There’s always a certain amount of danger when you start letting your kids walk to school alone, stay home alone, or go to their friends’ houses. Danger lurks everywhere, and children themselves are rather unpredictable; they may suddenly cross the street because something on the other side has caught their attention.
The world has its good, bad, and ugly side, and while you should never teach your child to live in fear, it is important to help them understand situations that might be dangerous for them and to help them understand how to deal with such situations to the best of their ability.
In other words, while we cannot protect our children from everything, we can give them the tools they need to keep themselves as safe as possible – at home, when they are with their friends, or when they find themselves in difficult situations.
This is especially important because as children grow older, their quest for autonomy increases and they encounter both the good and the bad of the world as they begin to explore and interact with people.
The good news is that it is possible to teach your child several skills that can be used in a variety of situations.
Here are 13 things you need to teach your child to help keep them safe.
13 Things Every Child Needs to Know to Stay Safe
1) Important phone numbers. It is important for your child to memorize at least one phone number that is most likely to be answered if he or she ever calls. With younger children, you can make up a simple song or rhyme with the phone number to be memorized. The more fun you make it, the easier it will be for your child to remember.
Older children may find it easier to memorize relevant phone numbers. An easy way to get them used to calling the number is to have them dial it regularly. For example, if you need to call that number, have your child dial it whenever possible.
2) Emergency numbers. You’ve probably heard of young children who saved someone’s life because they knew the emergency number to call. Well, those kids were able to do that because they knew the number.
The good news is that emergency numbers are short and easy to remember. An easy way to help your kids remember which number to call is to role-play – for example, with a fake phone – and have your kids call different numbers depending on the emergency.
3) Their address. Make sure your child knows where they live. You can also have them memorize anything that is close to where they live: library, grocery store, bakery, etc.
4) Road Safety. Children need to know that they can’t just run across the street and that streets can be dangerous if safety rules are not followed.
Teach your child to stop, listen, and look both ways before crossing the street. Teach them the importance of always crossing at crosswalks after making sure it’s safe. Teach them to respect traffic lights when crossing the street.
5) Inappropriate touching. It is important for your child to know that no one has the right to touch their private parts under any pretext. Teach them that their body is theirs and theirs alone, and that no one – not even you – has the right to touch it inappropriately.
Teach them which parts of their bodies are off limits to everyone, including family and friends.
6) Never to keep secrets about genitals. Your child needs to know that he or she should always tell you about any secret involving “play” around the genitals.
You can make it easier for them to speak up by using a “personal code. For example, “something fishy happened” can be a code to tell you that they experienced inappropriate contact.
7) How to say no. It is unfortunate that children have often been reprimanded for saying “no,” as this can lead to silence and acceptance of inappropriate behavior. Of course, “no” is not an appropriate response to all situations, but your child should be able to say no when he or she feels that something is not right.
The easiest way to help your child become more assertive is to respect their “no’s” when they are legitimate. If they want you to stop tickling them, don’t insist. If they prefer to shake hands instead of kissing to say hello, let them.
8) How to get help. Sometimes your worst nightmare comes true: your child gets lost or something equally bad happens. It is important to teach them what to do if this happens.
For example, teaching them to go to a central place – like the front desk of a store – is an easy way to give them a point of reference. It will also keep them from wandering around and make it easier for you to find them.
You can also teach your child that it is okay to ask strangers for help when they need it. Even better, help them identify who to ask for help from. For example, teaching them to look for people in uniforms (in stores, for example) can help them know who to ask for help. Mothers with children are also a good choice if your child needs help.
9) How to stay away from dangerous elements. Children should know not to play with fire, electrical sockets, knives and scissors, and so on. But don’t just tell them, “Don’t touch that,” because that will only increase their curiosity.
Instead, explain why these items are dangerous. Tell them what could happen if they play with them. Explain why such items could harm them and others around them.
10) Who to go with. Your child needs to know not to go with strangers for any reason. Teach them about tricks that strangers often use – such as offering children candy – to get them to go with them.
Tell your child that you will never send a stranger to pick them up and that you will always let them know if someone other than you is going to pick them up. It is important for your child to know that they must always check with the adult in charge before going out with anyone.
11) How to keep themselves safe. Simple strategies like avoiding lonely places or running away from people who make them feel uncomfortable can help your child stay safe.
12) What to share online. Teaching your child never to share personal information online can help keep them safe. Explain why this is important and why they should always be careful about the identities of people they don’t know online.
13) When to trust their instincts. Tell your child that if they ever feel uncomfortable in a situation or with someone, they need to trust their instincts. Tell them it’s okay to run away if they feel unsafe, or to say “no” loudly and walk away.
Final thoughts on teaching your child to stay safe
While it is important to avoid raising your child in fear, they also need to know that good people and bad people can look like anyone, and to listen to their instincts when they are unsure about a situation.
There are many other simple ways to help your child stay safe. Share your best ideas in the comments below!
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