It’s not just strangers who pose a safety threat to our children, unfortunately. And sometimes our kids may need to approach a stranger to help them in a sticky situation.
So how do we teach our kids whom to trust and who not? Child safety expert and founder of Safely Ever After, Inc Pattie Fitzgerald has devised "safe-smarts" – a set of rules and tips to help children keep safe and develop their natural instinct.
She has been giving workshops all over the US and her principles have been taken up by thousands of teachers and moms and dads.
Her neighbour promised to pick up her oldest two, boys of 10 and 8, and so she left them outside the ER door, thinking it would only be for 5 minutes.
It turned out to be 40 minutes, during which they were approached by a woman and two men asking for help. What did they want help with? The woman's "boyfriend" was "hiding from the doctor" in the bathroom, and the boys could "save his life" by going in there and convincing him to come out.
After repeatedly saying no thank you (how polite!), they saw a third man sprinting out of the bathroom and speeding off in a car with the others.
What alerted the boys was their family's stay-safe rule. As her son said, "Mom, I knew they were tricky people because they were asking us for help. Adults don’t ask kids for help."
How clever is that rule?
Pattie’s website, SafelyEverAfter.com, is a treasure trove of just such rules, prevention tips, and red flags. Among other things, she says:
Also see: What to do if strangers take photos of your kids in a public space
Pay attention to who is paying attention to your child
Sex offenders are more often than not known to a child, and first "groom" the child by getting familiar, winning their trust, perhaps sharing secrets, arranging alone time, making inappropriate jokes, being very touchy feely and using guilt tactics when the parent or child sets limits, and generally isolating the child from the group.
Let the warning signals go off when you have someone continually showing particular interest in, even preoccupation with one child, offering to babysit or lift or help you out by looking after that child – alone.
Teach your child to trust that "uh-oh" feeling
Our instincts often tell us when something isn’t 100% and if someone makes you or your child feel uncomfortable, don’t be quick to feel guilty and brush off the thought. Kids tend to be in tune with their sixth sense.
Let them know that they can tell you anything and ask anything, and don’t force them to hug an uncle, accept a lift from a school friend’s dad, or have a play date with someone if your child shows discomfort.
It may not mean anything, so don’t call emergency services just yet, but the important thing is to let your child feel respected. Their "no" means "no", and don’t overrule their personal boundaries.
"It’s always okay to tell!" writes Pattie. Particularly if the secret makes your child uncomfortable, or involve private parts or “uh-oh touches”.
Make it clear that you won’t be angry, even if your child did something he or she was not supposed to do. And even if it is someone you know and even love.
A useful way of teaching this is to say that we love surprises (happy secrets), but every secret that makes you scared or sad is a bad secret which they have to tell to you or a safe person. And if the worst happens, it is not the child's fault. Never.
Don’t go scare the child witless
Most importantly, have these discussions in a light, easy-going manner. Perhaps explain that the child is now big and old enough for a new lesson or new responsibility and make it a positive lesson, rather than a fearful one.
Read Pattie’s Super 10 Play-It-Safe Rules here. She’s also written two books, available on Amazon.com: "No Trespassing: This Is MY Body!" and "Super Duper Safety School".
Is this useful? How do you teach your children to stay safe?
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