Safety Tips for Parents
Each day presents new challenges for educators and parents to invent creative and loving ways to discuss some of life’s more difficult topics. It is never too early to begin an ongoing conversation with your children about safety. Preschoolers can learn their names, telephone numbers, addresses,
and to call 911 in an emergency; and school-aged children can learn more complex safety skills. We encourage you to adapt the practice of safety behaviors to the sophistication of the children in your life.
- Records: Keep the following records of your children in a safe place: any custody papers, current photographs, their height and weight, their description (including scars and birthmarks), dental records, fingerprints and passports. (Once a passport is issued, it makes it difficult for
someone else to obtain another.) Update the photos and information regularly.
- Knowledge: Know where your children are. Know the names, addresses and phone numbers of your children’s friends, and call to introduce yourself to their parents. Teach children to tell you where they will be and to check in with you when they get there and before they are ready to
- Safe people: Create a short list of safe people that you give permission for your children to go with. Tell them to call you before going anywhere with someone not on the list, even if they say it is an emergency. Abductions by non-custodial parents are more common than stranger
abductions. If you are divorced and have sole custody of your children, tell them whether their non-custodial parent is on the safe people list. To reduce the chance of potential family abductions, get a clear custody order that specifies visitation rights clearly, and know the non-custodial parent’s social security number, date of birth, current address and employment. Some parents create a password with older children so that parents can tell a friend the password if they ask them to pick up their child. This is risky with very young children because they can
be tricked into telling the password.
- Strangers: Define a stranger as anyone the child doesn’t know very well. It is important for children to know that people they have seen before (the mailman, the ice cream truck driver, etc.) are strangers if they don’t know them well, and that someone can be a stranger even if they look nice or know their name. Tell children not to tell strangers their names or where they live, and don’t put your children’s names on the outside of their belongings.
- Prevention: To reduce your children’s fears and increase their ability to deal with dangerous situations, focus on common sense abduction prevention strategies rather than on the things that might happen to them. You can approach children with the issues of abduction the same way we approach them with about fire or earthquake safety. Assure the children that the chances of being kidnapped by a stranger are quite low, and we can teach them some techniques that will keep them safer.
- Safe communication: It is important to lay the groundwork for dialogue about abuse and kidnapping. Parents and teachers can do this with young children by encouraging them to talk about their feelings. Ask about a child’s day and about the people they encountered. Are they having
any problems? Be open to listening. By creating an open dialogue with children – especially about the things that make them scared, embarrassed or sad – you make it easier for them to tell you about potentially dangerous situations they’ve encountered.
- Clearly stated rules: Take the time to talk with children regularly about your safety rules. Let them know who can pick them up, and explain how they are expected to check in with you.
- Good secret vs. bad secret: A good secret is fun to keep, like a surprise party or gift. A “bad secret” is a secret that makes them feel bad, confused or scared. Ask them to inform you if anyone tells them to keep a bad secret, and stress that getting help when they need it doesn’t make them a “tattle tale.”
- Assertiveness: Children can learn to “use their words” at an early age, and can be encouraged to speak in a clear, strong voice rather than whining or screaming. Reinforce assertive communication by complimenting children on the way they worded a request or stated their opinion, even if their request is not one you can grant.
- Yell NO, Run and Tell: Teach children to yell, “No,” to run to where there are safe adults, and to tell an adult if a stranger has approached them. Tell children that yelling and running are better safety ideas than trying to hide. Teach your children the difference between yelling and screaming.
- Safe distance: Teach children to stay a safe distance (approximately three arm-lengths) away from strangers and strangers’ cars, even if a stranger seems nice. Teach children to run in the direction opposite from the direction the stranger’s car is traveling.
- School safety: Encourage schools to establish callback programs so that if a child does not arrive at school on time, the guardians are notified within thirty minutes of when the child was expected.
- Home safety: Teach children to keep doors and windows locked when they are home alone, and to go to a neighbor and call 911 if a window is broken or if the door is open when they get home.
- Doorbell safety: Teach children to answer the door by asking, “Who is it?” Tell them to never say that they are alone and to never open the door when they are alone, unless it is someone their guardian told them to expect and let in. When they are alone, ask them to talk through the door
and say, “My parents are busy now, I’ll tell them you stopped by.” Tell children to call 911 immediately if the person will not leave.
- Phone safety: Teach children that it is important to never say they are alone when a stranger calls, and to either let the answering machine screen calls or say, “Mom/Dad can’t come to the phone now, can I take a message?” Tell them to hang up if someone is making strange noises,
saying scary things, or not saying anything.
- Internet safety: Put your children’s computer in the family room, or where you can keep an eye on the screen. Teach children that it is not safe to give their last name, address, or phone number to a person on the Internet, and that it is never safe to meet Internet friends in person without a
parent’s supervision and consent.
- Practice: Children, like adults, learn skills best when they practice them often. Review your safety rules regularly. Test your children’s understanding of the rules with questions like, “What would you do if your bicycle broke and a neighbor offered you a ride home?”
Reprinted with permission from Child Quest International, Inc.
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