The ABC’s of keeping our daughters safe (part 3)


In part one of this essay we talked about the overall character, the hardware we want our daughters to be built with – confidence, assertiveness, maturity and intelligence.

In part two we talked about the kind of software, lessons, we want to add in; beginning with what not to do. Don’t ever say I told you so. Don’t ever call her weak. Don’t ever tell her that crying, or displays of emotion are a sign of weakness. Don’t ever lie to her. And don’t ever encourage delusional thinking.

We have also discussed who these predators are. Whether we are talking about the murder of children, kidnapping of them, or the molestation of them – most of the time, the predator is going to be someone you know. And more than likely, someone you yourself brought into the home – perhaps even a relative.

Now, to conclude, let’s move from what you should not do, to exactly what you should teach.

The ABC’s of keeping our daughters safe (part 3)

Here is what you should do.

Nothing matters more than having a close personal relationship that involves open and honest communication. Here are three core skill sets, each containing three core lessons, what I call the ABC’s of child self defense, that comprise the bulk of what I try to teach, and build on, with my own children.

A =Awareness – a deep sense of awareness between parent and child.

As I said, nothing matters more than this. Why? Because when it is absent, or even just deficient, children can become victimized without the parent ever knowing – until it is too late. Developing this, as with any good relationship, requires work, patience, and time. An immature parent, the kind who belittles, ignores, abuses, or competes with his or her own children, will, by definition, be incapable of achieving this. You always have to begin with your own maturity first.

Assuming you’re a loving, mature and responsible parent, here are three key lessons you will want to work on to strengthen the A in our ABC’s.

1- A feeling of deep trust, inculcated within the child, that lets her know that they can come to you with any problem, any situation, any incident, and you will listen to them and love them. Children who have that sort of relationship with their parents are not the types of children child predators pick out. Children who don’t, are. The type of parents I named above, bad parents, parents who belittle, ignore, abuse, or compete with their own kids, can never achieve this. And as a consequence, their children are always more vulnerable to child predators.

2- A deep knowledge the child has, earned through experience, that you will help her. You won’t tell her she is weak or that it was her fault. You wont lash out at her, or blame her for feeling a particular way. You will listen, truly listen and respond with the kind of wisdom that is only ever born from maturity and love. And you will then help your child solve the issue with solid advice. This is similar to #1, but also goes beyond it. With the first level of awareness, the child knows they can approach you. Here, they also know that you’ll have smart solutions. Children who’ve consistently observed their own parents or guardians make one poor decision after another, may not believe the parent will have much to offer by way of help, even if they trust them.

3- A sincere belief within the child that if he or she ever has to fight back, you will always have her back. Regardless of what the school systems says, or another parent or adult wants, the child must know that defending themselves is something you will always support. Forget the ‘zero tolerance’ policies some school systems have. School administrators and teachers are some of the worst offenders when it comes to ignoring or minimizing the affects bullies can have on a community. They are not your best solution. Teaching children to defend themselves and depend on themselves, is. Letting them know you will always back them up, regardless of what some teacher or vice principle says, is vital to your bond. And that bond matters more than anything else – and it certainly matters a hell of a lot more than what any principle or teacher thinks.

 ‘A’ stands for awareness. Awareness of what?

An awareness that exists between parent and child. An awareness the child has that she can always trust you with any secret, that you will listen to her, honor her feelings, offer wise counsel, and support her if she fights back. That’s the cornerstone of childhood protection. And that’s the one piece of information every pedophile and pervert looks to gain when he interviews your child as a potential victim.

Is she isolated?

Will the parents notice?

Is she close to her parents?

Does she trust her parents?

Will she ever tell her parents?

Will they even believe her if she does?

An isolated animal is a vulnerable animal. An isolated and young animal is easy prey.


Next in our ABC’s is B

 B = Boundaries – understanding and asserting healthy boundaries.

Next to their close and trusting relationship to you, a child’s own ability to understand and defend healthy boundaries is critical. How do children do this? A child does this using the skill-set of assertiveness. And assertiveness, as defined for a child, means saying what you feel out-loud.

Here are three ways to foster the development of that skill-set.

1- Teach the child that assertive behavior is healthy behavior. Teach them that being assertive and being strong is good. To do that you’ll need to help them distinguish between assertiveness and aggression, strength and anger, boldness and bullies. All of these are valuable lessons that will help the child throughout the rest of their life. Remember, your child is always watching. The best way to teach this behavior is to model it in your own life.

2- Teach the child that it is okay to tell adults “No!” – and to defend their boundaries no matter who the person is, older or younger, relative or stranger. You want them to understand what is and is not appropriate. To do that, you’ll have to tell them. What is inappropriate touching? Is it okay if it is an adult? Don’t assume a child just automatically knows this. Remember, predators are good at selling these ideas to kids. You need to teach them that just because a person is a teacher, uncle, or adult, that doesn’t mean it’s okay.

