Protecting Our Children: Knowledge Is Power!
by Pattie Fitzgerald
Editor’s Note: With horrific child abduction stories in the news, the issue of our children’s safety weighs heavily on all of us. Child Safety Expert, Pattie Fitzgerald is no exception. Having been the former Community Outreach Educator for “Parents for Megan’s Law” in New York, Ms. Fitzgerald has made the mission of her newly formed company, Safely Ever After, Inc., to teach every parent and child in Los Angeles, “safe smarts” which is child-friendly terminology for “street smarts.” Armed with “safe smarts”, children will stand a better chance of preventing themselves from abuse or abduction. The following are Fitzgerald’s tips for teaching safety to your children.
There is no magical age when you should start introducing safety concepts to your children. I believe the earlier, the better. A good time to start is usually once the child has begun to express themselves verbally, and the two of you can communicate your basic needs and ideas. Often this is as early as 2 years of age. And of course, as your child matures, the conversations and concepts will mature as well. You will definitely be talking to your 8 year old differently than your 3 year old.
If you start out early in your child’s life, talking about basic safety concepts and rules, without making it a BIG deal, kids will naturally absorb the information – just like they do anything else we try to teach them. It’s really just another part of the parenting process that we do with them almost automatically, every day – like teaching the concepts of manners, or sharing, etc. Even at a very young age, you have probably had conversations like “See how we always look both ways before we cross the street.” You haven’t made your child paranoid about getting hit by a car (at least I doubt that you have!), it’s just that you simply started introducing a safety rule even though they probably won’t be crossing the street on their own for a very long time yet.
There is no need to sit your child down and begin a long, boring dissertation, about strangers, bathing suit areas, and boundaries. And certainly, you don’t want to cram all the information into their little heads all at once! Just start naturally incorporating the dialog into your everyday lives; in the car, at the dinner table, while playing a game together. There are also lots of fun storybooks that you can find in bookstores or at the library to get the ball rolling.
In my experience, I have found that it is often the parents’ style of communicating that determines whether or not their child becomes fearful. If you are teaching any concept with a feeling of anxiety or fear, your child can sense that and will feel that this is something to be afraid of, too. Sometimes parents will try to teach “everything all at once” because they feel they have waited too long to introduce the topic of safety to their children. Again, this approach doesn’t work because then parents make too big a deal out of teaching their kids, overwhelming them with tons of safety rules and ideas. Once more, children sense this urgency, and can interpret that as something to be afraid of.
Always a better idea to go gently, starting at an early age with some basic family safety rules. This way the dialog becomes second nature for both of you.
1. Remind your children: safe grownups don’t ask kids for help.
2. Listen to your child. If they don’t want to be around a particular person, such as a babysitter, relative, or family friend, don’t force them. They may be getting a “red flag” signal that you are unaware of.
3. Practice personal safety strategies with your kids. What would they do if they were lost in a store? What would they say if someone asked them for directions?
4. Do not write your child’s name on the outside of any personal belongings such as a backpack or jacket.
5. Trust your instincts and let your child know it’s okay for them to trust theirs.
6. Let children decide for themselves how they want to express affection. Do not force them to hug or kiss another person.
7. Spend time with your kids. If children are starved for attention, they can be vulnerable targets to a predator.
8. Volunteer at your child’s school or other activities. Let them know you are interested and involved in their life.
9. Develop strong communication skills with your child so that they will feel safe coming to you if something is bothering them.
10. Teach safety concepts in a loving, easy-going manner. Scare tactics can make a child fearful.
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