Teaching kids to be safe without making them scared

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Young people are at risk of assault, abduction, and abuse even in caring families, schools, and communities. Knowledge and skills are the key to helping keep your children safe.

And, most importantly, you can do it without scaring them.  You don’t want to make your children paranoid, but you must prepare them.  Your child’s age also plays a part in how you handle safety.

“Stay away from strangers”

Children are more likely to be harmed by someone they know than by a stranger.  Unfortunately many children are exploited by the people who have some type of familiarity with the children but who may or may not be known to the parents. The term “stranger” suggests a concept that children do not understand and is one that misleads children into believing that they should be aware only of individuals who have an unusual or “weird” appearance.

Instead it is appropriate to teach our children to be on the lookout for certain kids of situations or actions rather than certain kinds of individuals.  Explain to your children that although someone may have a familiar face, he or she can still be a stranger.

Starting the Conversation

It’s never easy to start a serious conversation with a child. Do it forcefully and they may shut down right away. But if you take a more subtle approach you can find the chat gets sidetracked and you’re soon talking about something completely different.

Whatever it is you want to discuss, it’s important to think about where and how to talk so your children will listen.  It’s probably not a good idea to have it in the evening when people are tired and might not be in the mood to concentrate.

Unless it’s a chat you want to have with more than one child, it’s also best to have it at a time when brothers and sisters aren’t around to interrupt.

Have the chat in a relaxed and neutral place like on a walk or a bike ride or even when you’re in the car.

However you try to start the conversation, try to have realistic expectations. It might not go as well as you’re hoping, but give it time. Your child might not be ready to talk right away but could actually re-start the conversation with you a few days later.

Home Alone or Away from Home

At some point, you have to decide when children are old enough to be left at home on their own or when they’re old enough to be out on their own. Obviously, toddlers and young children won’t be able to stay safe without you watching over then, even older children have different levels of maturity. Some 11-year-olds are quite capable of going to the park or the shops on their own, but others might not be ready to do this safely.

Ask yourself:

– Where and when do they want to go?
– What do they want to do there?
– Who’s going to be with them?
– How far away are they going?
– How can I reach them?
– When leaving a younger child with an older sibling think about what may happen if they were to have a falling out – would both be safe?
– Children under the age of 12 are rarely mature enough to cope in an emergency and should not be left at home alone for a long period of time.

Grownups should NOT ask kids to do things that other adults can do for them.

Tell your children not to go, or get in a car, with an adult who, for example, asks them for directions. Grown-ups should not ask children to help them find a lost puppy or kitten, either. Teach your younger children to say, if someone does ask for help, “Wait here and I’ll check with my mom,” then to go find a trusted adult.

Here are a few more quick tips:

– Make sure you know where each of your children is at all times. Know their friends and be clear with them about the places and homes they may visit.
– Have them check in with you when they arrive and leave, or if plans change. This is easier to do today with text messaging. But don’t forget it works both ways: You should also call them if you’re running late or plans have changed.
– Be involved in your children’s activities.
– Never leave garage door openers or spare house keys “hidden” where they might be found.
– Develop code words for anyone you trust to pick up your children and teach your children the words. Tell them not to go with anyone who doesn’t know the code.
– Keep a list of the names, addresses and phone numbers of your child’s friends.
Finally, keep up-to-date photos of your children; know their weight, height and other descriptive features. You local police department usually has free fingerprinting programs. For identification purposes, take a lock of your children’s hair for DNA.

Children’s personal safety skills can grow quickly and help them stay safe most of the time with strangers and with people they know, especially if the adults in their lives help them learn and practice these skills.

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