3- Teach the child how to be assertive. As discussed previously, teach them how to stand tall, how to speak loudly and clearly, how to carry themselves. And then teach them where those lines in the sand are. Teach them when to be assertive.

Is an adult asking them to leave with them?

Is mom’s boyfriend telling them to keep a secret?

Are they being bullied by a boy who is using instrumental reactive violence, or a girl who is using instrumental relational aggression?

Teach her about relational aggression.

What is relational aggression? It is a form of bullying more commonly used by females. And teach her that like all bullying, it is an instrumental tool – it’s used to get what the bully wants. Where boys fear physical isolation, being smothered, pinned, or trapped – girls tend to fear social isolation, being alone, unwanted, or stigmatized. Bullies, male and female, know this, and that’s why they will attack the way they do.

I wont be your friend if you don’t give me the toy

Ill make sure nobody is your friend if you don’t do what I want.

Let her know what it is and why it is done. Then give her some ART, some Appropriate Response Training. This is the software.

ART begins with learning the techniques of proper confrontation. Confronting, as opposed to appeasing the bully, is where we always need to begin. Assertiveness isn’t just the best deterrence against bullies – it’s also the best form of defense once the bully picks you. Saying how you feel out loud, being blunt, being clear, being sure of yourself, is where assertiveness starts.

“It’s not okay for you to speak to me that way!”

 That’s a great response. Especially when the child who says it is using the correct physical posture and tone in her voice. It’s on you to teach her what that physical posture is.

Have her practice standing tall and confidently.

Have her practice speaking up and looking you in the eye.

Have her practice using clear, blunt, and assertive language.

Teach your daughters what behaving from a position of personal strength looks like.

Girls love to play games, and there is no reason this can’t be fun. Remember, you want her trained in how to do this before she is ever called upon to ever do this. Start now. It’s never too late. But it is always better if we begin before it becomes necessary, before we ever see any signs that our child might be feeling bullied.

Discuss these scenarios and let them know it isn’t just okay to be assertive – it’s what you want them to do.

‘B’ stands for boundaries. What kind of boundaries? The kind defended with assertiveness in healthy humans. Understanding those boundaries and developing that assertiveness is, next to developing an aware relationship with your children, the second most important thing you can do to keep your kids safe.


Last in our ABC’s is C.

 C =Conflict – becoming comfortable and skilled at conflict.

Conflict is too often derided in our culture as something ‘bad’, where as tolerance is too often lauded as something ‘good’. Both depend entirely on context.

A mother who tolerates her boyfriend beating her child isn’t displaying nobility. And a father who comes into contact with that boyfriend, creating a conflict, isn’t displaying a moral failing. When bad people are doing bad things to good people, good people have an obligation to engage in conflict. When bad people try and hurt you, you have an obligation to be in conflict. Conflict isn’t bad when what’s being confronted is bad. Conflict can be one of our highest moral duties.

There is one more thing to keep in mind about conflict. No matter who you are, where you live, and what you do, some form of conflict is – inevitable. Given that, you have a choice. You can wing in, without any attempt at acquiring prowess in that area. Or, understanding that at some point it will occur; you can prepare for it, and become better at it. Only one of those choices can rightly be called intelligent.

Here are three skills, in the field of conflict that every child should be trained in.

1- Verbal conflict – being clear, assertive, and if need be, very loud. We discussed assertiveness a lot already, it is that important. And I talked about teaching children not just that it is okay to be assertive, but also, how to be assertive. Standing tall, speaking blunt and clearly, not being afraid to say how you feel out loud, these are all important.

So is ‘banter’.

One of the least useful things you’ll hear repeated as it relates to keeping your children safe is the old quip, “don’t talk to strangers!” This is terrible advice. Why? Because it’s impossible to follow. As your child grows and ventures into the world they will run into situations daily where they will need to talk to strangers. Most of us, most everyday, have to talk to strangers. What children need to be taught is how to do it.

2- Running to safety. Once the child recognizes things are about to go bad, or is afraid, we want them to escape. “Run away” in and of itself isn’t necessarily enough information.

Run to where?

Run to whom?

Someone tries to talk your child into getting into a car. The child recognizes this is wrong.

Where do they go?

Running to safety is different from just running aimlessly. Here is what I teach my children:

Run to where there are other adults and find a woman, preferably a mommy.

As great as it would be to have a police officer within running distance anytime our child was in danger, we all understand that isn’t realistic. Taking them out of the equation, we are left with everyday men and women. Generally speaking, women are more likely to stop and take the time to help a child who is seeking aid. A woman who is also a mother is even more likely to pay attention to a lost child. And while true the odds of a child running to a random man and having that man turn out to be a sex offender or predator himself, are extremely low –the odds of having a child run to a random women who happens to be a sex offender or predator are even lower. So low in fact, that its more likely they’d be hit by lightening on the way.

