As a caring parent, you strive to be a good protector and teacher. You make an effort to be well-informed and continually walk a thin line between exposing your children to life's possibilities and protecting them from life's burdens.

When your child is between the ages of 5 and 9, your job is to empower him to be both careful and confident. For example, you need to teach your daughter that it's OK to say no to anyone who makes her feel uncomfortable, including an adult in authority. This may mean that by age 9 your daughter will have evolved from being sweet and compliant to someone who listens to her gut instincts before she complies with others.

What exactly can kindergarteners understand about safety? During the kindergarten through third grade years, you can teach most children to:

  • Interact safely with strangers

  • Say “no” to inappropriate adults

  • Get into cars only with authorized drivers

  • Respond safely when separated from you or lost

  • Be alert and aware of their surroundings

  • Follow safety rules

  • Call 911 or 0 in an emergency.

  • Recognize (and name) uncomfortable feelings

  • Answer the door and telephone safely

Be sure your child has mastered the prerequisite safety skills from preschool before you teach these more advanced skills. Also, as you learn more about the potential dangers that kids face, you will need to manage your fears as well. Here are some ways to teach safety without scaring your child silly. Remember to use moderate language and a matter-of-fact tone. Focus on what your child needs to learn rather than what upsets you.

  • Teach and model healthy boundaries in relationships. Children need to learn what a “respectful distance” looks and feels like. They also need to recognize if someone is ignoring their boundaries and what to do about it.

  • Teach your child to recognize, trust, and act on his instincts.  Help him respond quickly and self-protectively if he gets an inner signal that something is not right.

  • Use the most effective teaching methods and teach proven safety practices. For example, instead of outdated and confusing messages like “Don’t talk to strangers,” teach “Here’s how strangers are supposed to behave...They may smile and say hello, but then they should move on. Here’s what to do if they don’t.”

Last, don’t try to teach too many safety skills at once. You don’t want to overwhelm or confuse your child. Teach a little bit at a time over time and keep track of your goals and your progress.