A broad topic, I know, but one that’s at the forefront of every parent’s mind, am I right?
When it comes to keeping kids safe we always have the best intentions as parents, but maybe our methods have been all wrong. Stranger danger is a thing of the past since most children are groomed for abuse by someone they know. The odds of them being abducted in a crime of opportunity or a public place are slim. Besides, all someone has to do to not be a stranger to a child is to literally introduce themselves. Scary right? But true!
Let me tell you how I changed my approach to keeping kids safe by teaching my own kids about keeping themselves safe and what to do when a situation doesn’t go quite right…
I came across a picture I snapped of my son a few years ago at the zoo. He was wearing a vest that came with a safari costume he found in our dress-up bin, a bucket hat, a backpack, and cutoff jorts made from a pair of holey kneed pants that had run their course, which if we’re being honest, is the way ALL my kids pants look after about 5 minutes.
I remember that day vividly in part because I loved that outfit on him ( I have a special love for jorts), and also because that was the day he got lost.
It was only 10 minutes maybe, 15 max. One minute we were looking at the tigers and the next minute I turned around and he was gone. I remember frantically pushing my stroller through the crowds yelling his name, asking people if they’d seen a little boy in jorts and a vest running around looking for his mom. That sick feeling started to grow in my gut and I briefly considered going into deep panic mode until the crowds literally cleared and I saw him, holding hands with an adult, female zoo employee and walking my way.
I know. Relief.
I may have been scared out of my brains but he was calm as a cucumber (on safari, obvs). He said when he couldn’t find me he remembered what we talked about and went and talked to a mom who was with her kids, told her he had lost me, and asked her to help. It was that mom who found the zoo employee, who in turn was about to take him to the front office when fortunately I found them first.
Guys, this was mom payday. My kid had LISTENED AND APPLIED a concept we had discussed.
A while ago I’d a friend had shared with me the approach of Pattie Fitzgerald, a personal safety guru and author of several books on the subject of keeping kids safe from all manner of scary situations. You can find much more info on her website Safely Ever After.
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She has some super great checklists you can look at that cover ways to keep kids safe and to empower your kids to keep themselves safe too. It was one of these checklists (The Super Ten Play-It-Safe Rules For Kids And Grownups) where I read about having your kids seek out a mom who has kids with them and asking her for help in case they ever got lost or separated from you. Generally speaking, a mom with kids is just about the safest and most qualified person in the world to handle something like that so it makes sense to teach your kids as much, right?
I’ll be clear that I am not generally a mom who enjoys fear mongering my kids, which is why I like this approach so much. Rather than scare them silly, help them be aware and alert of potentially harmful situations and people. Pattie talks about the concept of “tricky people” a lot — this is a big one for keeping kids safe. Checklist Mommy sums up the basic concepts really well:
- It is unlikely your kid is going to be abused by a weirdo at the park (huge sigh of relief).
- That said, if there is a weirdo at the park, he’s not going to fit the “stranger” model — so stop teaching your kid about strangers! He’s going to come up to your kid and introduce himself. Voila! He ain’t a stranger anymore.
- Teach your kids about TRICKY PEOPLE, instead. TRICKY PEOPLE are grown-ups who ASK KIDS FOR HELP (no adult needs to ask a kid for help) or TELLS KIDS TO KEEP A SECRET FROM THEIR PARENTS (including, IT’S OKAY TO COME OVER HERE BEHIND THIS TREE WITHOUT ASKING MOM FIRST. Not asking Mom is tantamount to KEEPING A SECRET.)
- Teach your kids not to DO ANYTHING, or GO ANYWHERE, with ANY ADULTS AT ALL, unless they can ask for your permission first.
See how I said ANY ADULTS AT ALL? That’s because:
- It’s far more likely your kid is going to be abused by someone they have a relationship with, because most cases of abuse follow long periods of grooming — both of the kid and his or her family.
- Bad guys groom you and your kids to gauge whether or not you’re paying attention to what they’re doing, and/or to lure you into dropping your guard. Don’t. Kids who bad guys think are flying under their parents’ radars, or kids who seem a little insecure or disconnected from their parents, are the kids who are most at risk.
- Be suspicious of gifts that adults in positions of authority give your kids. There’s no reason your son should be coming back from Bar Mitzvah study with a cool new keychain or baseball hat.
- Be suspicious of teachers who tell you your kid is so special they want to offer him more one-on-one time, or special outings. That teacher who says your kid is into Monet, he wants to take him to a museum next weekend? Say thanks, and take your kid to go see the exhibit yourself.
- You know that weird adult cousin of yours who’s always out in the yard with the kids, never in the kitchen drinking with the grown-ups? Keep an eye on your kids when he’s around.
- Oh, and that soccer coach who keeps offering to babysit for free, so you can get some time to yourself? NO ONE WANTS TO BABYSIT YOUR KIDS JUST TO BE NICE.
And, here’s another good reason to add to the PANTHEON of reasons to teach your children the anatomically correct names for their genitalia:
- There isn’t a child molester on earth who’s going to talk to your daughter about her vagina. Really. But if she suddenly starts calling it a cupcake, you can ask her who taught her that.
I actually ordered a book Pattie wrote on Amazon after reading that blog post and poking through her website. You can find that book titled “No Tresspassing, this is MY BODY“, on Amazon or on her website. It’s been a super helpful conversation tool with my kids, and every few months I pull it back out to start the conversation yet again. Her other book “Super Duper Safety School: Safety Rules For Kids And Grownups” is also on Amazon. Both are under $15 and a great place to start when it comes to talking to your kids about personal safety.
I hope my kids never need to use those tools, but the odds are at some point they will as my then 5 year old proved by getting lost at the zoo. Stuff happens, people are weird, life can be scary. I’m sure as hell gonna do all I can on my end to help my kids be educated and prepared about their own safety. That day at the zoo proved to me that they are listening, so I’ll just go ahead and keep on talking about keeping kids safe, and I hope you will too.