Rehearsing for bad situations

This morning my friend and her daughter are going to court to testify against the child rapist who fondled my friend's daughter on the street. (In the comments yesterday Maria remarked that the guy looked creepy. My friend said she and her daughter had both noticed him a block away becuase he looked creepy! Instincts.)

Here's a tv news interview with my friend about it all. Worth a watch, IMO.

My friend and I talked yesterday about the whole incident. I posted the news piece on my FB page and she said she'd been thinking about the time I chased some guy out of the playground with my camera phone because the guy came in and started snapping pictures of kids in the playground.

That made us realize that she and I and our other playground friends had been rehearsing what to do if we saw someone we suspected of hurting kids. We talked about it and planned for it. So when it actually happened, she didn't hesitate because she'd rehearsed exactly what to do.

She also mentioned to me that she thinks her daughter didn't hesitate to tell her when the man touched her because they'd had conversations about appropriate touch and inappropriate touch. They'd been rehearsing what to do if it happened, so when it did, her daughter didn't hesitate to tell her.

I know I worry a lot as a parent (less now than I did when I had infants) but I've never felt bad about worrying, because my worry took the form of figuring out what I'd do if something bad happened. I have "escape plan" scenarios in my head for all kinds of situations, and my mind just goes there. I learned in a management class lasst semester that there's actually a term for rehearsing recovery scenarios: defensive pessimism. Being a defensive pessimist doesn't mean you're a true pessimist–it just means that you see the negative possibilities and make plans to avoid or recover from them.

Thoughts? Worry vs. being prepared? Rehearsal as part of defensive pessimism?

32 thoughts on “Rehearsing for bad situations”

  1. This was a really powerful post for me. As someone who’s shy, I think that I haven’t always responded as I would like because I didn’t reflexively know what to do. This rehearsal idea is a really good one, and in retrospect, I think that it would have helped me in some difficult situations. Going forward, I’m planning on using this strategy for both myself and my son.Thank you for this post.

  2. Rehearsing what to do, yes! Overstating to your kid (or yourself) the likelihood of encountering a stranger who’s a pedophile or kidnapper, no. The former is a useful kind of worry, the latter is damaging. This story is great – everything went just as it should, and I’m so glad. I’m going to tell Mouse about it in fact. But just because this happened to someone we (almost) know, shouldn’t make us all go confirmation bias and decide we’re constantly surrounded by danger, you know? Which would be easy for me to do because that’s the way my mom handled things and still does – OH MY GOD WHAT IF. I’ve spent much of my life slowly learning to do only the useful kind.I guess the tone I want to take with Mouse is that most people are kind and many are interesting; talking to friendly strangers is fine, but never ever ever GO anywhere with a stranger without me. Any stranger who asks you to, even to help them, isn’t right. And you’re never required to talk to anyone – if they give you the creeps, listen to your instinct. We’ve talked about worst cases, but always in the vein of “this is really really unlikely but, do you know what to do if X, just in case?” But I don’t remind her of that every time I send her off to a public bathroom on her own, because I think that would be inducing the second kind of worry, in her.

  3. I never really wanted Oprah, but I remeber when I was about 14 years old catching an episode that talked about being prepared for the bad moments because then you know what to do in the moment. If someone is car jacking you- throw your keys and run. If someone is raping, you grab and twist. This planning has given me comfort and it reminds me that when my children are old enough to talk about it when them.I think that the key is not not instill fear- but to provide action.

  4. My daughter was almost kidnapped when she was about 6 or 7 years old. We lived in an apartment complex and she was going over to a friend’s house to play. A man opened the door of an apartment and told her “I am going to move in here, but I can’t figure out how to turn on the furnace, can you show me?” Being the smart (and well informed) child that she is, she immediately realized this was NOT right and ran home and got her Dad (I was at work at the time.)As it turns out, the apartment was not rented; he had broken in. I shudder to think what would have happened if she had not been prepared.
    Please, DO NOT HESITATE to educate your children about ‘stranger danger.’

  5. I simply call it pragmatism. Expect the best but be prepared for the worst.And go beyond “stranger danger.” Let them know that any coach, teacher or parent of a friend can do bad things too. If ANYONE OR ANY ACTION makes them feel badly, they need to tell. I decided to use the Pittsburgh story as an introduction to this topic of non-strangers touching them. By the data it happens much more often.

  6. I just found out that a (former) teacher at my daughter’s daycare used an inappropriate punishment and it got a DCF report.I don’t know the rest of the story yet, but I realized that the kids’ are the eyes and ears for the directors in situations like that. I had a talk with my daughter about if the teachers are doing the wrong thing to tell me or my husband or the director or assistant director and they would figure it out. I also felt compelled to mention that she had to be truthful when she reports these events.

