This summer Twiniversity is launching a series on Child Safety to help you learn techniques and tips to keep your kids safe. Every other week we’ll feature safety tips, advice, and training techniques to help prepare your kids for the outside world. The best defense is a good offense and we encourage you to start early with talking to your kids about safety, around 3 years old. We hope this series helps to spark some great discussion with your kids, as well as put your mind at ease that they are learning how to best prepare themselves for all the fun that summer brings!
The concept of strangers is very confusing and convoluted for children. We tell them not to talk to strangers, but they see mom and dad exchange comments with strangers at the grocery store, help someone put their groceries in their car, or even help them look for their lost pet. Children often ask, “How come you can do these things, but I can’t?” The answer is complicated and causing more confusion than is helpful when explained. Parents often scare or confuse children when telling them to beware. Instead of simply saying NO, try enacting the tips listed below instead.
1. It is important to teach your children that the rules regarding strangers is different when they are alone versus when they are with a trusted adult. They see mom and dad say hello to people in the grocery store and people often tell them how cute they are when they play with mom at the park. They need to understand that these instances are okay only because they are supervised by you.
2. Teach your child that if they become lost, they should stay exactly where they are and scream your name over and over again. Chances are that you are within earshot and you will hear their screams and can call out to them. If someone approaches them to help, they should insist that person call you and not go anywhere with that person (keep your phone number with your child at all times, and have them memorize it too.) It’s really important to teach your child to not go ANYWHERE with a person they don’t know, even a police officer. Child predators have been known to dress up as police officers or employees to prey on lost kids in public places. A real police officer is trained to not take a child to another location if the parents are likely close by and they will comply with your child’s request to call you. Don’t teach your children to find a “mom” to ask for help either; studies show that oftentimes child abductors are women who use their own children as bait. Teaching your kids to insist on staying put and calling you to find them is the best offense.
3. The word “secret” is rarely associated with something good. Predators use this concept to keep the naïve from telling. Teach your children that your family has “surprises”, but never “secrets”. If an adult or even an older kid asks them to keep a secret about something, then that person (whether a stranger or a close family friend) absolutely cannot be trusted. A good person would never ask them to keep something from their mom or dad. Ask them to let you know right away if this happens.
4. Make it a rule that your children are not allowed to answer the door if they are home by themselves. There are many predators out there who do not directly seek out children, but act only out of opportunity. A child who is home alone is not able to prevent an adult from forcing their way inside once they have opened the door, which leaves them vulnerable. Also, find out if your state has a minimum age for leaving children home alone. For example, Illinois law requires children to be 14 years old before being left alone; in Maryland, the minimum age is 8, while in Oregon, children must be 10 before being left home alone. In states with a minimum age home alone law, if a law enforcement officer were to find your under-age kids home alone, your kids could be taken into custody with the charge of neglect. (For information on laws and guidelines in your State, contact your local CPS agency.)
5. Instead of telling children that they should never talk to strangers, tell them that they need to ask permission from the adult guardian with them first. This permission-first approach allows you to screen their interactions and is much less confusing to children than the hard line approach.
6. Many predators use animals as a way to lure children. Teach your children to never pet a stranger’s dog when they are alone even if the stranger says it is okay. Not only does this protect your children from possible abduction, but it prevents them from being injured if the animal is excitable or violent.
7. Instead of simply saying, “never take candy from a stranger,” teach them to never take anything from anyone without first receiving permission from mom or dad. Child predators are known to offer balloons and other toys to lure kids away. Additionally, make it known that they should never eat anything that they find on the ground, even if it has a wrapper on it. This applies at school, playdates, playground, etc. There have been many incidents over the years of poisoned food and candy left in view where children play. Predators also often drug food that they offer to their victims. This rule has the added benefit from protecting your children from allergens as well.
8. As parents we often think that it is okay for us to talk to children that we do not know when at the playground or other public places. Unless the child is in distress, refrain from addressing other kids in public. This sends your own children confusing mixed messages. They may then believe that it is okay when they are alone to talk to and be friendly with any stranger that has a child with them. As stated above, there have been many reports of predators using children as bait to abduct other children.
9. Don’t use the tagline, “stranger danger,” when talking to your children. My own 5 year old (despite all of my efforts) thought that he could simply introduce himself to a stranger and make friends with them, and then they wouldn’t be a stranger anymore. When you use this tagline children often associate bad strangers with the bad characters that they see on TV and in games. Those characters always look evil. Kids need to know that strangers who might want to do them harm look like everyone else.
10. Many predators use the rouse that they need the child’s help with some emergency in order to abduct them. They often try and get the child to help them find a lost animal, or even money that they have dropped. Children naturally want to please and love to be helpful. Teach them that an adult would never need a child’s help, and that if one is asking them for help that they need to run to a trusted adult right away.
Destiny Effertz began following Twiniversity’s Facebook page in 2013. She quickly fell in love with how the page created a feeling of community while at the same time providing support to thousands of parents and soon to be parents of multiples. She began writing for the website in the spring of 2014 carrying on the tradition of providing advice and support to parents. She is a mother of 3 boys; twin 3 year olds and a 5 year old. She worked for many years as a civil litigation paralegal prior to having children. Now she spends her days formulating new pie recipes, throwing epic kid parties, planning family vacations, and planning and executing pirate adventures and trips to far away planets with her boys.
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