Children are naturally trusting so it is the job of parents to teach their children how to keep safe without losing their sense of innocence.
Speak to your children about your family boundaries, values, principals and expectations – honesty, respect, open communication, consistency…whatever it is that’s important to you and that you will always expect your children to aim for.
Boundaries are not strict implacable rules to restrict a child’s actions, movements or relationships. Healthy boundaries are there to guide children on what the family values and expects and will give them the tool them to make the right decisions as they get older.
- Lead by example.
- Let them know there will be consequences of overstepping a boundary and that they will have to be accountable for their action.
- Follow through on consequences so children will eventually learn good boundaries for themselves and how to respect others.
- Don’t control your child, show them that you respect yourself and your values by expecting them to also maintain your family’s boundaries.
- And be nice to yourself if you let them off the hook sometimes – just don’t make it a habit of it or they may start to take advantage.
Rather than restrict and frustrate, boundaries make children feel safer. Boundaries provide a protection for children that allows them to be safe but also have fun.
THE GOLDEN RULES
There are some basic rules that every child should know, to keep them safe:
Who am I?
- Teach your child their full name, address and telephone number.
- Older children should also know a parent’s telephone number to contact them at work.
- You should also teach them the name of another adult if they can’t contact their parents ie grandparent, neighbor, friend.
Where is help?
- Teach your child how to call the emergency services. Teach them the phone number and don’t forget to teach them they may also need to dial ‘Talk’ on the phone keypad to start the call.
- Practice with them what the operator will ask and what they should say to the operator.
Who am I with?
- The buddy system used in school is a great way to keep children close on outdoor adventures (even to the shops!).
- Teach them to stay with a buddy, the person looking after them, their group and not to get distracted or wander off on their own.
- When they realize they’re on their own, teach them to freeze and that you will come and find them. If they think you’re not too far, teach them to freeze and yell “Muuuuuuum…Daaaaaaaad.”
- If you’re at an adventure park or exhibition show them who the staff are and what they’re wearing so they can go to them if lost.
- For older kids, before you walk into a busy attraction make a meeting place to return to if you get lost or miss the time you were scheduled to meet up.
THINK, JUDGE, ACT
- Teach your children the common lures and tricks – an adult often from or near their car claiming they’ve lost a pet, showing extreme friendliness, offering lollies or toys, saying they have an emergency or need assistance, offering a child money to run an errand or claim to have some authority “You’re Mum sent me”.
- Teach children to listen to what their body tells them. Teach them about that ‘funny’ feeling you get in your tummy when a person or situation doesn’t feel quite right. Our brains and our stomachs are connected and that feeling is your instinctive brain preparing you for fight or flight.
- It’s great to get them in the habit of telling an adult if they’re going off with someone even if it’s just the toilets at the park.
- Don’t make children scared of strangers as most incidents occur with someone the child knows, instead teach them to judge a situation and make smart choices.
- If there’s no adult to check with they should know to use their gut, and the answer will almost always be no.
- Teach children generally about inappropriate touch, talk and photography/video from other people, even children their own age.
- As children get older we need to teach them how to assess a potentially dangerous situation, how to recognise risks and how to act.
- We don’t want to teach our children to be fearful or paranoid around adults. By teaching them to react to situations we are teaching them that people really are good and helpful.
- Your children should have the confidence to say ‘no’.
- A child who is quietly confident (not rude or precocious) won’t be as compliant, have greater self-esteem and be less likely to get into difficult personal situations.
- Give your child your approval for them to use their voice to yell, scream, hit out and fight back against an adult if they are in trouble. Children are taught to be respectful to adults and can feel too scared to scream or shout at someone older than them in fear of disappointing a parent. They need to know you are okay with it.
- Teaching them to be assertive rather than compliant will arm them not only against strangers but also bullying behavior, inappropriate dares from friends, pressure to do things that don’t match their family values, inappropriate touching and inappropriate talk.
You are far more likely to have your child tell you their fears and concerns if you are open and willing to listen.
- Ask specific questions, listen to their answers and be involved. Talk to your child at their level and do not lecture.
- Your older children should only go where they have told you they are are going – and you should have developed the kind of relationship that they feel they can tell you if their plans change.
- Ask older children from time to time if there’s anything they’ve seen on the internet or amongst their friends that’s made them uncomfortable.
- Encourage your children to let you know if they receive any strange or repeated phone, text or e-mail messages even if they are from friends or relatives.
- Give them the confidence to tell you or a teacher about any bullying behaviour or physical assault involving themselves or even other people.
- Ask your children to speak to you if they’ve been offered drugs, alcohol or cigarettes.
- Creating a regular dinner-time at the table, though not always possible, has shown to create stronger dialogue between families.
- Don’t forget that time in the car between sport and standing side-by-side at the kitchen sink or doing something menial with boys is a great way to get conversations going without the pressure of having a ‘talk’.
The building blocks of a healthy relationship with your children start young – from family values to practical rules, from personal instincts to assertiveness, from listening to telling. These building blocks will develop to give your children the tools to stay safe.
We all have our special tricks that we’ve developed over time. I’d love you to go to the comments below and share your special parent trick in keeping your children safe and sound.