As kids grow up it is more difficult to keep track of their every move and also you’ll want them to gain more independence without you.
Letting Go and giving more control and exposure to your kids can be one of the harder things as your role as a parent. However, if you equip them with enough skills to be able to make sensible choices and decisions without being paranoid or fearful, you’ll be doing a very good job.
The age old ‘don’t take sweets from a stranger’ is right to some extent. However, these days there are more sophisticated and subtle ways for adults to lure children into a car or house. It can be difficult for a child to be able to assess who is genuine and who is using guise to achieve an ulterior motive.
Communicate effectively with your children on a practical and non-emotional level at a relatively young age. When setting guidelines and boundaries, communicate why this is necessary and that it is for their safety. Be prepared to listen to any worries they may have and possible objections regarding their freedom, encourage them to ask questions and be open with you. When you cover the point of avoiding strangers, emphasise who this may include. Women, Men, a group of older children/teenagers, people offering sweets, money or a lift and people who are polite and appear friendly.
Teach your children the following for ease of mind and safe, happy children:
- Communicate whereabouts. Knowing where your children are going, who they are with and when they will be back is vitally important. Explain to them why you need to know this and to call you if plans change. They should respect your requests for this information and be honest with you.
- Getting Lost. Busy shopping places, public transport can all increase the risk of becoming separated from your child. Give clear guidelines of what they should do if they become separated from you. Police Officer, Shop Assistant, Shop Security Guard, Shopping Centre Customer Help point. One of the best ways is to decide on a meeting point in the place where you have gone to, i.e. outside the toilets or near the escalator. This needs to be in the centre or a very public place. Remind your child of the guidelines, don’t speak to anyone you don’t know, don’t give any personal details and just wait until you meet them there.
- Call for Help. Teach your children how to call you, a relative/family friend and the police. Most children have mobile phones these days but if yours are younger or you do not wish them to carry one then ensure they have enough change or a phone card. A list of secondary contacts if they can’t get hold of you can either be stored easily in their phone or create a list that can be put in their school bag.
- It’s OK to say NO. Children should be taught that in certain circumstances it is OK for them to say NO to an adult if they are being asked to do something that feels uncomfortable or wrong. Taking their picture or touching private parts for instance, or anything that the child genuinely feels uncomfortable with. A child should never feel that they are being forced or tricked and should always listen to their instincts or ‘gut’ feeling. If it feels wrong it usually is and they would be better to be cautious, let them know that they need to make the best decision for them and their safety at that time, even if they’ve read the situation wrong. Children might not always get it right but let them know it is still OK and you’ll be there to support them.
- Escape Routes. Discuss with your child/children various scenarios that they could think of that might put them in danger. How would they cope? Have a role-play session maybe with some of their friends so it’s light hearted but with a serious message. The ‘StoP’ stance could be practiced as well as some basic self defence techniques should someone try to grab them.
- Network. Children make and break friendships all the time as they are growing up but most of the time they have a certain group which they remain loyal and close to. Get to know your children’s friends and their parents. Keep an up to date record of their addresses and phone numbers.
- Know the routes. Your children will regularly walk certain routes such as between friends’ houses, school and play areas. Take a walk along these routes every so often looking out for potential danger spots or anything that appears unusual. Warn your kids about short cuts they should avoid.
Be open with your child/children about the potential dangers that they may experience as they grow up. Equip them with the right tools for them to make the best decision for their own safety and encourage them to talk with you about anything that may concern them.
By Annette Du Bois and Ian Fox All rights reserved.