We moms want to keep our kids safe. It's that simple. Would that we could shelter them in a cocoon and they would never have to experience bad people who do bad things. But as our babies, toddlers, and preschoolers start to become more independent and move on their own out in the world, we often have many questions about how to support our kids in being safe and how to teach him who is a good guy and who is not.
It's a challenge that understandably causes anxiety for many Circle of Moms members who have preschoolers. As Sunny M. puts it, "My son is almost three and has no stranger danger instincts at all. He will happily go off with anyone, even people who scare me."
The first step in dealing with safety for preschoolers is to talk to them, says Meredith S. "They just don't know not to talk to strangers. You have to teach them. The sooner you talk about the dangers of some strangers, the better."
But though many Circle of Moms members say they are eager to teach their preschoolers about safety, many don't know where to start. As mom-of-one Melissa, whose daughter just started preschool says, "I want to know how to go about it. I don't want to freak her out."
The new thinking is that instead of focusing on the concept of "Stranger Danger," parents should emphasize the development of "stranger safety skills." Kid Power, a Santa Cruz, California-based organization with chapters across the country and world, is one organization that takes this tack, working with children of all ages to teach them these skills, says Irene van der Zande, Executive Director/Co-Founder.
"Parents can introduce stranger safety skills by focusing on what children need to know to be safe, not on all the bad things that might happen," van der Zande tells Circle of Moms. "Parents have to remember that most of the people who bother children are NOT strangers, but people they know, so it is crucial to practice boundary-setting and getting help skills as well."
Kid Power offers safety tips for parents from the time children are born, and their website includes many tips for talking with your children. Circle of Moms members add their own, below.
Keep it simple. Use simple teaching techniques. For instance, tell them that just as they need to always check with mom or dad when they want to go pet a dog or an animal, they also need to check with you when getting close to a person they don't know well. As Cassie C. says, "It's important to simply tell your child that not everyone is friendly."
Teach how to talk to strangers. Rather than teach kids not to talk to strangers, we need to teach them how to talk to strangers. When children are with you, give them chances to practice talking to strangers, such as buying something from a clerk at the store. You can explain that, "It is okay to talk to this nice man even though you don't know him, because we are together. If you are on your own, come over to me and check first," says van der Zande.
Do your homework. There is no substitute for supervising the people who are caring for your children. No matter where your children are, it is important to make sure that the people responsible for their well-being are providing a safe, respectful, caring environment where the adults are paying close attention and fully in charge.
Practice makes perfect, says Julianne D. Help your children understand that they are in charge of their bodies and practice what to do if someone tries to hurt or take them away, as well as how to set physical and emotional boundaries. "We practice what to do if someone tries to take them away from where they should be," says Julianne D., a mom of two. "It is the only time they are allowed to kick, bite, scream and hit to get someone's attention. We practiced shouting ‘I don't know you,' at the top of their lungs. "
Boundaries matter. The most important social lessons are taught by modeling good social boundaries in our interactions with our kids, and this starts at birth. As van der Zande explains, even if a baby doesn't understand your words, he or she will respond to your stress, tone of voice, and body language. (Dr Oz agrees; see Using Emotions for Smarter Parenting.)
Finally, mom-of-one Meredith S. recommends that moms make sure that their preschoolers can talk to them about anything. And Leslee adds, "Tell them they will never get in trouble if they tell you about someone hurting them. The more casual you are in your tone the less freaked out the conversations have to be. It's never too early, as soon as they understand yes and no, safe and not safe. "
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