Keeping Kids Safe

Keeping Kids Safe

All parents face the same concerns when it comes to the safety of their children: who to trust and who not to trust, what they can do to ensure their children’s safety when they are not present, what to teach their children about safety, and how to teach it.

Parents need to teach children how to identify and manage uncertain situations, but they also need to ensure that the environments their kids visit are safe. Two of the biggest safety topics among parents of young children are how to keep children safe from predators (both people the family already knows and strangers) and how to ensure that friends’ home environments are safe to visit. 

Keeping them safe from predators.

We need to help kids recognize uncertain or potentially unsafe people and situations and give them the knowledge and skills to keep themselves safe. Even though most parents worry about the potential abusers they don’t know, the most common predators are people children have met or are familiar with. It’s neither helpful nor effective to use scare tactics when educating kids about staying safe. It’s best to communicate with your children in a loving, relaxed way. Here are just a few tips for keeping kids safe from predators:

  1. Listen to your child and be present.

    Let your children know that they can come to you with any concern or problem without feeling judged. Practice being present by focusing your attention on your children when they are speaking to you. Turn off or put away screens that may be hindering your ability focus fully on your children.

  2. Teach problem-solving skills.

    Teach problem-solving skills so your child can make good choices in a precarious situation. You can do this by approaching daily challenges calmly together, thinking through problems, brainstorming solutions, and encouraging your children to try them out.

  3. Teach your children to recognize their emotions and trust their instincts. 

    Help your children understand that their instinct is there to keep them safe. It’s that little voice, that feeling inside them telling them if something is safe or unsafe. It can be described as an “uh-oh” feeling. You can tell them their instinct might be wrong sometimes, but if it’s telling them they might be in danger or that a situation is unsafe, they should always listen to it, just in case. Explain that if they ever feel scared or uncomfortable, they should get away as fast as they can and tell a trusted adult what happened.

  4. Help your child understand who is safe and who isn’t. 

    Talk to your children about “tricky people” and how they can be people you know very well, not at all, or just a little bit. Anyone who makes your child feel uncomfortable or produces an “uh-oh” feeling inside may be a “tricky person,” a person who is not to be trusted. Tricky people may try to get kids to “help” them, and it’s important that your children recognize this. Kids must understand that adults—particularly those they don’t know—don’t need kids’ help, and a request like this can be a clear sign of a tricky person. 

  5. Teach them to act on their “uh-oh feelings” and to be assertive. 

    Make sure your children know that it’s okay to say no to an adult and to run away from adults when their instincts tell them something is wrong. “No, Go, Yell, Tell” are the four words that the National Crime Prevention Council suggests using when teaching children what to do when “tricky people” make them feel uncomfortable. This phrase teaches children to say no, run away quickly, yell for help, and tell a trusted adult what happened. Tell your children that in these situations, manners are no longer necessary. They are allowed to hit, scream, and make a scene.

  6. Identify safe people and places. 

    Help your children identify safe places to play, safe people to ask for help, and safe places to go if there’s trouble. When your children need help or are lost, if a trusted adult isn’t available, they should look for a mom with kids to help them.

Safe in others’ homes.

Ensuring your child’s safety in another family’s home is a significant concern of many parents. Experts say that gun violence among America’s children is an epidemic and that firearms are the second leading cause of death for children 19 years old and younger. The only way to verify your child’s safety is by ensuring that your own firearms—if you have any—are properly locked up, and asking the awkward and uncomfortable question whether or not the family your children is visiting keeps guns in the home. It’s important to do this in advance of a visit or playdate. Here are some suggestions for ways to broach the topic with another parent in a diplomatic manner:

  • “I was in the paediatrician’s office the other day, and Hannah’s doctor insisted that I ask each parent whose home she visits whether or not they keep guns in the house. It sounded like a good idea. Do you mind telling me if you have firearms in your house?”
  • “Susie is really looking forward to the playdate tomorrow. I know this may sound strange, and it might feel like a bit much, but could you tell me if you keep any guns in your house?”
  • “My son is very curious and gets into everything. You’d be amazed by the things he’s dug up at our house that I realized later might be dangerous. I’m wondering if you have a gun in the house that he might find by accident.”

