Do you talk with your child about personal safety? The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children advises that parents and guardians need to discuss safety with children, hopefully, before safety becomes an issue.1 There is no perfect time to teach a child about their personal safety. So why not begin now? Safety needs to be kept simple for young children as a child’s ability to understand and practice safety measures will be affected by their age and levels of development and education. Does your child know their full name, home address and telephone number? Does your child know how to use a cell phone to call you or 911? (Many of my friends’ children and grandchildren know how to use a cell phone and a Smart phone better than I do!) Parents, do you know where your child is at all times? If not, you should!
Before you talk with your children about personal safety, make sure you are and have been listening to them–know what they do each day, what their habits are, who they play with, where they play (at the playground, at school, other?) and whose homes they visit. Listening to them and fostering open dialogue without penalty is a big factor in keeping communication coming. They need to know that you as a parent or guardian are their first line of protection and that you are approachable when they have safety questions. Parents need to be the trusted adults their children can call when they feel uncomfortable, confused, or there is an emergency. But having another trusted adult–a close friend of the parents or a family member– that a child can call upon is also a good idea in case a parent or parents would be unreachable in times of emergency.
We all know that it is good to carefully choose a child’s caregivers (a.k.a. babysitters). Getting references for your child’s caregiver from friends, neighbors and even family members is a good idea. If you choose a caregiver, make sure to give them specific instructions–even write them down for them to read and check–so there’s no doubt about your “house rules” or about who or what is permitted in your home and who or what is not. The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children advises that it’s even a good idea to visit your home unexpectedly when the caregiver is there with your child, to make sure your child is okay. Ask your child about the caregiver following the babysitting experience and listen well to their response.
Does your child know whose homes in your neighborhood they can visit and whose homes they should not (e.g., because there may be no parent or guardian at a home to supervise play)? Draw a neighborhood map for your child with their boundaries on it. Point out where and how far they are allowed to go with your permission. Children need to know that adults should not be asking kids for directions, that if this happens it may be a trick (to get your child near or in a car) and your child should be alert, scream loud and run away if necessary! Children should be taught by you NEVER to go anywhere with anyone, without getting your permission first.
For certain, life is not as simple and worry-free as it was when I was growing up. My parents could do things seemingly without worry that parents today can not do. Dropping children off at malls, theaters, game arcades, or even parks, alone, without a trusted adult in supervision, is NOT a good idea, no matter who does it! And parents should NEVER leave children unattended in a car. Parents need to be careful about putting their child’s name on clothing or accessories like lunch boxes and notebooks. If a child’s name is obvious, a perp may call the child’s name to get her/him to come closer. Walk to school with your children, show them where it is safe to walk. Show them where they can go if they should be followed or need help. Remind them not to take shortcuts, walk through alleys or isolated places. If they take a bus to and from school go to the bus stop and make sure they know which bus is theirs! Teach them that at the least there is safety in numbers and to take a buddy when they walk to and from school or the playground.
Without becoming a helicopter parent, present in every waking moment of your child’s life, you can keep your child safe by teaching them to be aware of their own safety without being scared.
1With grateful thanks to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children for all they do to keep our kids safe. Information for this public service message was adapted from “Personal Safety from the Know The Rules brochures series as well as “Safety For Children: A Guide for Parents and Guardians” (NCMEC, 1998, 2002, 2005)