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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

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Stranger Safety: Six Things Your Small Children Should Understand

            The concept of strangers is difficult for small children to understand. It is a particularly difficult concept for very young children who may tend to misinterpret warnings about strangers, secrets and other stranger safety issues. One of the first things that parents should do is to do away with the term, Stranger Danger. This is not a good term to use. It can make children fearful and make them think that all strangers are bad and dangerous. The truth is that most people, including most strangers, are good and well-intentioned. But some are not. It is difficult for even adults to know the difference, much less children.

A parent of a preschooler or any small child is always pleased to see his or her child approach another child on the playground and make a new friend. However, it can be a little unsettling, and potentially dangerous, when a preschooler or any child approaches an adult he doesn't know and begins conversing with that adult.  Pediatric and child education experts claim that social skills and independence blossom between the ages of four and five. Even a child who was formerly shy may now feel comfortable engaging anybody and everybody he or she meets. This is a most important time to talk to children about stranger safety while being careful to choose words carefully. This is the best time to establish firm rules and explain the rules in a non-threatening way. 

1.     Advise your children to always check with Mommy, Daddy, or the babysitter before talking to another grown-up.
2.     Teach your children that, in the event that they should get separated from you in a store, they should never leave the building with anyone. They should approach the store clerk, or a uniformed security guard and ask for help to page or locate you. For added security, teach your small child his first and last name, his parents' first and last names, and the family phone number so he can give them to the employee or uniformed security guard. Most children can begin learning these facts at age four  and master them by age five.
3.     Instruct your children that they should not accept anything from anyone except Mommy and Daddy or another family member, the babysitter, or the parent of another child when on a play-date. Advise your child to check with you before accepting anything.
4.     Teach your children when in public places never to go where they can no longer see you. Instructing your children not to leave your sight may be confusing for them. They could wander off assuming that you can still see them.
5.     Teach your children that a surprise is the only secret that it’s sometimes ok to keep. Sometimes parents use the two terms regarding keeping secrets interchangeably. That can be confusing to them. If you tell your children to keep a secret about Daddy's birthday gift or Grandma's party, you may be undermining the rule that no grown-up should ever tell you to keep a secret from your mom or dad. At this age, it is important to convey the unambiguous message that Mom and Dad have a right to know everything anyone says or does to him.
6.     Don’t send your children mixed messages and undermine the safety strategies you have taught them. Practice these three principles:

·       Avoid talking to a child you don't know. Instead, address the child’s parent. i Otherwise, your children may think that it's okay for strangers to talk to them.
·       Avoid monogramming your children’s names on his backpacks or clothing. If a stranger addresses your kid by name, he may think he knows the person.
·       Don't push your small children to give a hug to anyone -- even relatives. Children need to realize that it's okay to say "no" when they feel uncomfortable in such situations.

Additional information for helping small children understand the concept of strangers and to help them take a pro-active role to stay safe can be found in my award-winning book, What Would You Do? A Kid;s Guide to Staying Safe in a World of Strangers. The book is available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Baker & Taylor, and the Follett and Ingrams catalogues. Useful resources for children, parents, and teachers can also be accessed through my book website, Melissa Harker Ridenour Books.

Picture credit: Anissa Thompson

Monday, July 28, 2014

Protecting Your Children: Empowerment and Not Fear

My award-winning book, What Would You Do? A Kid’s Guide to Staying Safe in a World of Strangers, offers strategies to children and parents to help children better understand the concept of strangers. It explains to children the most commonly used predator lures so that they will not fall prey to them. It also offers children pro-active strategies to stay safe from such peril, threat, or harm. The book is listed as a recommended resource on the For Parents page of the Child Rescue Network and is a recommended resource for their Empowerment Not Fear workshops for parents.
It has been said that 75% of parents fear that their children could be abducted or abused in some capacity. To better ensure your children’s safety from potential peril or threat from anyone intending them harm, parents also need to be pro-active.

The following information is a brief excerpt from only part of chapter 5 (What Should Parents Do? A Reference for Parents, Grandparents, and Caretakers) of my book, What Would You Do?A Kid’s Guide to Staying Safe in a World of Strangers.  Many more strategies for parents are available in the complete chapter of the book.  
·       After reviewing with your children the safety precautions and self-defense strategies explained in the first four chapters of this book, practice them with your children.  Reviewing the information once is not enough.  To better ensure that your children would know what to do in a threatening situation, role- play and rehearse repeatedly.
·       Be informed of potentially dangerous people who may reside near you. By using the following websites, you can get data on convicted sex offenders and maps of areas in your local community where they reside:
Live Secure
Map Sex Offenders
National Alert Registry
Stop Sex Offenders
·       Keep recent photographs of your children.  Maintain Child Identification kits of your children’s physical characteristics and fingerprints. Photographs and Child Identification kits are important tools to help law enforcement locate a missing child.  Kits can be ordered through the following web site:
National Child Identification Program
·       If you cannot find your child, don’t panic.  Search your home and then check with your neighbors and your children’s friends.  If you still cannot find him, call the police immediately.  Unlike with missing adults, there is no waiting period required for reporting a child as missing to the police.
·       Assure your children that you will always try to keep them safe, but encourage them always to be alert and always to follow the safety rules so that they can protect themselves from possible harm too.  Remind your children that you love them. Reassure them that, if they were ever to be abducted, you would never stop loving them, and you would never stop searching for them, no matter what the kidnapper says to the contrary.
The book is available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, and Ingrams, Follett, and Baker & Taylor catalogues. Visit my Amazon page for convenient links for purchasing this book.
Also visit my book website, MelissaHarker Ridenour Books, for additional resources, strategies and games that educate children about safety.