If the parents confirm that they own a firearm, thank them for telling you. Then, depending on your level of comfort, ask whether the gun is secured in a gun locker, or just tell the parents you aren’t comfortable and suggest that the kids come to your house instead. Having these conversations will not only ensure your child’s safety; they’ll also teach other parents that it’s a valuable conversation to have. If more parents have these conversations, the less awkward they’ll be.

Taking time to educate and prepare your child for the unforeseeable is not only wise but can also provide peace of mind. Children need to be taught the skills to manage uncertain situations. These are skills you can teach daily through consistent, open communication, helping children identify their feelings and listen to their intuition, and practising safety drills in response to difficult scenarios.

Would you like to have your own Guide to Keeping Kids Safe to make sure you are covering all your bases with your children?

This article originally appeared on the Committee For Children blog on April 4, 2017.


About the Author: Melissa Benaroya


Melissa Benaroya, LICSW, is a Seattle-based parent coach, speaker and author in the Seattle area (MelissaBenaroya.com). She created the Childproof Parenting online course and is the co-founder of GROW Parenting and Mommy Matters, and the co-author of The Childproof Parent. Melissa provides parents with the tools and support they need to raise healthy children and find more joy in parenting. Melissa offers parent coaching and classes and frequently speaks at area schools and businesses. Check out Melissa’s blog for more great tips on common parenting issues and Facebook for the latest news in parent education.

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Growth doesn’t always announce itself in ways that feel safe or invited. Often, it can leave us exhausted and confused and with dirt in our pores from the fury of the battle. It is this way for all of us, our children too. 

The truth of it all is that we are all born with a profound and immense capacity to rise through challenges, changes and heartache. There is something else we are born with too, and it is the capacity to add softness, strength, and safety for each other when the movement towards growth feels too big. Not always by finding the answer, but by being it - just by being - safe, warm, vulnerable, real. As it turns out, sometimes, this is the richest source of growth for all of us.
When the world feel sunsettled, the ripple can reach the hearts, minds and spirits of kids and teens whether or not they are directly affected. As the important adult in the life of any child or teen, you have a profound capacity to give them what they need to steady their world again.

When their fears are really big, such as the death of a parent, being alone in the world, being separated from people they love, children might put this into something else. 

This can also happen because they can’t always articulate the fear. Emotional ‘experiences’ don’t lay in the brain as words, they lay down as images and sensory experiences. This is why smells and sounds can trigger anxiety, even if they aren’t connected to a scary experience. The ‘experiences’ also don’t need to be theirs. Hearing ‘about’ is enough.

The content of the fear might seem irrational but the feeling will be valid. Think of it as the feeling being the part that needs you. Their anxiety, sadness, anger (which happens to hold down other more vulnerable emotions) needs to be seen, held, contained and soothed, so they can feel safe again - and you have so much power to make that happen. 

‘I can see how worried you are. There are some big things happening in the world at the moment, but my darling, you are safe. I promise. You are so safe.’ 

If they have been through something big, the truth is that they have been through something frightening AND they are safe, ‘We’re going through some big things and it can be confusing and scary. We’ll get through this. It’s okay to feel scared or sad or angry. Whatever you feel is okay, and I’m here and I love you and we are safe. We can get through anything together.’
I love being a parent. I love it with every part of my being and more than I ever thought I could love anything. Honestly though, nothing has brought out my insecurities or vulnerabilities as much. This is so normal. Confusing, and normal. 

However many children we have, and whatever age they are, each child and each new stage will bring something new for us to learn. It will always be this way. Our children will each do life differently, and along the way we will need to adapt and bend ourselves around their path to light their way as best we can. But we won't do this perfectly, because we can't always know what mountains they'll need to climb, or what dragons they'll need to slay. We won't always know what they’ll need, and we won't always be able to give it. We don't need to. But we'll want to. Sometimes we’ll ache because of this and we’ll blame ourselves for not being ‘enough’. Sometimes we won't. This is the vulnerability that comes with parenting. 

