her.

READ MORE: Suspect arrested in connection with serious sexual assault of 12-year-old girl: WPS

Karen Kibsey, with the Canadian Center for Child Protection, said this kind of incident can shake parents’ and caregivers’ sense of safety.

“It’s still important that we’re having these safety discussions with our children in an age-appropriate and developmentally appropriate way,” Kibsey said in an interview with CTV Morning Live Winnipeg.

She said conversations about personal safety should be integrated into children’s daily lives.

“It’s the same thing when we’re talking about personal safety as when we’re talking about things like seatbelt safety and bike safety,” she said, adding that way children will know what to do if they ever need to use these safety strategies.

Kibsey said strategies like the buddy system are important for parents or caregivers to talk to their children about.

“For our younger kids, we reinforce that if they’re going anywhere, they need a buddy,” she said, saying this may be a parent, sibling, grandparent, or babysitter. “As our kids get older, so we have our tweens and teens, that might change a little bit, but we still use the buddy system.”

Kibsey said another safety strategy for children is to check in with a parent before going anywhere with anyone.

“What we know is conversations around things like stranger danger tend to be far less effective because children don’t always identify who a stranger might be,” she said. “There are so many times when a child might need to go to somebody they don’t know for help.”

Helping children understand safe boundaries, trust their instincts and practise assertiveness skills, such as learning how to say no, will allow children to use these safety strategies if they ever need to, Kibsey said.

She said parents should avoid taking a fear-based approach.

“Fear-based approaches to safety can actually increase a child’s anxiety about their safety. And that’s really the opposite of what we want when we want them to respond in a way that’s protective,” she said.

“So, by building up their safety skills, their confidence and their competence in these areas, it increases the likelihood of them employing these safety strategies if they were ever in a situation where they needed to.”

More information and resources for parents and caregivers can be found online at protectchildren.ca.

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