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Latchkey Children: Leaving Children Home Alone


As the lyrics from the old song go, “School’s out, school’s out. The teacher let the fools out.”  Clearly it’s not kind to malign children, as the song seems to do, by referring to them as fools. After all, children are our future. They are a precious gift that must be protected from any harm. That’s why when school is out, it’s important that parents who work during the day make a plan for making sure their children are safe each day.
Some parents resort to day care for their children once school is out or depend upon relatives to babysit their children during the day. Others cannot afford daycare and possibly don’t have relatives nearby who can care for the children. Parents who face such a dilemma sometimes decide to leave their children at home alone. It’s important that those parents know how to decide if their children are ready to be left home alone.
Many child development experts believe that, developmentally, most children are ready to be left home alone at the age of 12 to 13 years. Not all children develop at the same rate, however. There are immature 13 year-olds who are dangerous risk takers. On the other hand, there are 11 year-olds who are mature enough to be capable of making sound and safe decisions. Here are some guidelines to help parents determine when and if their children are ready to be left home alone:
  • Age -Younger children from 0-6 should never be left alone for even a short period of time. Children 6-9 can be left alone for only short periods of time. Children 10 and older can be left alone, depending on other possible factors.
  • Length of time alone - Parents need to consider whether their children are ready to spend the whole day alone or if only a couple of hours is more appropriate.
  • Maturity - Parents must  take into consideration their children’s  ability to fend for themselves  and for their level of common sense. Certainly, children with developmental disabilities and emotional issues should be monitored closely.
  • Knowledge of emergency preparedness - Parents should ask their children if they know what to do in the event of a fire, tornado, stranger at the door, etc. Ask “what ifs.” My book, What Would You Do? A Kid’s Guide to Staying Safe in a World of Strangers, is a good resources for finding the “what ifs” to ask children re stranger safety.
  • Availability of adults -  Children must know how to reach a responsible adult at any point in the day for any reason, even if it’s just to provide reassurance if the child becomes frightened.
  • Insecurity - It’s important that children feel comfortable with being left home alone. If they have any fears or reservations about it, they should not be left alone.
  • Behavior - Problem children who misbehave, vandalize, steal, bully or in any way intimate others need appropriate supervision and should never be left home alone.
  • The first time children are left home alone it should be for a short time only and parents should be nearby, if needed.
There are also some guidelines that parents should follow to prepare themselves and their children for staying home alone:
  • Parents should carry a cell phone with them and keep it turned on. Parents should make sure their children know where they will be and what time they will return. In addition to the cell phone number, parents should post emergency numbers (police, fire, EMS, doctor and the poison control hotline) and a friend or neighbor’s number by every phone in the home. Parents should teach their children their home address so they can tell emergency personnel where to dispatch assistance, if needed.
  • It would be a good idea for parents to prepare a snack or meal in advance and preferably one that does not need to be heated. If children will need to cook, they should be warned never to leave an oven or stove unattended while cooking and to turn it off when they are finished.
  • Parents should be certain that potentially poisonous or hazardous household items are locked up out of reach. This is especially true for medications, matches, lighters, weapons and cleaning products.
  • Parents should review with their children the family’s emergency plans and make sure they know what to do if the smoke alarm or carbon monoxide detector goes off. Parents should practice with their children two escape routes from each room.
  • Parents should review and practice plans for other types of emergencies, such as severe weather. It’s important that children are instructed as to where to go for emergency shelter.
  • Parents should show their children where the first aid kit is kept and how to use basic first aid supplies.
In conclusion, because each year  more than 3 million children  ages 14 and under get hurt at home,  and more than 2,000 children die from unintentional injuries in the home, all the necessary precautions should be taken before leaving children home alone.

Picture credit: sanja gjenero


Thursday, May 29, 2014

Gun Violence: Where is the Outrage?

