what does it mean to be a safe adult?

Being a safe adult means that a child can trust you to be there for them when they need help.

We often talk about what it means to be a safe adult when a child discloses abuse to you. It’s important that kids know they can come to you and talk to you about anything, and that you will offer guidance and support. 

But it's also more than that.

Safe adult status matters more than just when it’s “crunch-time.” We know life can be stressful, and it is easy for kids and parents to get overwhelmed. This is why it’s so important to have an open line of communication with your kids at all times, so no matter what is going on in your life, they know they can communicate their feelings with you. By being a safe adult in good times, you’ll automatically be a safe adult for them to turn to when things are bad.

Cultivating a healthy, trusting relationship with kids is actually one of the best protections against abuse. Children will be less vulnerable to people who would violate their boundaries and more likely to tell you if they are uncomfortable or if abuse occurs. 

You don’t need to be a parent to be a safe adult. You might be a teacher, coach, mentor, aunt/uncle or anything else. The principles of safety are the same, even if the execution looks different. You are still the person the child can come to when they need protection

Watch this 1-minute video on what being a Safe Adult can look like.

So, how do you be a safe adult?

Set and maintain clear, protective boundaries

  • This is a crucial step because boundaries help us to respect each other and feel respected. A child who knows that you will respect (and even protect!) their boundaries will have an easier time trusting you to take care of them.

  • It may help to have a Family Code of Conduct in place so that boundaries are easily defined. When someone crosses a boundary, you’ll know and be able to quickly intervene.

Develop protective bonds 

  • Really listen when the child talks to you. Show them that you’re interested in their opinion; involve them in conversations and show them that their input is valuable.

  • Participate in their favorite activities with them. Show them that you value their time and interests. Find creative and healthy ways to connect with them.

Talk openly & honestly about difficult subjects, including child sexual abuse

  • When we talk to children in age-appropriate ways about our bodies, sex, and boundaries, children understand what healthy relationships look like. It also teaches them that they have the right to say “no.” This conversation looks different depending on how old the child is, but by discussing tough topics together you become the go-to “expert” for your child. Be clear that your child’s safety is of the utmost importance to you.

Being a safe adult looks different for every situation, but it ultimately comes down to being trustworthy and ready to act in the child’s best interest. 

Looking for resources or support?

Call 866.FOR.LIGHT or text LIGHT to 741741 to have questioned answered or chat with a trained crisis counselor, 24/7 at no charge. All conversations are confidential.

Five Days of Action is an initiative of the YMCA Guardians for Child Protection, with support from:
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