Let’s face it. Your child’s safety is not a safe subject. Just the thought of it may trigger your worst fears. But by the time your child is around age three, you need to begin paving the way for personal safety skills. It begins now, but it's an empowering journey that will continue until your child leaves home.
Your goal should be to teach a little at a time, over time, and to make personal safety a natural part of your family life. You can say goodbye to warnings and scare tactics; the days of “scaring some sense” into our kids are over. Today there are proven personal safety strategies for every age and stage, and effective teaching techniques that can help you build good communication and boost your child’s self esteem. Here are some tips for getting started:
- Consider your child’s ability to grasp information. Ask yourself questions like “What words and ideas will make sense to him?” “What is she likely to learn and remember?” You should teach personal safety skills according to your child’s ability and need, rather than age alone.
- Preschoolers have a difficult time making exceptions and are often confused by rules like “Don’t talk to strangers”, especially when you sometimes chat it up with the cashier at the supermarket checkout aisle. Positive instructions that describe what a child should always do rather than what they must not do some of the time will best protect them. An example is “Always tell the grown-up in charge before you go anywhere with anybody."
- Teach your child clear information like “This is safe. That is not.” Step in and say "yes" or "no." Kids look to adults for direction. Don’t be afraid to set limits. A child who learns to recognize limits now is more likely to follow safety rules later.
Keep in mind that when your child is in preschool you will be setting the foundation for a life-long lesson in personal safety skills. The maturity and ability to consistently use those skills won’t come for a few more years. However, you can teach most preschoolers to:
- Identify and name all body parts.
- Learn the difference between “OK” and “Not OK” touches.
- Understand the difference between friends, family and strangers.
- Learn and recite identifying information - name, address, phone number.
- Ask permission before leaving the area with anyone.
- Ask permission before accepting gifts or candies from non-family members.
Remember to make personal safety fun - or it will flop! Invent safety songs and rhymes when you're in the car. Draw pictures, create puppet shows, and read stories about different safety themes. You know best what creative approaches appeal to your child. Use them to make teaching personal safety a natural and enjoyable part of your family life!