As parents we spend a lot of time protecting our children from the dangers of modern day society. In South Africa crime lies firmly at the back of our minds, colouring how we live and respond to events. It is an awful conundrum, we want them to feel safe, but at the same time we do things that suggest they are not safe. We keep our car windows firmly closed, set alarms, watch them like hawks in public places, but what happens when crime touches their lives, how do we make them feel safe again?
At the end of an awful April we took a much-needed break in a little village on the Western Cape coast. We had barely been there a day when our holiday rental was broken into. My computer and camera were stolen, worse a hard drive with five years of images (all of my boys) was also gone. We were lucky though that we had been on the beach and no one was hurt.
My boys, and those of the friends staying with us, watched wide-eyed as the police came and went, as broken windows were fixed and we cleaned up the mess. My 4-year-old was sure that the “baddies” had hidden the stuff under a bush and the police would find it (Lego City has a lot to answer for this).
It didn’t end there. Shortly afterward, the community police arrived, with my computer, my hard drive and one of the perpetrators held by the scruff of his shirt. His mother had turned him in. Rather than take him away, two police officers and the community police questioned him right there, on the balcony of what was supposed to our idyllic holiday home.
If the burglary had thrown the boys, a “real” bad guy had piqued their interest. Goodies and baddies are a big part of growing-up; every cartoon on CBeebies is premised on the goodies winning at the end of the day. Even Lego has its goodies and baddies. In reality I did not want my child to associate “baddies” with a Tik addicted kid.
It was only after the police had gone and the house had settled that the questions started. Why was he bad? Could his friend come and break him out of the jail? Did they want to steal him? It was the first of many nights that my little boy slept next to me and woke up in the middle of the night sometimes crying, sometimes shouting.
Long after the holiday was over my boy dreamt of his house falling in, of baddies coming, of being stolen. As an adult it is easy to rationalise the events, to find the positive in houses being empty, things being returned, insurance being paid out. As a young child the events become a part of an inner life that is made up of splices of reality, imaginings, stories and dreams.
For many nights we had to walk him through the process of alarming the house, locking the doors, closing the windows. Play therapy worked wonders. It was relaxed, fun for him and he enjoyed the therapist so much that he asks when he is going back. The nightmares are less frequent and the world is a little safer again, except when there might be a chance that things might get stolen and then there is panic, and we start from scratch building an almost safe world for him again.
Click here to find Protective Behaviours, an NGO dedicated to the goal of creating a safe environment for kids and adults.