Keeping kids safe is one of parenting’s biggest jobs. Some safety rules (“look both ways before crossing the street” or “stop, drop and roll”) are not difficult for kids to grasp. But what about the rules that aren’t so easy to teach? How do we teach our kids to do things like pay attention to intuition or speak up when they feel they’re in danger?
Recently, my 7 year-old daughter, Marina, was invited to her first birthday party sleepover. I had met the supervising parent at school – who seemed lovely – but I knew little else about the family or the party.
We had a family meeting with Marina and we decided that I would take Marina to the party and stick around for the afternoon. We talked about safety, and about the funny feelings we sometimes get in our tummies if things are not quite right. She took her sleeping bag and pillow and left them in the car while we checked the party out.
There was absolutely nothing out of the ordinary for a child’s birthday party. There was a BBQ and a tent set up in the back yard for the 6 girls to camp out in (with the birthday girl’s mom).
In a quiet moment at the party, Marina confided in me that she was not sure about staying over. I told her my tummy felt a bit funny too. We stayed for cake and headed home.
It was important for me to make sure that we supported Marina and how she’s learning to trust her feelings.
Here are some of the ways that we’ve tried to teach those intangible safety precautions to our kids when they can’t always be with Mom and Dad:
- Help them listen to their bodies. We discuss with our kids how your body reacts when you don’t feel safe. A “feeling in the tummy,” a sense of butterflies or just a sense that something is not right are all great ways to describe this to children.
- Have a preplanned exit strategy. We can’t always be around to supervise our kids. That’s why it’s good for children to have a plan for what to do if they feel uncomfortable or unsafe with another person. Explaining that they can move to a place where there are lots of people can help them feel reassured.
- Teach your child to use his or her voice. We teach our kids to yell ‘Stop! I don’t like that!” when there is a dispute with siblings or friends where unwanted touching or hitting occurs. This same technique can be used in new or unfamiliar situations
- Don’t force children into uncomfortable situations. We try to avoid forcing our kids to hug or kiss new people. We believe it helps our kids understand their feelings and become familiar with intuition. A child who is screaming when being put on Santa’s lap is reacting to what his or her body is saying.
- Provide a safe haven. We let our kids know that they can tell us absolutely anything about an unfamiliar situation. If they get that funny feeling and say no to an adult, they will not “get in trouble.” We hope that this encourages our kids to continue to trust their gut without fear of punishment.
- Talk every day. The best conversations are had in the car or over dinner. There is nothing like a captive audience! At the end of the school day, I ask my kids to tell me one great thing that happened at school, and then ask if there is anything that upset them. The stories just start coming.
Constant communication and knowing that these conversations have no end is the key, they just change with age. What are your tips for keeping kids safe?
Andrea Krueger has worked at Janssen as a senior product specialist in the neuroscience division for over 4 years. She lives on the Sunshine Coast in QLD with her husband Ben and their 2 children, Marina (7) and Ronan (5). They spend lots of time at the beach swimming, surfing and fishing and cook dinner on the grill almost every night.