The Kewl kids and I went to the park yesterday and after a good hour of running around, we decided to go across the road for an ice cream. There was no pedestrian crossing so we walked over to the curb, then - as you do when you have small children - I went into control mode. I picked up Mr R, as I didn't have the pram and his walking is too slow to be safe while crossing the road. I asked Miss J and Miss F to hold hands with TJ, to remember to listen for my instructions and to help me to check for cars. Then I asked Miss V to hold my hand. Er - problem - my independent 3yo was not about to hold my hand when nobody else had to.
Standing by the side of the road, with 4 other children eager for the icecream that was waiting for them on the other side and the danger of passing traffic in between, my first instinct was to reach down and grab Miss V's hand anyway. When I tried this, she did the whole, 'hands behind her back, stepping away from me', thing. Then she said something awesome...
"Don't touch me! I said no!"
Man I love it when my kids say things like that!
I did a quick check to make sure Miss J, Miss F and TJ were safe and staying put, then I did some risk management with Miss V.
Me, "OK, you can cross the road without holding my hand if you stay right beside me all the way to the other side. If you get too far away I will use my hand to stop you without asking and you will have to hold my hand next time. Do you agree?"
Miss V, "Yes."
Me, "Where are you going to walk while we cross?"
Miss V, "Right beside you."
We proceeded to check for cars together, then we all crossed the road, with Miss V walking right beside me all the way to the other side.
Before I could thank her for such fantastic behaviour, a woman who was sitting at a cafe table a few meters away stood up, approached me and said, "Excuse me, but do you know how dangerous that was?"
She had obviously spotted us crossing the road and was concerned about my decision to respect Miss V's choice not to hold my hand (either that or she was just a nosey twit).
The conversation that followed went pretty much like this:
Me, "Do you mean my 3 year old choosing not to hold my hand?"
Woman, "Yes - this is a busy road, what if she ran off and got hit by a car?"
Me, "Thanks for your concern, I'm glad someone is looking out for kids in our community. If I thought Miss V was at risk of running off, I would not have let her walk by herself. She chose not to hold my hand today and I respect her choice."
Woman, "When it's a matter of safety, children shouldn't have a choice. I really don't think it is worth the risk."
At this point, I would usually just finish the conversation and walk away, but this person seemed genuine in her concern and although her words were confrontational, her body language was quite open and she seemed willing to listen to my perspective, too. So I continued...
Me, "Speaking of children's safety - Do you know how many kids are sexually assaulted before they turn 18?"
Woman, "No, and I don't see the relevence.."
Me, "1 in 3 girls and 1 in 7 boys. Most of the time, perpetrators are people the children know. I would much rather teach my children that it is OK to say no to adults they know touching them and manage the risk of crossing a road when I am present, than make my daughter hold my hand and potentially risk her holding the hand of a perpetrator when I am not around."
The woman went on to say that making my daughter hold my hand to cross a road had absolutely nothing to do with sexual assault and to suggest it did made me "a total fruit loop".
That was where our conversation ended yesterday, but I'd really like to continue it here.
Holding hands to cross a road is really a poor example, as there are many, many other factors at play and I think it confuses the issue. I'm not saying that making children hold someone's hand to cross a road puts them at risk of sexual assault, nor am I saying that children can make whatever decisions they like and we should respect them.
What I am saying is that yesterday, the risk of Miss V not holding my hand was minimal, and reinforcing her ability to say no to me touching her was more important.
This is what I'm curious about.
I know that I am a total fruit loop, but I would really love to know what you think about children's safety, sexual assault and their right to say no to adults?