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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Anxiety is a sign that the brain has registered threat and is mobilising the body to get to safety. One of the ways it does this is by organising the body for movement - to fight the danger or flee the danger. 

If there is no need or no opportunity for movement, that fight or flight fuel will still be looking for expression. This can come out as wriggly, fidgety, hyperactive behaviour. This is why any of us might pace or struggle to sit still when we’re anxious. 

If kids or teens are bouncing around, wriggling in their chairs, or having trouble sitting still, it could be anxiety. Remember with anxiety, it’s not about what is actually safe but about what the brain perceives. New or challenging work, doing something unfamiliar, too much going on, a tired or hungry body, anything that comes with any chance of judgement, failure, humiliation can all throw the brain into fight or flight.

When this happens, the body might feel busy, activated, restless. This in itself can drive even more anxiety in kids or teens. Any of us can struggle when we don’t feel comfortable in our own bodies. 

Anxiety is energy with nowhere to go. To move through anxiety, give the energy somewhere to go - a fast walk, a run, a whole-body shake, hula hooping, kicking a ball - any movement that spends the energy will help bring the brain and body back to calm.♥️
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#parenting #anxietyinkids #childanxiety #parenting #parent
This is not bad behaviour. It’s big behaviour a from a brain that has registered threat and is working hard to feel safe again. 

‘Threat’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what the brain perceives. The brain can perceive threat when there is any chance missing out on or messing up something important, anything that feels unfamiliar, hard, or challenging, feeling misunderstood, thinking you might be angry or disappointed with them, being separated from you, being hungry or tired, anything that pushes against their sensory needs - so many things. 

During anxiety, the amygdala in the brain is switched to high volume, so other big feelings will be too. This might look like tears, sadness, or anger. 

Big feelings have a good reason for being there. The amygdala has the very important job of keeping us safe, and it does this beautifully, but not always with grace. One of the ways the amygdala keeps us safe is by calling on big feelings to recruit social support. When big feelings happen, people notice. They might not always notice the way we want to be noticed, but we are noticed. This increases our chances of safety. 

Of course, kids and teens still need our guidance and leadership and the conversations that grow them, but not during the emotional storm. They just won’t hear you anyway because their brain is too busy trying to get back to safety. In that moment, they don’t want to be fixed or ‘grown’. They want to feel seen, safe and heard. 

During the storm, preserve your connection with them as much as you can. You might not always be able to do this, and that’s okay. None of this is about perfection. If you have a rupture, repair it as soon as you can. Then, when their brains and bodies come back to calm, this is the time for the conversations that will grow them. 

Rather than, ‘What consequences do they need to do better?’, shift to, ‘What support do they need to do better?’ The greatest support will come from you in a way they can receive: ‘What happened?’ ‘What can you do differently next time?’ ‘You’re the most wonderful kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen. How can you put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
Big behaviour is a sign of a nervous system in distress. Before anything, that vulnerable nervous system needs to be brought back home to felt safety. 

This will happen most powerfully with relationship and connection. Breathe and be with. Let them know you get it. This can happen with words or nonverbals. It’s about feeling what they feel, but staying regulated.

If they want space, give them space but stay in emotional proximity, ‘Ok I’m just going to stay over here. I’m right here if you need.’

If they’re using spicy words to make sure there is no confusion about how they feel about you right now, flag the behaviour, then make your intent clear, ‘I know how upset you are and I want to understand more about what’s happening for you. I’m not going to do this while you’re speaking to me like this. You can still be mad, but you need to be respectful. I’m here for you.’

Think of how you would respond if a friend was telling you about something that upset her. You wouldn’t tell her to calm down, or try to fix her (she’s not broken), or talk to her about her behaviour. You would just be there. You would ‘drop an anchor’ and steady those rough seas around her until she feels okay enough again. Along the way you would be doing things that let her know your intent to support her. You’d do this with you facial expressions, your voice, your body, your posture. You’d feel her feels, and she’d feel you ‘getting her’. It’s about letting her know that you understand what she’s feeling, even if you don’t understand why (or agree with why). 

It’s the same for our children. As their important big people, they also need leadership. The time for this is after the storm has passed, when their brains and bodies feel safe and calm. Because of your relationship, connection and their felt sense of safety, you will have access to their ‘thinking brain’. This is the time for those meaningful conversations: 
- ‘What happened?’
- ‘What did I do that helped/ didn’t help?’
- ‘What can you do differently next time?’
- ‘You’re a great kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen, but here we are. What can you do to put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
As children grow, and especially by adolescence, we have the illusion of control but whether or not we have any real influence will be up to them. The temptation to control our children will always come from a place of love. Fear will likely have a heavy hand in there too. When they fall, we’ll feel it. Sometimes it will feel like an ache in our core. Sometimes it will feel like failure or guilt, or anger. We might wish we could have stopped them, pushed a little harder, warned a little bigger, stood a little closer. We’re parents and we’re human and it’s what this parenting thing does. It makes fear and anxiety billow around us like lost smoke, too easily.

Remember, they want you to be proud of them, and they want to do the right thing. When they feel your curiosity over judgement, and the safety of you over shame, it will be easier for them to open up to you. Nobody will guide them better than you because nobody will care more about where they land. They know this, but the magic happens when they also know that you are safe and that you will hold them, their needs, their opinions and feelings with strong, gentle, loving hands, no matter what.♥️
Anger is the ‘fight’ part of the fight or flight response. It has important work to do. Anger never exists on its own. It exists to hold other more vulnerable emotions in a way that feels safer. It’s sometimes feels easier, safer, more acceptable, stronger to feel the ‘big’ that comes with anger, than the vulnerability that comes with anxiety, sadness, loneliness. This isn’t deliberate. It’s just another way our bodies and brains try to keep us safe. 

The problem isn’t the anger. The problem is the behaviour that can come with the anger. Let there be no limits on thoughts and feelings, only behaviour. When children are angry, as long as they are safe and others are safe, we don’t need to fix their anger. They aren’t broken. Instead, drop the anchor: as much as you can - and this won’t always be easy - be a calm, steadying, loving presence to help bring their nervous systems back home to calm. 

Then, when they are truly calm, and with love and leadership, have the conversations that will grow them - 
- What happened? 
- What can you do differently next time?
- You’re a really great kid. I know you didn’t want this to happen but here we are. How can you make things right. Would you like some ideas? Do you need some help with that?
- What did I do that helped? What did I do that didn’t help? Is there something that might feel more helpful next time?

When their behaviour falls short of ‘adorable’, rather than asking ‘What consequences they need to do better?’ let the question be, ‘What support do they need to do better.’ Often, the biggest support will be a conversation with you, and that will be enough.♥️
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#parenting #positiveparenting #mindfulparenting #anxietyinkids

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