Keeping Your Children Safe
Although it’s something we hope will never happen to our children, we still have to teach them about getting lost and using caution around strangers. We tend to visit more public places in the summer, and of course, spend more time outdoors. With the crowds of summer and more visits to unfamiliar destinations, children need several reminders about not wandering off and about being cautious with people they don’t know.
Whether you’re going on a trip to the beach, an amusement park, or off to the great outdoors, teach your children what to do if they get lost. If you go camping, hiking, or walking through trails in the woods, give your children a whistle on a string to hang around their necks. If they become lost, teach them to “hug a tree” and start whistling! Sound carries a long way, and this can help you locate them. The National Safety Council suggests parents carry photos of their children, select a meeting place ahead of time in case someone gets lost, and instruct children to go to a park employee if they are in trouble. Some parents tell their young children that if they are lost they should try to find other families with young children to help them.
Teach your children about stranger safety and quiz them about it periodically. For example, children should not talk to unfamiliar adults when they are alone at a park, mall, or other public place. Teach your children to yell or go to a safe spot such as a friend’s house or a nearby store if they feel they’re in danger. Parents should also caution their children never to approach a car, especially when someone they don’t know is inside, regardless of what the person is saying to them. Predators have been known to use a number of tricks to try to entice children to go with them, including asking children to help them find a lost puppy and asking for directions. Since children tend to be helpful and seek adult approval, it is easy for them to forget the rules and respond to the request. Have children use the buddy system.
(Note: not all agree with the advice to teach your children to fear all strangers—after all, our children’s grandparents, or a lifeguard may be strangers too.) The incidence of stranger harm is real but also highly exaggerated and sensationalized by the media. What is critical is that children learn not to engage with strangers and particularly not to respond to behavior that lures them away with strangers, and to scream for help when they feel uneasy about the situation. Parents can help their children learn to recognize potentially unsafe situations when they are outdoors.
Even the AAP does not make a recommendation as to what age a child may stay at home without adult supervision. Some parents feel that no child under age twelve should be left alone (and some states have legislation establishing the legal age). Others feel that their eight- or nine-year-old may be mature enough for an hour or two alone under particular circumstances. Before leaving your child alone consider the child’s age, the child’s maturity level and personality, how long you will be gone, how far away you are going, and whether there is someone available to check on your child periodically. When you do decide to leave your child at home, consider the following tips:
- Spend time explaining your expectations for any time that your children are unsupervised.
- Establish a regular schedule of “check-in calls” in which your child calls you to let you know how and what he/she is doing.
- For older children, establish rules about friends coming over to visit. Do you approve of your child having friends over at the house without any supervision?
- Create a first aid kit and teach children how to use it.
- Establish a list of emergency phone contacts and keep it by the phone.
- Store alcohol and medication in a location that is completely inaccessible.
Whether your family is a roller coaster crew or cross-country campers, be safe and have fun. It’ll be September before you know it!
Originally published on Bright Horizons