Most parents of small children share a common fear when it comes to discussing personal safety with their children. They are afraid of scaring the child or exposing them to dangerous realities too soon. Well, what is too soon? It will vary from child to child, but children as young as 3 years old can be taught safety basics without making it scary. Talking about safety should not and does not have to be scary. It’s important to make it a matter of fact type of conversation and the key is repetition. The safety lessons should not last more than 10 minutes at a time because most children will begin to tune you out if you go much longer.
Here are some suggested conversation starters that are very simple:
· What are their friends’ names and where do they live? You would be surprised how many parents can’t tell you who their children hang out with and where they live. If you have a young child who may not know how to ask their friends about their home life, volunteer to meet the parents on a play date or for pizza. This will let you know if your child is hanging around acceptable kids/parents and if they don’t want to meet you, then insist that your child end the friendship. Period. End of story.
· Stress the importance of NEVER keeping secrets with strangers or other adults. Keeping secrets is a common tactic child predators use to “groom” a child for abuse. The predator will start with small, simple things like letting them play a video game you wouldn’t approve of or eating treats Mom wouldn’t give them. Then, when the child is comfortable keeping those types of secrets, they will move one to more sinister activities. Your child should feel comfortable enough to ALWAYS come to YOU when someone makes them uncomfortable, asks them to keep a secret or gets too personal with them.
· If they are attending an activity with friends or classmates, they must NEVER wander off alone. Teach them how to use the buddy system. This includes going to the restroom. They should take a friend to “stand guard” as this reduces the chance of abduction. Predators look for children that are alone and opportunity. Teach them that there is safety in numbers.
· Develop a family code word and NEVER reveal it to anyone outside your immediate family. The family code word is a word, known only to your immediate family, which must be given if there were an emergency situation and another adult had to pick up your child for transportation. Teach your child that in addition to the code word, they should try to contact you or your spouse on the phone or at work if it still doesn’t feel right to them before getting in the car. Tell your children that they are not to tell the code word to their friends.
These are just a few conversation starters. As your child masters these beginning points, you can add additional rules. The most important thing to remember is no matter what rules you feel are important, you must practice scenarios with your children and repeat the rules often. Some parents find that over breakfast/dinner or before bed is the best time to approach the subject. Other parents have made a game out of it where they give stars or some reward for every safety rule the child remembers and adheres to on a regular basis. It doesn’t matter what method you choose, but it does matter that it’s coming from YOU. Studies have shown that rules stressed by a child’s parent sink in better than those taught by anyone else, including school safety officers/teachers, police, crime fighters, etc.
Remember – “If you Fail to Plan, Then Plan to Fail!”