Parenting is a stage in life that comes with wonderful surprises but also countless new fears about the world. Especially when your children are quite young, it seems like the whole world becomes a little bit more dangerous than it was before. To make you and your child more comfortable, start teaching them at a young about the possibilities of everyday life. This includes learning to be safe in and around traffic, public places, your own neighbourhood and at school.
Teach Road Safety To Prevent The #1 Killer of Children
You can begin teaching your children about road safety and traffic pretty much as soon as they start to understand what you’re telling them. According to Greater Sudbury’s Child Awareness guidelines, traffic incidents are the most common fatality for children. This makes it the most important to teach them thoroughly and properly. Teach your children to take the rules of the road seriously, whether they are with you or alone. One thing that gets taken for granted often is making sure your child knows their address and your phone number. (If they have the Child ID Label on their clothes, they can always call and this makes an easy way for them to remember this information.
Go over some very basic self-defense with your children. Find a course you can attend together, contact a local martial arts club, or simply find a video online that demonstrates some basic techniques to get out of a few different grabs. Teach them that verbal self-defense is just as important as physical. Small children will have a better chance calling for help and drawing attention to themselves than they will in a physical situation. Teach them that if someone is trying to take them, the best thing to yell is “they’re not my mom/dad!” or “I don’t know this person!”. This will distinguish a child in trouble from just a temper tantrum. Have your children practice shouting these things and become comfortable with it – yelling in public tends to go against what they are often taught and they may not feel okay doing it in a dangerous situation. The best thing for your children to learn is to simply not find themselves in situations that can become dangerous. Tell them that it’s better to make a scene if they think something bad might happen, than to know how to get out if something does.
Young children may get frightened or say the wrong thing if a stranger speaks to them (whether they are well intentioned or not). Go over the answers to some of these questions with your children so they understand what is being asked of them and how to appropriately respond. Think of this like employees of a shop being asked a customer service question – they need to be able to answer it in a polite and appropriate way without making the store look bad. A similar strategy can be used when a child is answering a stranger’s question of them. If a child is on their own (even temporarily, like waiting for a parent in the washroom) and they feel unsafe being asked where their parent is, for example, teach them to respond with “right over there” rather than “I’m waiting for them to come back”. Anything that will make your child appear less vulnerable.
Outdoor events, like festivals or parades are meant to be a great time for the whole family and there are usually safety measures taken to ensure this is the case. Police and medical staff should be in abundance at multiple spots throughout the grounds to keep a certain level of security. However, just having extra officers around does not prevent anything bad from happening. As is the nature of crowds, children can easily get lost, wander away or get taken away.
The first thing to do upon arrival at an outdoor event with your children is decide on an easy to see (from a child’s height) landmark to go to if you get separated. This way you will at least know where they should be and they feel better having a plan in place and will be less likely to panic or draw attention to themselves. Do random checks with them throughout the day, “can you see our safe meeting spot?”. Make sure they are aware of where they are. As you are walking through the fair with your child, point out safe spaces or the individuals that they can talk to (this will probably include most staff and city workers, but as always, use your own judgement). Help them know where everything is. Tell them to stay away from the parking lots or streets as these will have the added risk of traffic but are also less visible and crowded. Being at such a densely crowded event is both good and bad – people are less likely to try something with so many other people around, but it can also be difficult to see anything clearly.
Keep in mind that your children will not necessarily follow the same logic an as adult might if they get lost, for example, they may not trust a police officer right away because they still count as a “stranger” to them. This is why it is important to keep an open conversation going to encourage your children to ask questions and explain the situation from their point of view. You want to understand what your child understands.
Around your Neighbourhood
Do what you can to make your children comfortable in your neighbourhood – go for a walk with them and explain to them which places are “safe spots” (such as the houses of people you know or public buildings that you trust that they can walk into for help) and which places to avoid (perhaps certain parks or dangerous areas like construction sites). Keep in mind that you don’t want your children to feel like they have to be afraid of everything on the street; you don’t want them growing up to be wary of everything. It’s not about telling them not to go anywhere or not to talk to anyone, it’s about actually explaining to them the possibilities and teaching them how to act in case a situation arises. Teach them to confidently deal with a dangerous situation rather than to fear all situations. Plus, the earlier you begin teaching your children how to confidently handle things, the more sure of themselves they will be – not to mention that they will be able to pass these things on to their friends.
School & Social Circles
Go over what a “bad person” means with your children. This is anyone who makes them feel uncomfortable or is acting strangely. This includes people of all ages, genders, jobs and could be someone they don’t recognize at all or an acquaintance. Just because they know who they are doesn’t mean that they’re safe.
Again, you don’t want to make your children fearful of everybody they don’t know – how else will they make friends or go to somebody for help when they need it? Go over strange behaviours with your children, not necessarily strange people. These include: an adult asking a child for directions/help, a vehicle approaching them, anyone asking for personal information (even just their name), or anything else that gives them a bad feeling – tell them to trust their gut no matter what. Make sure they know that they don’t have to have a specific reason that you went over with them to tell you about something or tell someone off. A bad feeling is reason enough. Make sure that your children understand that they should not feel guilty or embarrassed or wrong in any way if they acted in self-defense.
Growing confident kids
By starting early and keeping an ongoing conversation with your children about potential dangers, you will be creating a solid base of safety information for them as well as keeping it interesting and not becoming another routine drill. When procedures become boring, they lose priority and are not taken seriously. Don’t give your children the same spiel every time you take them somewhere. Instead, have realistic discussions about issues, and keep that discussion a back and forth between you. Make it comfortable for them to bring issues to you as well. This way, your young ones will have a well-grounded assurance going forward as they get older. Having an open conversation throughout their childhood will help keep the conversation going as they reach their young adult years as well – which is exactly what you want.