  7. Last spring on one of the first nice days of the season, I took my kids to our local playground after school. I parked next to a car that a guy was sitti in alone in full view of the playground, he had all his windows rolled down an said hi to us in a very creepy tone…like so creepy I was afraid to look over at him in case he was exposing himself. The playground was very busy that day and I ran into another mom from my kids’ school. She asked I had seen that guy and said she was calling the police. I was shocked; in spite of my revulsion of the dude I felt like maybe that was overkill. He hadn’t done anything so what could the police do? They came quickly and had the man step out of his car. After talking to him a long time and getting him to ultimately leave, the cop came and told us we’d been right I be suspicious. He had a child-sized pillow in his backseat, condoms, and his story just didn’t add up. I guess he wasn’t a registered sex offender if he was allowed to leave. But the whole incident made me realize how important it is to trust your instincts.

  8. To me it seems more common that women are quick to judge the innocent male at the playground. My husband and another dad I know have been given the 3rd degree for taking pictures of their own kids at the park. Where is the line between prevention and paranoia?

  9. Amazing mom and daughter! So great to hear how this turned out. I’m sorry that they had to go through that, but really, wow. I was groped in a similar way when I was 10 or 11 – I was alone walking on a trail between backyards near our house when a teenager walking the other way reached out and grabbed my breast and just kept walking. I ran home and sobbed and felt ashamed and never told anyone… and I’m not sure why. I know my mom would have been supportive (and probably would have run out after that kid)… I can only guess that in my 10-11 year old brain, I guess I didn’t feel like I’d be heard – I don’t ever remember talking about it (what-if’s) with her, or my Dad.It just makes me all the more certain to talk to my kids about this and other scenarios, helping them rehearse think through what they’d do – not to scare them, but give them tools. And emphasize the open communication and trust.
    “Protecting the Gift” was a big help to me in learning tangible steps to take, what reasonable and helpful for kids to know. Not an easy book to read, but I highly recommend it.
    I tend to be a worrier/thinker-through of all kinds of scenarios, so I’m glad to know there’s a term for it – defensive pessimism. I like it!

  10. I absolutely abhor the idea of teaching children “stranger danger” because a good 95% of strangers in a child’s life are absolutely benign and often benevolent. A stranger is a person you haven’t met yet and our kids NEED to be confident enough to rely on strangers at the appropriate times.I’m a big believer in preparing and rehearsing with kids and stressing that kids must listen to their inner voices to know when a situation is bad – and of course, have an escape plan. For instance, in our neighbourhood, there are a few businesses and we went into them a few years ago, made sure everyone knew my elder son’s name (most had known him since I’d been pregnant!) and then asked if he could consider their business a safe place to go if he ever felt he was in some kind of trouble. They all enthusiastically agreed, agreed that he could use their phone to call home, etc.
    I think it’s important, too, for kids to know as many of their neighbours as possible. Community building is incredibly important for creating safe places for our kids to be. Those people who know your children will then be more likely to report odd occurrences and keep an eye out on their behalf.
    I really like this article: Tricky People are the New Strangers . Basically: adults should not be asking children for help. You can see how Kathy B’s daughter knew that wasn’t right when the weirdo asked for help with the furnace! In an apartment! Smart girl! And most people giving gifts to kids advise asking parents first or ask themselves – if they don’t, red flag!
    I also like having a predefined idea for parents to have for handling crises. I’m a little bit famous for gawping and being slow to react so knowing in advance what we should do is good and will speed up my response time.

  11. I’m the mom of an amazing 2 year old girl, and I’m a prosecutor who has spent the past 5 years handling sex crimes.I have absolutely no idea how to prepare my daughter for a world where most women are sexually abused in some way by the age of 18.
    But what I do know is that I agree in this concept of being prepared, and preparing her. I like discussing the possibility of bad things, and giving action choices as well as safe places and permission to tell me anything and everything. I think most children don’t seem to know how to process what has happened when they are abused, and if no one has talked about the possibility they really have no reason to know not ok, or what to do. Many are scared no one would believe them, or fear that telling will change things (usually in home) and that in telling they have to face the unknown and that is scarier than abuse.
    I am just starting teaching her through potty training that some things are private, and some areas are private. Good touch/bad touch scares me because I know so many victims who felt guilty because the touching felt good. It confuses the issue if something bad feels good. I want her to know that no one else can touch her there, it is hers, and that if she ever feels scared or uncomfortable she can tell me immediately and I will always do everything to make her safe.
    I think the same can be said of stranger danger. I want her to know most people aren’t bad, but if you don’t know them then she can’t talk to them or go to them.
    The world is scary, but we all live in it and can hopefully through talking and sharing make it better.
    Also – I love the camera phone trick.

  12. I have had too many situations where later I wish I’d acted more assertively, voiced what my gut was saying, etc., so I definitely value the power of rehearsing! And not just for coping with molestation/creepy stranger situations, but for all the many (and in my experience so far, more common) situations where as a woman (or a parent) I need to break a social norm to voice my concern or assert a boundary. As I get older, it’s easier; as I witness more of these situations, it’s easier; but I also think that rehearsing is a powerful tool! in so many domains, including how to respond in awkward, uncomfortable, or threatening situations.

