What should I teach my kids about personal safety?
Teaching your child about the risks of getting lost, taken or abused is an on-going process. Use “teachable moments” to reinforce and discuss the issues and guidelines your family has worked out. When you see unsafe situations, talk about how it could be safer. When you decide to do something a certain way for safety, explain your choice to your child. In all your conversations about dangers, remind your kids that most people love children and that most people in the world want to help children, not hurt them.
How to contact you and emergency services, and their personal information:
- How to dial “9-1-1” and “0” for emergencies.
- Their full name (first, middle and last).
- How to recite their address with city, state and zip code and area code plus phone number.
- That they can use any phone and do not need money to call “9-1-1” or “0” in an emergency .
- How to call you collect.
About personal safety when out and about:
- Always check first with the adult who is caring for them before they go anywhere with anyone, even someone they know.
- Use a family "Secret Code Word" and don't go with anyone, for any reason, who does not use the code word.
- Ask for the code word while standing a safe distance away from the car.
- Never hitchhike.
- Use the “buddy system” in public places, and always walk and play in groups.
- Never go into public toilets alone.
- Call home when they get to their destination, and call again before they leave to return home.
- Don't play in or take shortcuts through dangerous or deserted areas.
- Don't go door-to-door selling something without an adult.
- If they are followed or frightened they should knock on the nearest door and ask for the police to be called. They should not hide.
- Walk on the left facing traffic so that they can see if a car stops near them.
- Find and go to a store cashier, mom or grandma with kids, or security person (not to the parking lot) if they get lost or separated from you while shopping.
- If they are separated from you, they should never leave the area (like a store, the mall, or a zoo), even if the person helping them asks them to step outside.
What kinds of specific stranger situations to look out for:
- Don’t teach “Never talk to strangers.” This is too simple, and your child may someday be lost in a store and need to ask a “stranger” for help.
- Never accept anything from a stranger. If someone they don’t know offers ice cream, candy or video games when their parent is not present, this is a warning sign.
- Never approach a car with strangers. If a stranger says something to them, they should not go near the car to hear better or to answer.
- Never help a stranger with directions, fixing a car, or finding a lost pet and never let a stranger take their picture. If adults need help, they should ask other adults.
- Just because someone knows their name, does not mean that person knows them or their parents.
- Never go with a person who shows a badge and says they are a police officer. Check with the adult who is taking care of you first.
- Even though they recognize certain people (like the mail carrier, ice cream truck driver, newspaper person, etc.), these people are considered strangers.
About “good touch” and “bad touch”:
- Their body belongs to them, especially the parts covered by a bathing suit.
- Certain areas of the body are very private. Report any "bad touches" to mom, dad, or a trusted adult.
- They have the right not to be touched in ways that make them feel uncomfortable, the right to say "NO" and the right to get help. If you force your child to kiss and hug family friends or family members, you give them a mixed message about only accepting touch they are comfortable with.
- Even trusted people shouldn't ask them to do something or touch them in a way that makes them feel weird or scared or bad.
- Use anatomical names of their body parts so they know how to talk about them and feel okay talking about them to you.
About uncomfortable or dangerous situations:
- It's okay to say “no.”
- It's okay to break rules to stay safe; it's okay to run away, scream, lie or kick, scratch and bite to get away from danger.
- It's okay to hang up the telephone if they don't like what they hear, such as strange noises, scary talk or nothing at all.
- You don’t have to be polite if you feel uncomfortable or are in danger.
- They should try to get away as quickly as possible from any person who makes them feel uncomfortable or frightened and tell people they trust.
- Teach your child to yell loudly, “Leave me alone!” Stay away from me!” and “Help! This is not my daddy!!” Practice and role play.
To keep the lines of communication open, let them know:
- They can tell you what has happened, even if they are afraid you will be angry.
- You will believe what they tell you.
- You trust their instincts, and even if they make a bad choice with an innocent stranger, you will support them.
- If an adult tells them to keep a secret, it's okay to tell mom, dad or another trusted adult.
- Never keep secrets that make them feel uncomfortable or bad.
- Adults are not always right.
- Running away from home is no fun. If they are having problems, they should talk to their family or a trusted adult.
If your child is home alone, make sure they know:
- To keep all doors and windows locked.
- If someone knocks on the door, to ask, "Who is it?" without unlocking or opening any door or window. If it is not someone they are expecting, say, "My mom/dad is busy and can't come to the door right now." Talk through the door and ask the person to come back later. If the person refuses to leave, call the police. Never let the person inside for any reason.
- If they arrive home and see that any window or door is open, go to a neighbor's house and call the police.
- If the phone rings, never let a stranger know they're home alone. Instead, say, "My mother/father can't come to the phone right now. Can I take a message and have them call you right back?”
- The emergency numbers to call if they get scared, and make sure they know how to contact you and the neighbors.
- Work on your relationship with your children so they find it easy to talk to you about their worries. Provide a safe and supportive home environment, and be available to your children.
- Stay involved with your child's activities and friends. Know where they are going, what adults will be there, and how to reach them.
- When talking with your child about good touch and bad touch, teach facts and strategies, and not fear.
- Always answer your children's questions honestly and at a level that they can understand, even if you are embarrassed.
- Don't leave your child alone in a public place, not even for “just a second.”
- Don't leave your child in the care of another child.
- Don't dress your child in personalized items that display their names. Kids tend to trust a person who calls them by name.
- Make sure your child's school has the policy of calling to find out the reason for absence if your child does not arrive at school on time.
- Be suspicious if an adult seems more interested in spending time with your child than with you.
- When children are molested it is usually by a relative or somebody known to their family.... not by a stranger.
- Above all, you should trust your instincts. If you sense something is not quite right, you should cut off all contact between your child and the person in question, call protective services or the police, and consult with a professional.
- A pedophile may turn your child against you, and try to become of primary importance in the child's life.
- They take every possible opportunity for contact with your child. They make themselves available for every occasion.
- They have low social boundaries.
- They encourage (instead of setting limits on) inappropriate "potty" talk or sexual talk.
- They don't set physical boundaries with your kids. There' s lots of physical play, wrestling, tickling, etc. They don't limit your child in climbing all over them.
- They do not have age-appropriate peer relationships.
- They may be a teen-aged babysitter, either male or female, with a history of sexual victimization.
- You can check the names of sexual offenders who have been caught and convicted on the Michigan Public Sex Offender Registry. You can search by zip code.
Where can I get more information?
The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) provides services nationwide for families and professionals in the prevention of abduction, endangerment, and sexual exploitation of children. Call 1-800-THE-LOST. The NCMEC:
- Serves as a clearinghouse of information about missing and exploited children. Check out the list of publications for both parents and kids on many aspects of personal safety.
- Operates a CyberTipline that the public may use to report Internet-related child sexual exploitation
- Provides technical assistance to individuals and law-enforcement agencies in the prevention, investigation, prosecution, and treatment of cases involving missing and exploited children
- Assists the U.S. Department of State in certain cases of international child abduction in accordance with the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction
- Offers training programs to law-enforcement and social service professionals
- Distributes photographs and descriptions of missing children worldwide
- Coordinates child-protection efforts with the private sector
- Networks with nonprofit service providers and state clearinghouses about missing-persons cases
- Provides information about effective state legislation to help ensure the protection of children
YourChild: The Internet has tips for parents on keeping kids safe from Internet predators.
Written and compiled by Kyla Boyse, R.N. Reviewed by faculty and staff at the University of Michigan
Updated May 2008
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