While providing workplace violence prevention training workshops throughout Canada, I am frequently approached by parents concerned about their children’s safety.
What should I say? – How should I say it? – When should I say it? – How much should I say?
Some parents attempt to scare their children into thinking about awareness and safety. Other parents avoid discussing personal safety at all, as they voice concern over making their children frightened or taking away their childhood innocence.
There is no one size fits all answer to all of this. Like many issues regarding the teaching of children, a work in progress approach is most beneficial. Having a one-time sit down chat or reading through a safety book with your child may be helpful but ultimately, for a number of reasons, may fall short in really enhancing our children’s personal safety.
We can use Childhood Abduction as an example. Statistically the chance of a stranger abducting a child is quite remote. Much focus is spent on teaching kids to prepare for this possible though improbable event.
The fact is that childhood abuse is more likely to occur in the closer circles of family, friends, trusted professionals, neighbours and so on. So why is it that we spend so much time focussed on strangers when statistically we should be focussed on our inner circles?
Having said that, parents just want their children to be safe, so what can be done that will be effective? Some of the same skill sets that protect your child from strangers will also enhance your child’s personal safety in situations nearer the home.
Early years: First of all, I am anticipating that your children under the age of 6 are always near you (in your sight) or in the care of someone that you have carefully done background checks on; who is safety focused (daycare, bus service, baby sitters etc.) If this is the case, stranger abduction is very unlikely. With this kind of diligent supervision, strategies for dealing with abduction need not be your training focus and realistically may also be a little beyond your child’s comprehension.
In my opinion, parents at this stage should be talking with their children about “appropriate touch”, personal boundaries and encouraging kids to communicate when they are not feeling comfortable about what someone said or did.
Talking with Strangers: My wife and I never discourage our children from saying hello to people and making small talk. An assertive child with good communication skills, who is in tune with his or her intuition, is less likely to become a victim. Once again anticipating that you or your child’s caregivers are present during these moments takes care of the safety issue. This is simply an opportunity to discuss with your kids how they felt about the person they spoke to and perhaps what it was about the person they did not feel so good about. Remember this is a work in progress, not a one-time chat.
School Years: By about age six, children have been attending school or daycare for a little while. The potential exposure to unknown people is now present. In the school yard, children are usually supervised by a school designate, but how diligent is this person? Children go on field trips and play dates and may not have the close supervision that you provide at home. Awareness, planning, boundary setting, assessment and assertiveness are the key things for enhancing your child’s personal safety. Children learn these critical concepts through observing their parents. If the parent isn’t taking any steps to enhance their own personal safety, I would suggest the child is very unlikely to be able to either.
Awareness: Awareness is a critical characteristic of 안전놀이터 people’s personal safety, for children and adults. It is unlikely for personal safety scenarios to arise out of nowhere. Warning signs are often presented and people often don’t pick up on them and have no plans for how to respond.
Children learn to be aware of their surroundings by watching their parents. Do you look around when you are on the way out of the grocery store or en route to your vehicle (still enjoying the day but picking up on unusual or suspicious things)? Starting at the age of 3 – 4, you can talk about being aware (not frightened) as you walk with your child.
Planning: Running through scenarios with your child is very beneficial. This is similar to traffic safety review and fire / earthquake drills. For example you could ask your children about a scenario like this, “Let’s say you’re in the playground and an adult, you don’t recognize, walks over towards you. What would you do? If he or she says such and such, how would you respond?” This is a good time to think about what you yourself would do in a similar situation. How can we advise our children, if we don’t know what we say or do ourselves? Once again, our children are watching, and watching closely. They are always learning from us so try to think about your day to day actions as a template for how your children will likely act.
Assertiveness: This is an absolutely critical part of anyone’s ability to stay safe. As you know, occasionally perpetrators will attempt to lure children into going with them saying such things as, “can you help me look for my puppy, do you like video games and other such questions. Parents tell their children to never go with strangers and inform them of these ploys; however, children may still go with this person because they don’t want to be rude and they lack the assertiveness to say “no.”
Simply telling the child to say no rather than demonstrating ongoing assertiveness will be of no benefit. So when someone knocks at your front door, do you simply open the door or do you say through the door, “who is it?” Saying I am not interested to a salesperson through the door is not rude, it’s assertive and safer. Every knock at the door is a potential lesson for your child. Do you end sales phone calls politely and assertively or do you hum and haw and complain after finally hanging up? Another lesson!
Do you force your child to hug Auntie Glad or do you allow them the choice to say no? There are endless examples, but I think you understand where I am going with this.
Boundary Setting: The ability to say no is one example of boundary setting. Physical boundary setting is another very important thing for a child or adult to be able to do. Practice holding your hand up like a stop sign, fully extended while asking your spouse, friend or child to walk towards you from about 20 feet away. As soon as they take a step, raise your hand and say assertively “stay there please.”
A reasonable person with no ill intentions will stop. If the person were to continue moving in, this would indicate to you or your child…danger. Now would be the time to make noise and run.
You can have fun and practice this routine with your child. So when you go back to, “what to do if someone approaches you at the playground”, you can begin with a boundary and then have them say no to various requests. As your child gets older and more experienced, he or she will be able to understand the difference between a reasonable person having a normal non-threatening conversation and someone crossing boundaries making unreasonable requests. Having the ability to assess, trust intuition and set boundaries will assist your child throughout childhood and into adulthood.
Teaching children about personal safety is an ongoing process. There are life lessons happening on a daily basis that we can use as examples. Remember that the way you live your life is a model for how your children will live theirs. Children tend to benefit much more from the, “do as I do” approach as opposed to the, “do as I say” approach. Personal safety is important for everyone in the family.
Hugh Pelmore is the President of ARETE safety and protection inc., a Canadian firm that specializes in training and consultation for workplace violence prevention and management of workplace conflict. Mr. Pelmore has facilitated more than 4300 workshops to virtually every industry sector. Hugh is recognized as one of Canada’s leading experts. Clients include the Provincial Government of BC, BC Hydro, the University of Western Ontario, TELUS, WorkSafeBC and the City of Vancouver. Hugh has also been involved in Pink Shirt Day, a school bully prevention campaign.