  13. Defensive pessimism is what we all feel when we first have our babies. Remember the time just after you had your baby and all you could do was focus on what my mom calls “The imaginary horribles” You have a thought, what if the baby does this or that happens? What would I do? Would I be ready? Could I handle it?Then you spend time figuring out what you would do.
    My imaginary horrible was planning for an earthquake or a gas leak under the street, both of which had just happened right before tall was born! That’s when I created our to-go bag. I would endlessly think about what needed to be in it, where it needed to live for easy access etc.
    That’s how you train for this marathon called parenting (Sorry for the running reference, the big SF race, Bay-to-Breakers is this Sunday).
    It’s valuable to go through that thinking process as long as you don’t stay in that mind set for too long. I tell parents if you find yourself replaying that thoughts over and over again, remind yourself that you’ve already discovered the answer. Tell yourself that the information is locked in your mind ready to be brought into your conscious awareness when and if needed, and then let it go.
    Moxie, please tell this mom how inspired I was that she did what she did. How sorry I am that her child has to experience this. And how powerful I think she is for following her instincts!

  14. I am a great defensive pessimist! I just thought I let my imagination run away too much! Good to know.On a similar front, do you allow sleepovers? How do you know your child will be safe?

  15. Have to echo the shout out for Gavin de Becker. Protecting the Gift (his follow up aimed right at parents) is a must read. I had a scary incident when I was about 11 (followed to the store by some men, stalked in the store but not hurt- just scared) that has informed me alot as a parent. As a child, I was so worried that my mom would trim my privileges and freedom if I fessed up or be mad at me somehow. As a parent, I use appropriate words for private parts, constantly remind my children that no one is allowed to touch them without permission and no one is allowed to touch their privates, and that they can tell mommy anything, any time. That and I keep them away from a relative I have a funny feeling about. No basis for the feeling but instinct. Apparently, instinct is an awesome and powerful tool so I am happy to listen to it.

  16. I haven’t read Protecting the Gift yet but I will as soon as I can get my hands on it. Gavin de Becker is a wonderful writer, really, I can’t explain his style only that I still remember a feeling of warmth and also confidence, in myself, in my intuition. People assume that it’s a don’t do this! don’t do that!!! scare-tactic type book but it is not that AT ALL. I remember having many AH-HA moments, thinking about things from my life, experiences where I’ve felt weird but wasn’t sure why, etc. Sorry to go all book review on y’all but I feel VERY STRONGLY about this book. I also remember it helping me kinda sort out, ok, what are REAL feelings of fear, and what is just my usual paranoia/anxiety.

  17. I see some of the commenters mention books by Gavin de Becker and will resoundingly state that every parent should should read “Protecting the Gift”. Every. Parent.

  18. Reading “Protecting the Gift” changed me, it really did. The author stresses that every one of us, ESPECIALLY mothers, has within her all of the information she needs to know about a situation. If we listen to our instincts, to our gut, we know when a situation doesn’t add up. We can teach our children the same thing…listen to yourself. Don’t be afraid to be rude or make a ruckus.Strangers are almost never the issue and can be a help, so stranger danger is a false concept.

  19. This is so timely for me. I really want to read the Gavin de Becker books; just ordered them on Amazon. I listened to a “This American Life” episode recently wherein a man recounts his experience of being raped as a child by the teenaged son of his parents’ friends. He never told anyone and his parents continued to socialize with these people. His mom found out 20 years later when she found his 4th grade diary in a closet. That episode nearly broke my heart– it just distilled my greatest fear as a mother. After listening to that episode, we went on vacation with our extended family and I realized that my 17 year old cousin, sweet and absolutely great kid that he is, was more of a threat in statistical terms than any given stranger my will run into.

  20. With a 4yo son, I try to cover the basics- It’s ok to talk to people, don’t go anywhere with a stranger – if you get lost, look for a “helper” like a store worker or another mommy.The hard part is how to discuss these situations, and other, without instilling fear. What’s age appropriate??

  21. I agree that “Protecting the Gift” is a must-read.Amen, @Rebecca – “That and I keep them away from a relative I have a funny feeling about”
    @Jess – What a heartbreaking story from “This American Life.” Wow. And yes, you are totally correct to be concerned about Male Relatives – “I realized that my 17 year old cousin, sweet and absolutely great kid that he is, was more of a threat in statistical terms than any given stranger my will run into.”

  22. Defensive pessimism, I have never heard of the term. I’m going to do some research on it though, I like the concept. I definitely worry a lot, and go through a lot of scenarios of “what ifs”, but I’ve never thought about what I’d actually do to react. This is definitely something I am going to start practicing. I think it’s a great idea to start putting that worrying into some good use. Thanks for sharing.

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