We love them so much, and that never changes, but the way we feel about parenting might change a thousand times before breakfast. Parenting is tough. It's worth every second - every second - but it's tough. Great parents can feel everything, and sometimes it can turn from moment to moment - loving, furious, resentful, compassionate, gentle, tough, joyful, selfish, confused and wise - all of it. Great parents can feel all of it.

Because parenting is pure joy, but not always. We are strong, nurturing, selfless, loving, but not always. Parents aren't perfect. Love isn't perfect. And it was meant to be. We’re raising humans - real ones, with feelings, who don't need to be perfect, and wont  need others to be perfect. Humans who can be kind to others, and to themselves first. But they will learn this from us. Parenting is the role which needs us to be our most human, beautifully imperfect, flawed, vulnerable selves. Let's not judge ourselves for our shortcomings and the imperfections, and the necessary human-ness of us.❤️
The behaviour that comes with separation anxiety is the symptom not the problem. To strengthen children against separation anxiety, we have to respond at the source – the felt sense of separation from you.

Whenever there is separation from an attachment person, there will be always be anxiety unless there is at least one of 2 things: attachment with another trusted, adult; or a felt sense of you holding on to them, even when you aren’t beside them. 

If separation is the problem, connection has to be the solution. The connection can be with any loving adult, but it needs more than an adult being present. Just because there is another adult in the room, doesn’t mean your child will experience a deep sense of safety with that adult. This doesn’t mean the adult isn’t safe - it’s about what the brain perceives, and that brain is looking for a deep, felt sense of safety. This will come from the presence of an adult who, through their strong, loving presence, shows the child their abundant intention to care for them, and their joy in doing so. The joy in caretaking is important. It lets the child rest from seeking the adult’s care because there will be a sense that the adult wants it enough for both.

This can be helped along by showing your young one that you trust the adult to love and care for your child and keep him or her safe in your absence: ‘I know [important adult] loves you and is going to take such good care of you.’ This doesn’t mean children will instantly feel the attachment, but the path towards that will be more illuminated.

To help them feel you holding on even when you aren’t with them, let them know you’ll be thinking of them and can’t wait to be with them again. I used to tell my daughter that every 15 seconds, my mind makes sure it knows where she is. Think of this as ‘taking over’ their worry. ‘You don’t have to worry about you or me because I’m taking care of both of us – every 15 seconds.’ This might also look like giving them something of yours to hold on to while you’re gone – a scarf, a note. You will always be their favourite way to safety, but you can’t be everywhere. Another loving adult or the felt presence of you will help them rest.
Sometimes it can be hard to know what to say or whether to say anything at all. It doesn’t matter if the ‘right’ words aren’t there, because often there no right words. There are also no wrong ones. Often it’s not even about the words. Your presence, your attention, the sound of your voice - they all help to soften the hard edges of the world. Humans have been talking for as long as we’ve had heartbeats and there’s a reason for this. Talking heals. 

It helps to connect the emotional right brain with the logical left. This gives context and shape to feelings and helps them feel contained, which lets those feelings soften. 

You don’t need to fix anything and you don’t need to have all the answers. Even if the words land differently to the way you expected, you can clean it up once it’s out there. What’s important is opening the space for conversation, which opens the way to you. Try, ‘I’m wondering how you’re doing with everything. Would you like to talk?’ 

And let them take the lead. Some days they’ll want to talk about ‘it’ and some days they’ll want to talk about anything but. Whether it’s to distract from the mess of it all or to go deeper into it so they can carve their way through the feeling to the calm on the other side, healing will come. So ask, ‘Do you want to talk about ‘it’ or do you want to talk about something else? Because I’m here for both.’ ♥️
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