When our children get lost, they know to find a mommy.

While visiting the Oregon aquarium last year my youngest daughter, Una, was separated from the pack for a moment. She was 3. My wife and I ran around all the tanks looking for her, only to find that she had found a mommy in the next room, and explained who she was and that she was lost. While my wife and I were distressed to have lost sight of her for a few minutes, we were both happy to see how she had responded. She did what we’ve taught her to do.

Make noise as you run. Screaming, “this is not my daddy, help, help!” is enough to make a lot of predators scurry back under their rocks.

 As they run to safety they yell. Loud, hard to catch, defiant, that’s not easy prey for any predator looking to attack unnoticed. And it’s vital the child is taught when to do that.

Anytime someone is asking them to go somewhere, anytime someone is trying to touch them inappropriately, anytime someone is grabbing or hurting them, and yes, anytime the child feels scared – we want them to recognize and honor their own primal instincts, their own fear – and we want them to act on them – to run away.

3- Physical conflict. If words didn’t work, and running wasn’t possible, it’s time to fight. The most important thing you can teach your child about this topic is simply this, it’s okay to fight.

Physical confrontation is the simplest part of self-defense. Once a conflict becomes physical the hesitation that often arises as a result of ambiguity disappears. Now there are clear and obvious goals. Someone is trying to grab you, break free and get away. Someone is trying to hold you down, escape, get up, and get away. We want children to be comfortable with themselves, their bodies, and physical conflict in general. Contact sports, wrestling, Judo, football, rugby, and of course, BJJ, are all great venues to help teach young boys and girls what being physical feels like.

If you want your child to grow up confident and strong, don’t shield them from those activities. Instead, introduce them into their lives.

Let’s summarize what we have so far.

The ABCs of keeping your children safe:

#1 A deep Awareness between you and your child.

#2 A solid understanding of Boundaries, and skill in defending them.

#3 A developed level of comfort with Conflict.

A few years ago I was giving a talk on Martial Arts and skepticism, here in Portland Oregon. The talk was held in a pub. My wife and daughter came with me, and sat at a table with many other people. The venue was small, and a lot of folks were packed in tight. At some point during the talk, a man sitting next to my oldest daughter, Anika, who was then about four years old, put his hand on her shoulder. She immediately shrugged it off and gave him a angry look. I could see the man was startled and didn’t care for her reaction. He started to say something by way of explanation, but wife put her arm around Anika, letting her know in no uncertain terms that her reaction was okay.

The man slumped back.

Having witnessed the whole thing from my vantage point on the stage, I deemed it harmless. I don’t think the man meant anything by it. But I was also proud of how my daughter responded. She didn’t know him. She didn’t want him touching her. And she very clearly let him know that.

My wife’s reaction was also excellent. She had let Anika know what she had done was okay. She backed Anika up. Had my wife apologized to the man for my daughter’s reaction, my daughter could have been taught something terrible that day. Instead, Anika received a mini-lesson on trusting herself, being assertive, and trusting that her mother would stand with her.

Assuming the man’s intentions were innocent, he too, over time, should realize that’s a perfectly okay reaction for a young girl to have when a stranger touches her. The last thing any parent or adult should ever do is scold a child because they didn’t want another adult putting their hands on them. As far as I was concerned, this was a perfect learning experience for my daughter. And it was also a great test for us as parents, letting us know we were on the right path.

The ABC’s cover most of what you’ll need to know to keep your children safe. Awareness between you and them, an acknowledgement and teaching of boundaries, and comfort with conflict. Here are 5 specific lessons you can also pass on directly to your kids – these are the boundaries, the specific lines that your children should know shouldn’t be crossed:

1- I am the boss of my own body! And if I don’t like something, or get the “uh-oh” feeling, I will stand up for myself! I don’t need to be polite if I am scared or uncomfortable.

2- Everyone’s bathing suit areas are private. If someone touching me there or asks to, or wants me to touch them there – I will tell my parents.

3- Grown ups don’t ask kids for help. And they never ask kids to go somewhere else with them. If this happens I will tell my parents. (kids should rightly see “hey, can you help me find my lost puppy?” as suspicious.)

4- I don’t keep secrets from my parents. Especially if they are from adults, or they make me feel scared, uneasy, or uncomfortable.

5- I will always check first before going anywhere. And if lost, I’ll find a mommy with kids.


Keeping our daughters safe is an ongoing process of growth. Building strength, building confidence, teaching assertiveness, and providing education, on what threats look like and how they occur. As important as that all is, none of it can take the place of  responsible and mature parent. One who is aware of what’s going on in their daughters life, and trusted.

It’s not impossible to miss signs of abuse in your children if you’re paying close attention to them – but it is a hell of a lot harder. Make that love and attention the priority, and combined with the things I’ve addressed in this three part essay, there is no reason you cannot keep your daughter safe.