When your child is in upper grade school you must actively help him learn how to gauge what's safe. He's no longer "a baby", and will want more independence, but he's far from an adult. You'll need to know and use age appropriate expectations, set limits, supervise him, and make sure he can successfully deal with potential problems before you say “yes.” This is not a time to hover over him or stand back and hope for the best.
Where to begin? Follow these “P’s of Personal Safety”:
Protect your child from situations that are beyond her social, emotional or mental abilities. You must be willing to say no, or postpone a privilege or new freedom if your child is unprepared to have a safe and successful experience. For example, if she has not yet demonstrated good problem solving skills or acted responsibly recently, this is not a good time to say yes to ride alone on an unfamiliar bus, or a solo walk during vacation.
Prepare your child for new experiences, such as when he goes off to camp for two weeks. In general, your child will want to spend more time with his friends now, so don't try to keep him near you at all times. More of your energy should be spent on helping him function safely without you.
Preview what information and skills your child may need in a new situation. For example, in the weeks or days before you allow your daughter to go somewhere with her friends, discuss some of the potential dangers she may encounter and review how she should respond to them. Discuss how she can use her street smarts to stay safe. Remember, you don’t do that by yelling, “Don’t take rides from strangers!” as she walks out the door, headed to school on her own for the first time. That simply won’t work. A good personal safety plan takes more time than that, and more detail.
Practice mastering new personal safety skills. As your child moves toward adolescence, provide more opportunities for him to practice being independent on a limited basis. In other words, give your child the freedom he needs to grow, one supervised step at a time.
You can teach most children in 4th and 5th grade to:
- Remember and use safety skills they have learned, with reminders
- Anticipate the consequences of their behavior
- Use their budding problem solving skills and critical thinking
- Spot and avoid common lures, like bribes, helping strangers, etc.
- Use the mantra, “No, Go and Tell” when in danger
- Refuse dares
- Report inappropriate adult behavior
- Develop “home alone” skills
- Deal with bullies
- Engage in safe Internet activities
Review each safety skill periodically even if your child rolls her eyes and says, “I already know!” As you begin to see early signs of adolescence in your child, you may want to attach her to your hip or run for cover. Stay informed, stay involved and prepare, don’t scare your child for the road ahead. Give her driving instructions.