Do you ever wonder if the conversations you are having with your children about personal safety are sticking with them? Would your younger children know what to do if they were in a situation where someone tried to abduct them, their siblings or their friends?
I’ve had several conversations with my 4-year-old about the importance of being aware of her surroundings and the people with whom she is interacting. We talk about why it isn’t safe to run off in a crowded place or go somewhere we can’t see her. As well as what to do if she gets lost and how to handle a situation where someone tries to abduct her, her sister or her friends. Most of the time I feel like it goes in one ear and out the other. She always has something better to do than sit there and listen to Mom give personal safety lessons. I mean she’s 4, she has a lot going on in her little world! But the other day something happened that made me realize that despite her lack of interest and interaction during these important conversations, she is in fact listening.
We were at the Safari Park and being a weekend it was very busy. We had both the girls safe in the stroller and were making our way to the next exhibit, when all of a sudden my oldest daughter starts yelling and pointing, “Mommy, Mommy look! That stranger has my sister! Stop her!”
There was a family about 10 feet ahead of us and the Mom was holding hands while walking with her young daughter. From the back, the little girl looked a lot like my youngest. They were wearing pretty much the same outfit, their hair was the same color (even styled the same) and they looked about the same height.
I immediately bent down to calm my frantic 4-year-old. I let her know that her sister was safe and sitting right behind her. She quickly turned around and said “Whew, I was really worried that, that lady had my sister!” She gave her sister a kiss and then sat back in her seat with a relived smile on her face.
I was shocked by how quickly she reacted and extremely proud. She knew exactly what to do in that situation. She was brave, got our attention and let us know that her sister was in danger, or so she thought. So she has been paying attention to our safety talks! Awesome!
It’s so important to keep the personal safety conversations going even if you think your kids aren’t listening or are too young to understand because they are listening and they do understand.
I started having personal safety talks with my daughter just before her 3rd birthday. I vividly remember the first conversation we had. It was as soon as we got home from the grocery store, where she decided to run off for the first time. I was frantic, she thought it was hilarious and in that moment I realized, she wouldn’t know what to do if she got lost or if someone tried to abduct her.
From that day on we’ve had regular casual conversations about personal safety. I’m so glad that despite her lack of interest, we continued to keep the conversations going. After what happened the other day, I’m fully confident that she will know what to do if god forbid a scary situation arises.
Here are some key points to remember when talking to your kids about personal safety and abduction prevention:
1. Don’t use the term “Stranger Danger.” Although it seems like a good tool, it really isn’t. It may be difficult for younger children to understand and recognize the difference between a stranger who could help them and a stranger who may potentially hurt them. Also, how can you expect a young child to have the confidence to seek help, if they are taught that all strangers are dangerous? Instead, teach them who to turn to for help if they are lost or find themselves in a scary situation. For example a store clerk, a mom with kids, a police officer in uniform.
2. Be sure to communicate the importance of getting your permission prior to going anywhere with anyone. Did you know that only 25% of child abductions are by strangers? Most children are abducted by someone they know; a family member, friend, neighbor or acquaintance. How scary is that?! When it comes to school age children it’s a good idea to have a password. That way if your child is expecting you to pick them up from school, practice, etc. and someone else shows up, your child will have to ask them for the password. If that person can’t provide your child with the correct password on the first try, then your child knows not to go with them.
3. Tell your kids to be aware of the people they are interacting with. Let them know that they need to come to you right away if someone is making them feel uncomfortable, is hurting them, tries to get them to go somewhere or tells them that they need to keep a secret. It’s important that your children feel comfortable to come to you If they feel they are in danger.
You can never have too many conversations with your children about personal safety. Knowledge is power! If you give them the right tools and confidence, you will have the peace of mind knowing that they will know how to react in a scary situation.