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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Big feelings, and the big behaviour that comes from big feelings, are a sign of a distressed nervous system. Think of this like a burning building. The behaviour is the smoke. The fire is a distressed nervous system. It’s so tempting to respond directly to the behaviour (the smoke), but by doing this, we ignore the fire. Their behaviour and feelings in that moment are a call for support - for us to help that distressed brain and body find the way home. 

The most powerful language for any nervous system is another nervous system. They will catch our distress (as we will catch theirs) but they will also catch our calm. It can be tempting to move them to independence on this too quickly, but it just doesn’t work this way. Children can only learn to self-regulate with lots (and lots and lots) of experience co-regulating. 

This isn’t something that can be taught. It’s something that has to be experienced over and over. It’s like so many things - driving a car, playing the piano - we can talk all we want about ‘how’ but it’s not until we ‘do’ over and over that we get better at it. 

Self-regulation works the same way. It’s not until children have repeated experiences with an adult bringing them back to calm, that they develop the neural pathways to come back to calm on their own. 

An important part of this is making sure we are guiding that nervous system with tender, gentle hands and a steady heart. This is where our own self-regulation becomes important. Our nervous systems speak to each other every moment of every day. When our children or teens are distressed, we will start to feel that distress. It becomes a loop. We feel what they feel, they feel what we feel. Our own capacity to self-regulate is the circuit breaker. 

This can be so tough, but it can happen in microbreaks. A few strong steady breaths can calm our own nervous system, which we can then use to calm theirs. Breathe, and be with. It’s that simple, but so tough to do some days. When they come back to calm, then have those transformational chats - What happened? What can make it easier next time?

Who you are in the moment will always be more important than what you do.
How we are with them, when they are their everyday selves and when they aren’t so adorable, will build their view of three things: the world, its people, and themselves. This will then inform how they respond to the world and how they build their very important space in it. 

Will it be a loving, warm, open-hearted space with lots of doors for them to throw open to the people and experiences that are right for them? Or will it be a space with solid, too high walls that close out too many of the people and experiences that would nourish them.

They will learn from what we do with them and to them, for better or worse. We don’t teach them that the world is safe for them to reach into - we show them. We don’t teach them to be kind, respectful, and compassionate. We show them. We don’t teach them that they matter, and that other people matter, and that their voices and their opinions matter. We show them. We don’t teach them that they are little joy mongers who light up the world. We show them. 

But we have to be radically kind with ourselves too. None of this is about perfection. Parenting is hard, and days will be hard, and on too many of those days we’ll be hard too. That’s okay. We’ll say things we shouldn’t say and do things we shouldn’t do. We’re human too. Let’s not put pressure on our kiddos to be perfect by pretending that we are. As long as we repair the ruptures as soon as we can, and bathe them in love and the warmth of us as much as we can, they will be okay.

This also isn’t about not having boundaries. We need to be the guardians of their world and show them where the edges are. But in the guarding of those boundaries we can be strong and loving, strong and gentle. We can love them, and redirect their behaviour.

It’s when we own our stuff(ups) and when we let them see us fall and rise with strength, integrity, and compassion, and when we hold them gently through the mess of it all, that they learn about humility, and vulnerability, and the importance of holding bruised hearts with tender hands. It’s not about perfection, it’s about consistency, and honesty, and the way we respond to them the most.♥️

