The Taking Care Project: Should children of four be taught 'stranger danger'?
It seems that nowadays this notion of 'stranger danger' has been taken much further, and in more detail. My four year-old son, Isaac, came home the other day clutching a small wad of paper, each of which had 'The Taking Care Project' printed on the upper right corner.
On the pages were scribbled words and colourful drawings in answer to questions such as 'Who do you feel safe with?' and 'Who can you talk to when you're upset?'
One page showed a body, and Isaac was encouraged to colour in the areas he considered 'private', that he didn't like anyone else touching.
Another page, entitled 'My Early Warning Signs', had the pre-printed outline of a body, on which Isaac had drawn sweat drops, a stomach full of butterflies, a heart with lines radiating away from it, squiggles along the arms and legs, and an eye-catching speech bubble in which was written the word 'SCREAM'.
The sweat drops are self-explanatory, as is the stomach. The heart symbol signified increased heart rate, and the squiggles symbolised shivering in fear. The SCREAM – well, again: self-explanatory.
In an endeavour to discover more about the 'Taking Care Project', I spoke to a headteacher who is closely involved with the scheme: Louise Mohacsi, of St Nicholas School in Warwickshire.
"We have been using the Protective Behaviours scheme across the school for a few years now," she explains. "Its intentions are to empower children with the appropriate vocabulary and understanding to enable them to be safe.
"In Foundation stage it covers understanding about your body, what areas you keep private and how your body feels when you don't feel safe. As the children progress through the scheme these areas are expanded in accordance with age and maturity, and we hope it teaches them that they have certain rights which they can politely stress if they feel uncomfortable.
"The emphasis is on their right to feel safe and secure. We find it supports our wider PSHE [Physical, Social, Health, Education] topics and allows us to build a suitable progression through the school."
I freely admit to a sense of unease when leafing through the drawings and pictures, but it took a while to figure out why. Was it the drawings? The fact that my son was considering what makes him feel uncomfortable, and listing the feelings he gets when under threat?
True, the 'SCREAM' speech bubble will remain in my memory for a while – the notion of my son screaming in fear is a horrible thought. But the uneasiness had nothing to do with the project itself: on reflection, it seems a highly worthwhile scheme.
It's the fact that my son has to be taught these kinds of things at the tender age of just four.
Perhaps I have a rose-tinted memory which has erased any recollection of being taught about the threat of strangers when I was Isaac's age. But there is no getting away from the sad fact that the safety of children is of more importance in today's society than it was when I was young, just over two decades ago.
Don't get me wrong: I didn't grow up on the set of The Railway Children. When I was a young boy, there were still murderers and paedophiles roaming around the country; but my parents had no qualms with me playing football in the street with my friends, only coming home when it began to get dark.
But I fear the days when my son asks to play out with his mates: fuelled by numerous stories in the media of child kidnapping and abuse, I can easily see myself biting my nails and watching the clock until he returns home; not forgetting the sweating, butterflies, and a silent, worried SCREAM.
What do you think? Is the Taking Care project an excellent idea, helping children identify when they feel unsafe and why?
Or are we potentially teaching our children to be distrustful of everyone?