Every day we hear another tragic story on the news regarding children in America. The horrifying incidents range from the latest victim of sexual molestation to kidnapping to cyber-bullying. Some completely rock our sense of security, such as the cases involving our church leaders or teachers who have been found guilty of abusing children. For parents trying to keep their kids safe, this type of news can be overwhelming. While there really is no way to protect our children all of the time, experts say there are certain things we can teach our kids—starting in the elementary school years—that will help them avoid some of the biggest dangers in our society.
I spoke via email with Kenneth Shore, PhD, a school psychologist, family counselor, and author of several books, including Keeping Kids Safe. He is currently writing another book about cyber-bullying, but says that even in the age of Internet danger, the largest threats to our children are often found in our homes. For instance, Shore explains that “from 1979 to 1997, almost eighty thousand American youths were killed by gunfire, almost twenty-five thousand more than the number of American soldiers killed in the Vietnam War.” Shocking, isn’t it? “Each day, on average, twelve American children ages one to nineteen are killed by gunfire,” he adds.
So, with that in mind, it’s absolutely critical that parents with guns in their homes lock them up in proper safes that children cannot access. It’s also essential to have discussions with children about why they should never play with guns at home, and about how, if they find themselves at a friend’s house and someone pulls out a gun, they should leave right away. Whenever I go back home (and I’m from the South, where gun owners are the norm), I ask parents before playdates if they lock up their guns. It’s the responsible thing to do with little boys who love to play cops and robbers.
Following is a list of other safety precautions to discuss with your children and implement within your household:
If your child walks home from the school bus stop alone, or if he is allowed to stay home alone after school, be sure to mention a few things to help him avoid entering a dangerous home. Many child molesters actually are neighbors or friends who may know your child’s schedule. Therefore, Dr. Shore suggests telling your child not to enter the house if he sees or hears anything unusual, such as a broken window or unfamiliar voices.
Discuss school bus safety! “Every year, some nine thousand children are injured and thirty-five are killed in school bus accidents,” says Dr. Shore. In fact, in October 2010, a school bus struck an elementary school child in Florida as he was crossing the street in front of his school. For this reason, and because school bus drivers cannot always see well, please talk with your children about watching carefully. If the bus doesn’t have its blinking sign out when stopped, it will soon start moving. If your child is too close to the bus, the driver can’t see him. Tell your child to always wait for a bus to move along before he crosses the street, or to make sure the driver can see him by waving to the driver first. Remind your child to sit down when on the bus as well.
Communicate openly about bullying. Talk with your children about how every child is special and how differences are good. This discussion is important because research shows that kids with learning disorders or special needs are much more vulnerable to bullying—starting in first grade. Talk with your child about why it’s so important to be a good friend and to never tease or agree with someone who is being mean to another student. One child can make a difference. By the same token, make your child aware that if he’s is ever the victim of bullying, he can talk with you about it.
Insist that your child never give out your phone number or home address—ever. Even if another student’s parent asks for it, tell your child to tell that parent to call you for that information. However, be sure to have your child memorize your cell phone number and address for his own reference.
Never put your child’s name or address on the back of his backpack, as neighbors and strangers can see it and easily fool your child into talking with them. They can call out your child’s name, summon him over, and say they are friends of the family. Don’t make things easy for predators!
Talk with your child about what to do on the off chance that an adult grabs him. Experts advise making a lot of noise. Tell your child to scream, try to bite an arm or hand, and try to run away, because if he’s put into a car and taken away, there is little chance he’ll survive.
Have the difficult discussion about touching. Tell your child that it’s not okay for anyone—a teacher, minister, uncle, neighbor, et cetera—to ever touch his private parts. If this happens, tell him to alert you immediately. Let him know that when an adult does this, the adult is bad—and the child has done nothing wrong. It’s important for your child to always feel free to share about this topic with you.
Discuss what to do in the odd case in which your child is still in the car after someone has stolen it. When I lived in Atlanta, this happened twice to my neighbors’ children: someone jumped into the car (as the mom was returning a grocery cart, in both cases), and drove off with the children in the back. Luckily, one had a cell phone and quietly called 911 and let the operator hear what was happening in the car. Another time, the children were dumped on the side of the highway and the robbers drove off. Staying calm is the most important thing for children in this situation, as the parent has typically called the police, who are already looking for the child.
Don’t ever leave your children alone in the car. That means return grocery carts with the children and then put them in the car. If your baby has fallen asleep and you need to run in quickly to buy something, wake her up. Don’t risk the child’s getting too hot or getting kidnapped—it’s not worth it.
Tell your child never to pat a dog without permission. According to the most recent research, there are 4.7 million dog-bite victims each year and there were thirty-three fatal dog attacks in 2007. Even the most loving dog can snap when it’s around very young children or a rambunctious toddler, so be very aware, and tell your sitters to be as well.
Observe basic home safety rules:
- Always supervise your child in the bathtub.
- Have an emergency first aid kit at home.
- Post the poison control number in your kitchen.
- Lock up medicines and cleaners.
- Secure and guard all windows above the first floor.
- Keep knives and alcohol out of reach.
Let us know if this article helped you, and share any other ideas that you have with us!