By: Mary B. Hammock, MSN, CPNP
We have all passed that adorable child in the park or the mall that refuses to acknowledge our friendly banter or smile. That is a child that likely has been educated to avoid contact with strangers, as a way to protect the child. Parents naturally want their children to feel safe, secure, and valued and part of a parent’s responsibility is to teach them the skills which will keep them safe from harm.
Most importantly, your home must be a place of trust and support by your taking an active interest in your children’s day-to-day lives and listening to them intently. Building a child’s confidence and self-esteem will equip him with the ability to assert himself in potentially any dangerous situation, rather than simply identifying strangers to avoid. Statistics repeatedly point out that most perpetrators are known to the child or family. Identifying a bad guy will not be a particularly helpful skill.
Safety At An Early Age
Talking about safety with your child should begin at an early age. Discuss safety in an open, matter-of-fact, and calm manner. This will teach your child that safety is part of reality and will be less likely to induce stress. Young children can be taught safety rules. Preschoolers are concrete thinkers who are very much focused on themselves. A preschooler can quickly and easily identify his name and his parents’ names. Making up a song can assist teaching them addresses and telephone numbers.
They can also be taught to CHECK FIRST. They should check first before going outside to play. They should check first before leaving the area to go to the restroom. They should check first before accepting anything from anyone. Finally, preschoolers should be taught it is OK to SAY NO if someone does anything that makes them feel scared, uncomfortable, or bad.
Elementary aged children are generally eager to please and cooperative, which can make them vulnerable in dangerous situations. Children this age learn better through role-playing a wide variety of situations and through repetition. Be sure the child knows his full name, his parents’ names, address, telephone, and even driving directions to his home. Make a plan for addressing phone calls or doorbells. Continue to reiterate the need to CHECK FIRST and it is OK to SAY NO. Teach your elementary-aged child the NO-GO-TELL system. First, the child should say NO if someone is trying to do something that makes one feel scared, uncomfortable, or bad. Second, the child should GO away from the situation quickly. Finally, the child should TELL an adult – someone that you and your child have established as trustworthy and reliable.
Middle and High School
Middle and high school children benefit from on-going discussions and open dialogues. Discussing real-life situations provides opportunities to problem-solve and practicing saying NO should a situation of peer pressure arise. Practicing standing one’s ground against bad choices makes for a confident youngster. Encourage teens to never go out alone, as there is safety in numbers. If your child is old enough to go out alone, demand to know the three W’s – Who he is with, Where he will be and When he will return home. Communicate with your teen that it is incredibly smart of them to let someone know who, where and when.
Let Us Help
Although talking to your child about safety can be unpleasant to downright daunting, it will pay off in prevention. Healthy Steps Pediatrics is helping to grow healthy children one step at a time. If you need advice teaching your child to be smart, strong, and safe, call 678-384-3480.