It is extremely beneficial to help children build the confidence they need to stay as safe as possible in any potentially dangerous situation they encounter. Although talking about potential dangers with with children may not be pleasant, it pays off in terms of prevention. If you discuss “what if” scenarios in a calm, honest, age-appropriate manner, you strengthen your child’s ability to face the world with confidence and self assurance.
Strategies and tips in building confidence around avoiding potential dangers:
- Never go anywhere with a stranger- Bad people do not always look mean or scary.
- Don’t tell your name or address to a stranger.
- Never agree to do a job for someone you don’t know for money-they may be trying to trick you.
- Never accept anything from a stranger or go with a stranger to help look for a lost pet or play a game.
- Never accept a lift in a car from a stranger or go up to a car to give directions- keep away from cars when walking alone, so that no one can get a hold of you and pull you into a car.
- Do not get close to strangers. If a stranger bothers you run away and ask for help.
- If a stranger follows you or grabs you yell loud! Shout, “I don’t know you!” Fight back and make as much noise as possible. Remember the Yell, Run, Tell rule- It’s okay to run and scream if you find yourself in danger.
- If you think you are in danger or being followed, run toward people, a story or knock on the door of a house and ask for help.
- Identify a safety net or adults and places, such as stores, schools, libraries, fire stations, houses of worship, and homes of neighbors that they should approach if they need help.
- Never play or walk alone in dark lonely places. Stay with friends - never wander off on your own.
- Always tell trusted adult if you have been approached by a stranger.
- If someone touches you in a bad way, say, “NO!” Get away and tell an adult you trust. Keep telling until someone listens.
- Make sure your parents know where you are. Never go off on your own without telling a parent or trusted adult.
- If your children are old enough to stay at home alone, review these tips-Know how and when to call 911.
- Never open the door to a stranger
- Never tell anyone on the phone you are home alone
- Never tell any callers your name, number or address
- Hang up right away if you don’t like what someone is saying.
Age Specific Safety Strategies
Conversations should begin at an early age, with information tailored to the age of your child and adjusted over time. Discuss safety issues in a positive, open and reassuring manner, modeling calm but realistic problem-solving style. A matter-of-fact approach will make child aware that he is capable of dealing with life's realities. Even the youngest child can be taught simple rules about personal safety such as his whole name, address, and phone number, the names of his parents, who to call in an emergency, and how to use the phone to call 911. Here are some points to keep in mind:
- Preschoolers (ages 3 to 5) are inquisitive, but they’re focused on themselves. Since they’re not apt to be tuned into the possible motivations of others, they may be easily fooled. Teach your young child simple facts such as her name and address. She can learn about expected behavior in different situations through games and dramatic play.
- Elementary school-age children (ages 6 to 9) are concerned with issues of right and wrong and can learn basic safety rules. Since they want to cooperate and to please adults, they may be tricked by a seemingly tempting situation. At this age, children learn best through concrete examples role-playing, and repetition of rules.
- Tweens and teens (ages 10 and up) become more capable of judging the consequences of a potentially dangerous situation. They are likely to be in unsupervised situations more often and are influenced by their peers, and therefore, they may think they should act “cool”. Your child still benefits from ongoing discussions of risks, using real-life situations as examples.
Being aware of and Available to Your Child
In any discussion of potential dangers your child may face, it’s important to consider your own child’s personality and temperament. Some children are naturally cautious in new situations. Others may respond more readily to friendly overtures and promises, and therefore need more guidance. Some parents may be reluctant to point out potential dangers, but keeping children uninformed is not an option:
- Talk openly about strangers. Don’t assume that your young child actually knows what the word “stranger” means. Be sure she is aware that a stranger is anyone she doesn’t know. In a calm but firm manner, instruct her to never go anywhere, get in a car, answer questions, or accept anything from strangers- even if the person seems friendly. Stress the fact that strangers shouldn’t be asking children for help or giving them things. Remind her that it's sometimes okay, however, can be sources if they need help such as a mother with children, a store salesperson, a police officer or security person etc.
- Discuss safe routes to use on the way to and from school and other destinations, as well as places to avoid, such as deserted areas and parking lots.
- Discuss what your child should do if he is separated from you, his caregiver, or a teacher in a public place. Make sure he knows he should go to an employee or security guard and not leave the site.
- Encourage your child to trust her intuition and to take action when they sense danger. Tell them not to worry about being polite, but to make a lot of noise, run away, scream, shout, kick, punch. Teach them the NO-GO-TELL system. Your child should: 1) Say NO if someone tries to touch her or makes her feel scared or uncomfortable, 2) GO quickly away from the situation, and 3) TELL a trusted adult.
- When your child is old enough to go out alone, demand that he tells you the three Ws: Who I’m going with, Where I’ll be, When I’ll return home. Make sure your child informs you anytime his plans change.
- Make safety a part of your routine everyday life. Alert your child to ploys that manipulative people might use to integrate themselves. Pole-play some scenarios on a trip to a park or mall or other public place. For example, you might ask, “Suppose a person in a car asks you for directions? What if someone you don’t know comes to pick you up at school or at a playground? What if they say I sent them? What if they ask you for help finding a lost pet? Or ask if you want to do something that sounds fun?” Practice these and other scenarios on a regular basis to reinforce safety concepts.
- Establish home and safety rules. When your child is old enough to stay home alone she should keep the door locked and never answer questions over the phone.
- Be aware of your child’s Internet activities. Predators use online chat rooms and other resources to arrange face to face meetings with children. many internet service providers provide parent control options to block certain material from coming in to your child’s computer. Special filtering software is also an option for blocking objectionable material. Use these tools, and stay involved in your child's activities.