Children should be able to trust their own feelings when something doesn’t feel quite right. One way of helping children tune into their own feelings is looking at what happens to their bodies when they feel unsafe. These feelings are commonly called the UH-OH feeling (pronounced oh-oh) and they can help children stay away from danger.
Most of us remember Home Alone, the 1990 American Christmas comedy film. The film stars Macaulay Culkin as Kevin McCallister, a boy who is mistakenly left behind when his family flies to Paris for their Christmas vacation. Kevin initially relishes being home alone, but soon has to contend with two would-be burglars.
Each of us at some point has probably experienced that “icky” or uneasy feeling in our gut. That’s our natural warning system kicking in to tell us that something does not feel right.
But if it is such an important instinct, why do we dismiss this warning system so often? Even worse, why do we even inadvertently teach our children to ignore their “uh-oh” feelings too?
We have probably dismissed a child’s “uh-oh” feeling without realizing we did so. Perhaps a child doesn’t want to hug a certain relative, or he or she no longer likes a particular sitter, or a normally chatty child suddenly becomes apprehensive in talking to the neighbor. We may dismiss it by saying, “Mr. Jones is so nice, don’t be rude,” or “Stop being shy and say hello to Mrs. Smith,” or “Why are you being so clingy?”
It may be a normal phase for kids to go from extroverted to suddenly shy. But it may be that your child is picking up on a cue you are missing. Some parents will testify that their kids are fearless and have never had an “uh-oh” feeling to save their lives. Other parents will describe a child so fearful that he or she never leaves their parents leg in public situations. Regardless of where your child falls on the spectrum, they all have experienced the “uh-oh” feeling at one time. It is how we teach them to respond to it that is important.
One of the most important things we can teach our kids when it comes to their personal safety is to LISTEN to their inner voice, their INSTINCT…a.k.a. “The Uh-Oh feeling”. It’s not about being suspicious of every relative who wants to hug our kids. It is about letting your child decide HOW they want to express affection and to whom, rather than forcing them to please others.
Because they may be getting an “uh-oh feeling” that you’re unaware of. Maybe earlier in the evening Uncle Johnny said or did something that felt “yucky” to your child which you’re unaware of. Later on, when it’s time to go home, you insist that your daughter kiss Uncle Johnny goodbye, demanding it when she flat out refuses.
The message your child gets:
1) Don’t trust your own instincts.
2) You have to obey the grownups no matter what.
3) Mom/Dad will not believe you if you tell them about an uncomfortable feeling or touch because you haven’t got the right to speak up for yourself.
Inform the child that if they feel like this they should walk away from whatever is making them feel like that and go to one of their SAFE STRANGERS OR SAFE BUILDINGS. This video from our YouTube Channel on “Explaining STRANGER to your child” will help expound some more https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ENu17fcEMqo
Explain they are not being wimps or being rude, they are just keeping themselves safe.
Help Children spot their bodies’ early warning signs by discussing the following feelings in the context of unsafe situations and unsafe people:
- Heart beats faster, a thumping in your chest.
- Legs shake.
- Feel cold.
- Butterflies in stomach.
- Goosebumps on skin.
- Hair on back of neck stands on end.
- Can’t talk, a dry mouth and throat.
- A little voice inside your head says UH-OH!
Ask the children to give you their own personal examples of the “uh-oh” feeling as well.
Ever notice how some kids go from being outgoing with one person, to shy and introverted with someone else? That’s their “uh-oh feeling” kicking in. For whatever reason, it’s important that we honor it, and not try to talk them out of it. If we consistently talk our kids out of their instincts, eventually it stops kicking in or they’ll stop bothering to tell us about it.