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What Would You Do? A Kid's Guide to Staying Safe in a World of Strangers

What Would You Do? A Kid's Guide to Staying Safe in a World of Strangers
Keeping Children Safe

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Keeping Children Safe in the Homes of Friends

Say, say, oh playmate,
Come out and play with me.
And bring your dollies three;
Climb up my apple tree
Shout down my rain barrel;
Slide down my cellar door,
And we'll be jollyfriends
Forever more more more more more.

Say, say, oh playmate,
I cannot play with you.
My dolly's got the flu;
Boo hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo

Ain't got no rain barrel;
Ain't got no cellar door;
But we'll be jolly friends
Forever more more more more more.
These lyrics from a song credited to Saxie Dowell, was always a favorite of mine to sing to my children and now my grandchildren. If only my singing voice measured up to the adorable quality of the song! That song, a very old one, suggests a much more innocent and carefree time in the play world of children. Things are not always so innocent in today’s society, unfortunately.
Play dates are great for children. It is important for children to be able to visit and play in one another homes. Play dates are an important part of developing social skills in children. Play dates can, however, be a reason for concern on the part of parents. Parents can’t be with their children all the time. The dilemma for parents of teaching their children to be safe when they are not with them in public places, as well as in the homes of friends, without making children fearful, is a delicate balancing act. It can be done though. Giving children the tools they need to take a proactive role in staying safe in public places and in their own homes, when they are not with their parents, is the premise of my book, What Would You Do? A Kid’s Guide to Staying  Safe in a World of Strangers.
However, play dates in the homes of others can throw an entire new concern that parents should address. In any social situation, from play dates to birthday parties to the eventual sleepover, children just want to have fun. Parents, however, need to feel confident that their children are safe and protected anywhere, including in the homes of others.
It’s important that parents take precautionary measures to ensure their children are safe when playing in the homes of their friends. Below are some tips to help you, as parents, better achieve that safety goal:
·       Meet the parents before agreeing to any play date. It’s necessary for you to know who will be in charge when your children are at a play date in someone else’s home.
·        If you can't schedule a face-to-face meeting before setting up a play date with a new friend, you should have an extended and detailed telephone conversation with the parents.
·       Whether it’s a face to face meeting or a telephone conversation, you should discuss with the other parents such concerns as food allergies, car seats, computer policies and all safety rules around such potential dangers as swimming pools, trampolines, or any other play equipment.
·       Also ask if the family has a gun in the home. Guns in the home can present a very realistic danger. Don’t be concerned about offending anyone by asking the gun question. If the parents hosting the play date are responsible gun owners, they would understand and even appreciate the question. No responsible parent wants a child to be harmed while in their care.
·       Also ask if the parents will be home during the play date. Parental monitoring of the play date is essential.
·        If your child is attending a birthday party in a public place, such as a restaurant or some kind of sporting or play arena, you should always ask if your children can be accompanied to the restroom.
·       Communicate with your children. Talk to them every day. This may give you some insight into who their friends are and what kinds of things they do together. It can also better ensure that your children feel comfortable and connected to you. Ask open-ended questions, such as what do they do, who do they hang out with, or who do they have lunch with. Be diplomatic in asking the questions. You don’t want to annoy your children or have them decide that you are nosy and risk having them completely shut down communication with you.
·       If you have concerns about allowing your children to play in a particular family’s home, consider having the play date in your own home. Doing this, at least initially, will help you to get a feel for a new friend's parents by observing their children’s  behavior. Sometimes a child’s behavior speaks volumes about his or her home environment. If the behavior seems off-putting in any way, you have a legitimate right to be concerned.
·       Trust your instincts. Sometimes parents, wanting to be nice and not offend anyone, may not trust their gut reactions or instincts. If you have an intuition that you are uncomfortable with your children going to a certain family’s home, for whatever reason, that's what you need to trust.
·       Don’t be overly protective. That’s why ensuring the safety of children in the homes of others is a delicate balancing act. It’s true that the world is sometimes a scary place and sometimes terrible things can occur. Over protecting your children does nothing to help bolster their self confidence or self reliance,  Kids who pick up on parental fears can become highly fearful or anxious, and they may have difficulty with separation. As your children begin to learn safety and self reliance skills, you need to back off a bit. You want children to feel competent as they grow up. You want them to be able to handle the challenges that come their way. They can't do that if they feel fearful or anxious. Exercise precaution, but don’t hover!

Picture credit: Ned Horton

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Teaching Children about Stranger Safety

My experiences in teaching to children stranger safety workshops based upon my book, What Would You Do? A Kid’s Guide to Staying Safe in a World of Strangers, have confirmed that many children don’t understand the concept of strangers. In my workshops, we do role playing scenarios that involve potentially threatening situations that a child might face when confronted with a stranger who may intend harm. Far too many children participating in my workshops fail that role playing test. Far too many of them would have gone off with the stranger or ended up in a compromising and potentially harmful circumstance.
The concept of stranger is difficult for children to understand. The first chapter of my book explains, in a reassuring way, the concept of strangers and provides a system for helping children to determine whom they should and should not trust. The strategies provided in the book help to empower children to take a pro-active role in staying safe.
Because the concept of strangers is a difficult one for children to comprehend, education is the key. My book, What Would You Do? A Kid’s Guide to Staying Safe in a World of Strangers is an excellent educational resource for children and parents.  It is important also that parents discuss with their children stranger safety strategies that will instill confidence and guide them to make sound decisions.  When having such a discussion, however, parents should be careful not to increase any fear or anxiety by reassuring them, as my book does, that most people are good and not looking to cause them harm. Focus instead on teaching them how to be safe around any strangers.
Parents should teach children that strangers are people they don’t know. Therefore they need to be cautious around them. Parents should explain to children that even people they only kind of know should be considered strangers and, as such, should be cautious around them. Parents should help their children understand who their safe adults are.
Parents should teach children that strangers can look like anyone. How a stranger looks doesn’t determine whether or not the stranger is someone who should be trusted. Parents should teach their children to keep a safe distance from strangers who approach them or try to talk to them. Children should be told to run away from a stranger if that stranger bothers them or makes them feel uncomfortable in any way. Teach them, instead, to seek out their safe adult. Teach them to tell their safe adult any time anything remotely scary or threatening happens to them.
Parents should ensure that their children know their full name, age,  address, and telephone number. Children should be instructed never to give out personal information to any stranger. Parents need to teach their children never to accept rides with a stranger. Children need to be taught to yell and fight back if ever grabbed by a stranger. My book, What Would You Do? A Kid’s Guide to Staying Safe in a World of Strangers provides, in a very kid-friendly way, self-defense and escape strategies to children. Parents should practice those strategies with their children.
Parents should also instruct their children always to use the buddy system as they are less of a target from a potential predator if they are not alone. Teach children that, whenever possible, they should walk in groups as there is better safety in numbers.
Parents also need to set home safety rules, as well. Parents should teach their children never to let strangers into the house if they are home or alone and never to let strangers even know they are home alone.
Educating and empowering children with the detailed strategies presented in my book is advisable. In addition, open communication between parents and children is of paramount importance.  Parents should instruct their children to report immediately any suspicious activity and all interactions with strangers that made them feel scared or uncomfortable. Teaching children what to do when confronted by a stranger can be a lifesaver.

Picture credit: Laura Morariu