The most recent mass shootings in Santa Barbara, California gives me great pause. I cannot help but wonder where the outrage is from responsible gun owners and from the gun manufacturers.
I should think that those who support gun rights would be appalled by the use of guns in violent shooting sprees that have countlessly resulted the in loss of innocent lives, especially young lives – lives of children. The opposite reaction seems to be the result, however. After these incidents, the response from many gun owners is redoubling of gun rights protections. When will the supposedly responsible gun owners and gun rights advocates denounce the violent gun culture in our country?
As the father of one of the victims of the Santa Barbara shootings stated, “You think it won't happen to you. How many more people will have to experience gun violence before attitudes shift?”
Second Amendment rights come with responsibilities. Responsible gun owners and manufacturers need to lead the charge on responsible gun rights and laws. But where are they?
 A large part of the blame for our country’s history of mass killings with firearms can be placed on the senseless lobbying efforts of the National Rifle Association and the tragically lax U.S. gun laws. Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut said on Sunday that he wanted to bring back gun-control legislation that was proposed after Sandy Hook but which fell in the Senate.
It is time for a change. To quote, Richard Martinez, the father of one of the Isla Vista mass shooting victims, Christopher Michaels Martinez, “Not one more!”  Please take a stand in the fight against gun violence and the struggle for more stringent gun control legislation by signing the postcard sending the message, “Not one more!” to your elected officials.

Picture credit: Christopher Bruno




Monday, May 5, 2014

Corporal Punishment: Is Spanking Children an Effective Discipline

Spanking children is a controversial issue. Opinions vary as to whether or not spanking is an effective discipline. Corporal punishment is deliberate infliction of pain to deter misbehavior. Spanking is one form of corporal punishment. Spanking children has fallen in disfavor among many parents. Researchers studying its effectiveness find there are many disadvantages and a few advantages.


Gabe Griffin, a Pediatric Psychologist in West Michigan, warns that spanking can get out of hand. He asserts that parents sometimes think that their spanking is performed in a controlled manner, but frequently it's not well-controlled, especially in the heat of anger. He believes parents can better improve children’s behavior by teaching and praising  them. Time-outs and removing privileges are often successful, according to Griffin, but they focus on misbehavior. Griffin believes it’s preferable to focus on good behavior and praise children when they do it correctly.

Dr. Peter Newell, coordinator of End Punishment of Children, maintains that there is one important argument against spanking children. Dr. Newell says, "All people have the right to protection of their physical integrity, and children are people too."

According to authorities from  The Natural Child Project, there are compelling disadvantages to spanking children.
1.     Research shows a connection between spanking children and aggressive behavior of those children when they become adults.
2.     Some children who misbehave do so in response to neglected needs, such as sufficient sleep, nutrition, and a healthy, happy environment. Such children crave their parent’s time and attention. Spanking children for responding instinctively to neglect seems unwarranted.
3.     Spanking children prevents them from learning humane conflict resolution. It makes children fearful and angry, and isn’t effective in the long term. Educator John Holt summed it up in saying, "When we make a child afraid, we stop learning dead in its tracks."
4.     Many people justify spanking with the Bible quote, “Spare the rod and spoil the child.”  The rod in connection to parenting is mentioned in the Book of Proverbs, attributed to the cruel Solomon. The Gospels, however, contain the teachings of Jesus Christ who advocated mercy, non-violence, and love, not punishment.
5.     Spanking children only produces short-termed cooperation based on fear. Spanking negatively affects parent - child bonding. Good behavior should be facilitated by bonds of mutual respect and love. Discipline done with respect and love, rather than spanking, promotes good behavior that can last a lifetime.
6.     Tom Johnson wrote in his book, The Sexual Dangers of Spanking Children (2002), “Since children are sexual beings and since the buttocks are a sexual region of the body, we should question the propriety of slapping children’s buttocks. We generally understand that fondling or caressing a child’s buttocks is a sexual offense (even if the child does not understand it to be so). We also know that slapping an adult’s buttocks is a sexual offense (even if the offender does not get sexual pleasure from doing so). The question, then, is why slapping a child’s buttocks is not considered a sexual offense.”
7.     Even moderate spanking can be physically harmful. Infliction of blows to the lower end of the spinal column can injure a child.
8.     Spanking sends children the message that inflicting  pain on someone smaller and less powerful is acceptable. Such a message can motivate children to hit smaller and younger children.
9.     Children model their parent’s behavior. If children observe their parents solving problems through hitting, rather than through calm, reasonable, humane ways, they will never learn humane conflict resolution.
10.  Many parents never learned in childhood that there are positive ways to relate to children. If parents are unaware of alternative discipline, spanking can escalate and become more frequent and dangerous.


Despite evidence supporting the negative impact of spanking children, there are those who believe spanking children is effective with positive outcomes. Studies done by Marjorie Gunnoe, a Calvin College Psychology Professor, find that some individuals who recall spankings when they were children tended to perform better academically in school, and tended to be more optimistic and charitable than those who didn’t received spankings on their backsides. Gunnoe’s studies, it must be noted, contradict theories that children who are spanked are more aggressive than those who aren’t.

