The Nice Villain: How to warn children about “bad people”?

The biggest fear most parents have is that something might happen to their children. And the biggest challenge is letting them go a little more with each passing year. Letting her go further and further on her own and putting up with the fact that you no longer have a constant eye on her.

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It is not easy to turn off the cinema in your head. You know what can happen and you worry that someone might harm the child, use their curiosity and openness to lure them into a trap. And at the same time, you don’t want to take away your basic trust or arouse unnecessary fear. So what is the best way for parents to prepare their child for their first independent ventures?

“We must make children self-confident,” emphasizes Steffen Claus. He has worked with police prevention for more than 20 years. Although the police chief has long since retired, he still works as a “children’s policeman” in daycare centers and primary schools in Saxony-Anhalt to practice with the children how to behave properly in dangerous situations.

Most perpetrators come from the known environment

The “bad, strange man” that generations of parents have warned their children about is “in the rarest of cases the perpetrator,” Claus says. “The real villain is a nice, friendly person who does not use violence and plays with childlike curiosity.”

This is shown by the figures from the police crime statistics, according to which almost two-thirds of the affected children have a social relationship with the perpetrator: they are relatives, friends, coaches, group leaders. “Strangers approaching children on the street, for example,” are rare.

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Steffen Claus therefore thinks it makes little sense to teach children that they must not go out with strangers. “Because it implies that they are allowed to go with someone they know.” In his courses, he gives children the following guiding principles: “I don’t walk with them, I don’t drive with them, I don’t go to anybody’s house. My parents have to know where I am.”

Children are also not obliged to give unknown adults information, not about the way to the subway and certainly not about their names and where they live.

Children must be allowed to say “no”.

It all depends on one little word, so that it actually works in practice: “Children must be allowed to say no,” emphasizes Claus. And not only to strangers, “but also when Aunt Frieda wants to hit her again”.

Doris Krusche also believes that it is crucial to convey to children that their “no” is heard and accepted. She is one of the two managing directors of the Munich association “Kostbar eV”, which offers assertiveness courses for preschoolers and advice for parents and educational professionals. “Parents should teach children from an early age: you can speak up, we take you seriously, you can be critical, careful and confident towards other adults,” says the teacher.

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She considers three other guiding principles to be crucial: “My body belongs to me, it’s not my fault, I can get help.” “Because if the child then has a slightly different experience, he has no opportunity for that.”

The association also developed online training during the Corona period – with exercises and suggestions for discussions between parents and children.

Above all, good courses strengthen self-confidence

Good self-assertion courses for children can be recognized by the fact that they focus less on concrete defense techniques and more on strengthening self-confidence, according to the police’s crime prevention department “Prevention of abuse”.

“Children’s police officer” Steffen Claus primarily works with the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm: “The fairy tale heroes must constantly resolve conflicts. And it always ends well,” he explains. The story of Little Red Riding Hood, for example, can be used to illustrate in a child-friendly way what behavior smart – and which one isn’t Not staying on the agreed path, for example, and letting the wolf quiz you on things that don’t concern strangers.

And what is smart? “Running away always protects,” says Claus, “that’s why I try to convey to the children that it’s not cowardly to run away, it’s smart.”

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