A new school year brings many opportunities for your kids to be apart from you, such as sports events, school clubs, dances, and parties. While this new independence can be healthy for your child, it can also present new challenges to your child’s safety.
What’s an anxious parent to do?
“Focus on a preventative maintenance approach,” advises Preston Jones, a former police officer and creator of the Keeping Kids Safe program, which helps parents teach their kids to be safe in fun and entertaining ways. “Give them clear guidelines and practical tools they can use in any situation.”
Here are Preston’s top tips:
Teach your kids to Walk Tall. Bullies tend to pick on kids who appear weak or timid. Before your child goes back to school, watch how he carries himself in public. Does he seem to withdraw or avert his eyes from others? If so, teach him how to convey confidence: standing straight, holding his head up, and making eye contact. “There are two reasons for this,” Preston points out. “First, he’ll discourage unwanted attention from bullies, who tend to avoid confident kids. Secondly, his positive energy will draw the right kinds of kids who may become new friends. These are both especially important at the beginning of the school year.”
Preston also offers a tip for parents whose child may find this difficult. Help him recall a time when he was particularly happy or excited: his last birthday party, the day his cousins came to town, or the time he hit a homerun. This will be a natural lift for both his mind and his body. Encourage him to keep this memory and its good feeling in mind as he walks around campus during the first week.
Teach your kids to obey the Belly Brain. Once in a while, your child may get a strange feeling in her stomach about the situation she’s in or the people she’s with. She may experience this in a quiet hallway between classes, with strangers, or even with people she knows. She may not understand it, and she may even try to tell herself there’s no reason for it. Preston playfully refers to this sense as the Belly Brain – but he says it’s no laughing matter. “This is a signal that something’s not right. Encourage your kids to take it seriously, and to act immediately to move to a safe place or locate a safe person.”
Teach your kids to be safe at home alone. If your kids come home to an empty house after school, remind them frequently of basic home safety guidelines. These include locking doors, turning pot handles away from the edge of the stove, using electrical outlets and power cords carefully, and keeping an eye on lighted candles. Before back to school week starts, ask a trusted neighbor to be the go-to person in case your kids have any worries or needs before you get home.
Don’t take “Fine” for an answer. As your children are exposed to new situations and new people, they may face issues that require your guidance. Maintaining open communication with your children is vital, Preston says – even if your children don’t agree. “To get your kids to really open up, you might have to probe a bit.” Your child may not want to talk about an unpleasant experience, or he may not know how to bring it up. But with a little probing, you may discover that he needs your help to work through it. Pick an appropriate time and place for these talks. The dinner table is a great place to discuss issues with the entire family, but you may want to wait for a time you can have a more private discussion, such as in the car.
A world of new people and experiences awaits your child. It’s natural to feel anxious about her safety. By using a little preventative maintenance ahead of time, you can successfully empower your kids to create for themselves a safe and enjoyable new school year.