Gunnoe asserts, however, that her findings should not be considered a call for spanking children, but the findings should be taken into consideration in the event that lawmakers consider banning spanking. She claims that her findings should be taken into account by people who want to legally limit how parents decide to discipline their children. She claims not to promote spanking but feels that there is no hard evidence to make spanking on the backside illegal.

In conclusion, there are varied opinions and research findings about corporal punishment. Parents should consider pros and cons of any form of punishment before deciding how to discipline their children.

Picture credit:  Jason Nelson

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Explaining the Concept of Strangers to Children

This is an excerpt from my book, What Would You Do? A Child's Guide to Staying Safe in a World of Strangers. I have posted an excerpt from part of chapter 5, which is a reference for parents, grandparents, an other child caregivers:
            Parenting in these increasingly complex and troubled times is challenging to say the least.  Recent headlines of child abductions and of children who have been the victims of sexual predators heighten parental concern and make the challenge an even more difficult one.  How can you as a parent protect your children from such harm without making them afraid and distrustful of people in general?  It is a difficult balance, but it can be done. 
The key is to teach your children, in a non-threatening way, to exercise caution, to be empowered, and to trust their instincts.  You must start by retiring the phrase, stranger danger.  Such an expression can make your children think that all strangers are dangerous and bad.  That is a misconception, of course.  It is necessary, however, that you help children determine whom they can trust.  The best way to do that is to teach your children to think of categories of people. 
The first two categories include people they don’t know at all and people they kind of know or have seen before.  The third category includes people that you, as a parent, know well and trust to be around your children.  Teach your children to treat the first two categories as strangers and to use caution.  Help them to understand that the first two groups of people may be good people who intend no harm, but, to be safe, they should be careful around them. Teach them to trust only the third group of adults.  Give them a list of at least three safe adults, in addition to you, upon whom they can depend in an emergency.  The first chapter of this guidebook refers to the list of safe adults as their ICE (In case of emergency) Support Group.  By creating this group, you will have taken the first step in empowering your children and better ensuring their safety in a world of strangers.
This guidebook teaches children to take a proactive role in staying safe by having them brainstorm solutions to possibly threatening situations.  Such a solve-it-yourself strategy can make children feel more in control of frightening topics they hear addressed in the nightly news.   The precautions, safety strategies, and self defense techniques taught in the handbook are measures that are encouraged by law enforcement officials and networks of organizations dedicated to child safety, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation, The Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and other child safety resources. 
Parental rules for children can be varied from one family to the next.  So be sure to review and discuss with your children the strategies suggested in the guidebook and appropriately adapt them to your own circumstance and age of children.
Picture credit: Nextia D

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Keeping Children Safe on Social Media and Smartphones

Keeping children safe in this age of social media, apps, and smartphones is of paramount importance. Parents need to be vigilant in regard to what their children are accessing on the Internet, social media sites, and any apps that they may have access to download.
A new update to the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, which was originally passed in 1998, makes COPPA more relevant in the social media and mobile phone age. In addition, it places some additional burdens on companies that target children under13 years of age.
Websites and phone apps that collect photos or geo-location data from children must now obtain express permission from parents. This requirement places that data in the same category as kids' email or home addresses. The new rules also make firms more responsible for data collection by third parties, a loophole that had been exploited by marketers in the past.
Parents might not notice much change at first. Some apps that kids use might begin requesting parental permissions via emails or other methods. Because of that, parents should be vigilant that their children don't try to circumvent those rules by using a fake email address to grant themselves permission.
A spokesperson for the Center for Digital Democracy claims that with the update, a child's privacy online, whether they use a mobile phone, tablet, gaming device or computer, is protected. The new rules put the parent in charge of what data can be collected from their child.
Children attempting to use Facebook  and Twitter remains a concern, however. Facebook and Twitter don't allow children under 13  to use their sites, so those firms aren't subject to COPPA restrictions. The reality is, however, that millions of kids lie their way onto the social networks anyway. Statistics show that 50% of parents claim that their 12-year-old children use Facebook. This is an alarming statistic. COPPA won't have any real impact on this circumvention, but it might impact third-party developers who target kids on Facebook according to privacy law experts.
Hopefully, the updates will require Facebook to become more vigilant about policing the apps they allow on their website. The FTC has fired a warning to Facebook and other digital social networking sites that they must do a better job of ensuring that they protect the personal privacy of children. An ideal situation would be when and if the FTC starts cracking down on  social networks, apps, and other digital platforms that are looking the other way regarding the age of its users. Until then, it is a parent responsibility to monitor their children’s use of the Internet and Smartphones to better ensure their children’s safety.

Picture credit: Nevit Dilman