Recognizing and Responding to Teen Dating Violence Toolkit

3.3 Can You Prevent Your Child from Being a Victim?

parents talk to daughter

As much as we want to protect our children from every bad thing they may encounter in life, it is an impossible and unrealistic task. What we can do is be someone they feel safe to come and talk to, have open conversations, and help them develop resiliency skills so that they can navigate anything that comes their way.

As parents, we help our children:

  • Identify personal boundaries.
  • Learn interpersonal and relationship skills.
  • Nurture their self-esteem.
  • Identify their values and what they will and will not tolerate in relationships.
  • Know they aren’t alone as they navigate relationships and life.

If we want our children to talk to us, then we need to be seen as trustworthy. That means letting them know they can come to us with anything and, no matter what they tell us, staying calm when we respond. Avoid criticizing their decisions, jumping in quickly to solve their problems, or giving advice without being asked. We are seen as trustworthy when we keep the promises we make; therefore, we don’t make promises we can’t keep. When our children see that we can handle the small things they come to us with, then they are more likely to come to us with bigger things.

When our children see that we can handle the small things they come to us with, then they are more likely to come to us with bigger things.

Many children say they don’t feel like they can talk to their parents about things they are going through because their parents are constantly on their phones or are distracted with their own lives. Being present, interested, and involved in your children’s lives not only shows that you care about and love them, but it also provides you with the ability to intervene in situations before things escalate. It gives your children the opportunity to reach out to you when they are going through something overwhelming or have questions. It also shows that you are available to them and that your relationship is important to you.

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Interpersonal Skills

Having healthy interpersonal skills will benefit our children in every relationship they have. We teach these skills by modeling them in how we talk and interact with our children and with others in our lives.

  • Active listening. Active listening involves paying attention to what the other person is saying, not thinking about something else or waiting for a break in the conversation to respond or react. It also means not interrupting or finishing sentences. Listening to someone does not mean we have to agree with what is being said.
    • When your child starts to share something, it can be helpful to ask, “Do you want me to listen, or do you want me to fix it?” As parents, we don’t want our children to feel pain and it hurts us when they are in pain, so we try to problem solve. But we take away our children’s ability to learn how to solve problems, develop coping skills, navigate conflict, and trust themselves if we always fix things for them. Asking this question lets us know when our child just wants us to hear what they are saying, and not to solve their problem or provide our thoughts or opinions.
  • Focus on the message, not word choice. We miss the opportunity for connection when our child comes to us and says, “I had the crappiest day at school today” and we respond with “Don’t say that word.” Or when they say, “Jason said something that upset me today” and we respond with “I told you Jason is not someone you should be hanging out with!” It is the same feeling as when we say to our partner, “I am overwhelmed with everything going on right now” and our partner responds with, “Well if you would just quit saying yes to everyone and learn how to manage your time, you wouldn’t feel so overwhelmed.” We walk away feeling like we talked to a wall rather than someone who is hearing what we are saying.
  • Giving feedback: When unsure of timing, we can ask the person if this is a good time. For example, “I have some concerns about something you told me. Is now a good time to talk about it?” Focus on the behavior, be specific, give examples, use “I” words, and avoid saying “always” or “never.” Timing is important. If either of us is sick, frustrated, or stressed, it is probably not the time to give feedback.
  • Receiving feedback: Feedback can be hard to hear. We may tense up, tune out, dismiss, or minimize what someone is saying to emotionally protect ourselves. Ask questions and restate what was heard to be sure that we accurately heard what was said. Avoid interrupting or assuming we know what someone will say.
  • How to have difficult conversations. Difficult conversations are necessary for healthy relationships. They allow us the opportunity to practice effective communication skills. For example, when asking for a grade adjustment, raise, or promotion, it may be uncomfortable, but a conversation is required. Mahatma Gandhi is credited with saying, “If you don’t ask, you don’t get it.” Difficult conversations can increase trust and respect between friends, family members, and coworkers. Avoiding difficult conversations can lead to resentment, anger, and conflict.
  • How to navigate conflict. While conflict is generally thought of as a bad thing, there is also good conflict. Good conflict is when a problem is addressed to find a resolution.
  • How to establish healthy boundaries. Different relationships, for example, those with family members, friends, coworkers, classmates, and partners, will require different boundaries. Boundaries are sometimes likened to fences. Fences prevent unwanted people from coming inside our property line, but they are also used to keep those inside the property line safe. There are different types of boundaries; the two biggest ones are physical boundaries and emotional boundaries. Physical boundaries include how someone can touch or hug us, if at all, and how much personal space we require. Emotional boundaries include how much we share about ourselves and how we allow someone to speak to us. We are each responsible for communicating (verbally and nonverbally) what our boundaries are and when they are crossed. This lets the other person know that if they want to continue to be around us, they must respect our boundaries. If someone chooses to not respect our boundaries, then we have the choice to end that relationship or not.
  • Say “yes” when you mean “yes,” “no” when you mean “no,” and respect other people’s “yes” or “no.” The author Brené Brown says, “Clear is kind, unclear is unkind.” For example, it is always good practice to ask permission before hugging or touching someone. We teach our children that they are respected, cared for, and valued when we honor their “yes” and “no.” Children can be asked if they want to hug grandma before leaving. If their answer is “no,” we respect their answer, understanding that it is not a reflection of their feelings toward grandma. Or when we are tickling our child and they say “stop,” we stop tickling them.