When Do I Start Teaching My Child About Personal Safety?
Parents and guardians often wonder at what age they can begin teaching their children about personal safety. While it would be convenient if there was a determined age, "one size" doesn't fit everybody. A child's ability to comprehend and practice safety skills is determined by the child's age and educational and developmental levels.1 It is also important that parents and guardians realize that children need to model, rehearse, and practice new skills to incorporate them into their daily lives. A parent or guardian may think that by telling their child about personal safety, the child will assimilate that information into a practice of the skills. "I've never known of a child who, when you tell them something one time, you never have to repeat it," stated Nancy A. McBride, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children's national safety director. "Children need repetition and reinforcement to acquire new skills, and parents and guardians are in a great position to work with their children in a calm, non-threatening manner."
Another important element for skill acquisition is reassurance. In today's world children are very aware of dangers and tragedies. Because that awareness already exists, it is self-defeating to use fear as a teaching tool, as fear tends to paralyze, not empower. Children who are taught safety concepts are better prepared to handle and protect themselves if self-confidence is part of what they are being taught.2 Communication and active listening are other vital components to success. If parents and guardians approach personal child safety in an open manner, children will be more likely to come to them with problems or concerns in their lives.
The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children has a signature safety publication, Knowing My Rules for Safety that is a good place for parents and guardians to begin teaching personal safety skills. The rules are simple and concise and provide encouragement and options for children who need an adult's help.
Reprinted with the permission of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. © 2008 National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. All rights reserved.
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