#parenting #mindfulparenting
Anxiety and courage always exist together. It can be no other way. Anxiety is a call to courage. It means you're about to do something brave, so when there is one the other will be there too. Their courage might feel so small and be whisper quiet, but it will always be there and always ready to show up when they need it to.
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But courage doesn’t always feel like courage, and it won't always show itself as a readiness. Instead, it might show as a rising - from fear, from uncertainty, from anger. None of these mean an absence of courage. They are the making of space, and the opportunity for courage to rise.
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When the noise from anxiety is loud and obtuse, we’ll have to gently add our voices to usher their courage into the light. We can do this speaking of it and to it, and by shifting the focus from their anxiety to their brave. The one we focus on is ultimately what will become powerful. It will be the one we energise. Anxiety will already have their focus, so we’ll need to make sure their courage has ours.
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But we have to speak to their fear as well, in a way that makes space for it to be held and soothed, with strength. Their fear has an important job to do - to recruit the support of someone who can help them feel safe. Only when their fear has been heard will it rest and make way for their brave.
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What does this look like? Tell them their stories of brave, but acknowledge the fear that made it tough. Stories help them process their emotional experiences in a safe way. It brings word to the feelings and helps those big feelings make sense and find containment. ‘You were really worried about that exam weren’t you. You couldn’t get to sleep the night before. It was tough going to school but you got up, you got dressed, you ... and you did it. Then you ...’
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In the moment, speak to their brave by first acknowledging their need to flee (or fight), then tell them what you know to be true - ‘This feels scary for you doesn’t it. I know you want to run. It makes so much sense that you would want to do that. I also know you can do hard things. My darling, I know it with everything in me.’
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#positiveparenting #parenting #childanxiety #anxietyinchildren #mindfulpare
Separation anxiety has an important job to do - it’s designed to keep children safe by driving them to stay close to their important adults. Gosh it can feel brutal sometimes though.

Whenever there is separation from an attachment person there will be anxiety unless there are two things: attachment with another trusted, loving adult; and a felt sense of you holding on, even when you aren't beside them. Putting these in place will help soften anxiety.

As long as children are are in the loving care of a trusted adult, there's no need to avoid separation. We'll need to remind ourselves of this so we can hold on to ourselves when our own anxiety is rising in response to theirs. 

If separation is the problem, connection has to be the solution. The connection can be with any loving adult, but it's more than an adult being present. It needs an adult who, through their strong, warm, loving presence, shows the child their abundant intention to care for that child, and their joy in doing so. This can be helped along by showing that you trust the adult to love that child big in our absence. 'I know [important adult] loves you and is going to take such good care of you.'

To help your young one feel held on to by you, even in absence, let them know you'll be thinking of them and can't wait to see them. Bolster this by giving them something of yours to hold while you're gone - a scarf, a note - anything that will be felt as 'you'.

They know you are the one who makes sure their world is safe, so they’ll be looking to you for signs of safety: 'Do you think we'll be okay if we aren't together?' First, validate: 'You really want to stay with me, don't you. I wish I could stay with you too! It's hard being away from your special people isn't it.' Then, be their brave. Let it be big enough to wrap around them so they can rest in the safety and strength of it: 'I know you can do this, love. We can do hard things can't we.'

Part of growing up brave is learning that the presence of anxiety doesn't always mean something is wrong. Sometimes it means they are on the edge of brave - and being away from you for a while counts as brave.
Even the most loving, emotionally available adult might feel frustration, anger, helplessness or distress in response to a child’s big feelings. This is how it’s meant to work. 

Their distress (fight/flight) will raise distress in us. The purpose is to move us to protect or support or them, but of course it doesn’t always work this way. When their big feelings recruit ours it can drive us more to fight (anger, blame), or to flee (avoid, ignore, separate them from us) which can steal our capacity to support them. It will happen to all of us from time to time. 

Kids and teens can’t learn to manage big feelings on their own until they’ve done it plenty of times with a calm, loving adult. This is where co-regulation comes in. It helps build the vital neural pathways between big feelings and calm. They can’t build those pathways on their own. 

It’s like driving a car. We can tell them how to drive as much as we like, but ‘talking about’ won’t mean they’re ready to hit the road by themselves. Instead we sit with them in the front seat for hours, driving ‘with’ until they can do it on their own. Feelings are the same. We feel ‘with’, over and over, until they can do it on their own. 

What can help is pausing for a moment to see the behaviour for what it is - a call for support. It’s NOT bad behaviour or bad parenting. It’s not that.

Our own feelings can give us a clue to what our children are feeling. It’s a normal, healthy, adaptive way for them to share an emotional load they weren’t meant to carry on their own. Self-regulation makes space for us to hold those feelings with them until those big feelings ease. 

Self-regulation can happen in micro moments. First, see the feelings or behaviour for what it is - a call for support. Then breathe. This will calm your nervous system, so you can calm theirs. In the same way we will catch their distress, they will also catch ours - but they can also catch our calm. Breathe, validate, and be ‘with’. And you don’t need to do more than that.

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