As a parent, you spend plenty of time worrying about your kids, wanting to keep them safe from anything that could harm them. But the reality is that you can’t always be there to protect them. After all, your babies get older, they go off to school, they hang out with friends—the list is seemingly endless. Not to mention this thing called “life” promises that your kids will encounter dangerous situations from time to time, situations that will force them to think and act fast.
Sadly, many children are woefully unprepared for these situations. According to Safe Kids Worldwide, preventable injuries are the number one killer of kids in the United States, with over 8,000 families having to deal with the unthinkable every year: losing a child.
But here’s the good news: you, as a parent, can do a lot to prepare your children to handle situations that life throws their way.
To start, here are five safety skills for children.
- Safety skills your child should know: How to handle an emergency.
Yes, “emergency” covers a lot of territory—everything from fires to acute illness to every other horror flick scenario our imaginations can muster. But there are some basic coping skills we all need, adults and kids alike, regardless of the type of emergency.
- Stay calm. Expecting an especially young child to stay calm is a tall order, but it’s never too soon to impress upon your children the importance of staying calm. Let kids know that being scared and staying calm aren’t mutually exclusive terms, either. Explain to your kids that it’s normal to feel scared, but that doesn’t mean they can’t stay calm, too.
- Call for help. Empower kids so that they know how to call for help. This means not only knowing how to dial 9-1-1 using different devices (e.g. mobile phones vs. landlines), but also what to say. Kids should know their full name, complete address, phone number, and parents’ names. They should learn to stay on the line with the dispatcher, and they should know what to do if emergency personnel need to enter the home. Here are more great tips for teaching 911 to kids.
One of the best ways to prepare kids for emergencies is through role-playing different scenarios. Keep in mind that teachable moments occur all the time. Take advantage of them and discuss the moments with your kids. Here’s a great checklist to test if your child is prepared to handle an emergency.
- Safety skills your child should know: What to do in case of a fire.
Fires are incredibly scary, especially for children. Sadly, for many kids, their first instinct when a fire alarm goes off or if smoke fills the room is to hide under the bed or inside a closet, leading to devastating results. This is why it’s critical that you create a solid fire escape plan <link to fire escape plan blog> and make sure everyone in your family understands it and can effectively follow it (run practice drills a few times a year). Here are some other important fire safety do’s and don’ts that will show you how to keep your family protected.
- Safety skills your child should know: Distinguishing between “good” strangers and “bad” strangers.
This can be a challenging topic for parents, schools, and communities alike. Talk with your kids about the difference between “good” strangers, meaning people your child can identify as safe, such as a police officer or fire fighter in uniform, and potentially “dangerous” strangers. The latter would be someone your child does not know or does not know well.
While you certainly don’t want to frighten your child, you’ll want to explain that bad strangers often don’t appear bad—in fact, it could be just the opposite. The stranger might seem friendly and normal and might even be “in need” by asking for directions or help in finding a lost pet. The bottom line is that the child should learn it’s never OK to go with someone he or she doesn’t know.
You and your child should also develop a set of rules for people he or she can go with. Perhaps you and the child agree it’s OK to go with Aunt Susie, but not with neighbor Andrea, even though the child “knows” neighbor Andrea.
And, once again, role-play with your children different situations where someone tries to touch or grab them. It’s important for the child to “find” his or her voice and know how to yell, “Stop! You’re not my mother or father! Help, help!” (Or various versions.)
- Safety skills your child should know: What to do if they get lost.
A lost child can mean a scared child (understandably so!). If the child gets lost in a public place, like a store or mall, teach the child to seek an adult in uniform, like a police officer or security guard, or to look for an information desk (which often has a big “I” somewhere around it).
Let your child know that if he or she gets lost in a remote area—while camping, for example—to simply stop and sit. Reassure your child that you will be looking for him or her and that by staying still in the same spot, you have the best chance of finding him/her fast. If the child continues to wander, he or she could simply end up getting more lost.
In addition, teach children to assess their surroundings and maintain “situational awareness.” Again, do this through role-playing. Learning to assess one’s surroundings is a habit that’s developed over time (it’s important for adults to develop this habit as well).
- Safety skills your child should know: Why they shouldn’t keep painful secrets.
It’s important to let your children know they should always come to you with any painful secrets and that you will always love the child no matter what. Explain that the child can always count on you to listen and to help him or her feel safe. Tell the child that it’s never OK for someone to threaten or bully him or her into keeping a secret and that if someone tries this tactic, then the child should alert a responsible adult ASAP.
This certainly isn’t an exhaustive list of safety skills for children, and kids won’t learn these skills overnight. Depending on your child’s age, you’ll need to adjust your approach as well. But over time and with regular discussions and role-playing, your kids will develop these essential safety skills. Keep at it, and don’t give up.
Main Article Photo By: Dana, July 24, 2015 via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution.
In-Article Photo By: USAG- Humphreys, July 24, 2015 via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution.