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Keeping Kids Safe

The Austin newspaper had a frightening story last weekend about a local child abduction.  It is the sort of story that makes parents worry a little more and hold our kids a little closer.  But, it also brings up good questions about what we parents can do to keep our children safe from harm.  We know how to keep them away from the knives and the bleach, but what about dangerous people?  

Gavin de Becker’s book “Protecting the Gift” is a great guide for parents.  In it, he encourages us to really listen to our intuition–that little guiding voice we so often try to rationalize away.  Some guy creeps you out in the parking lot?  There is probably a reason why–our animal instincts still work!  We are able to evaluate lots of different signals like facial expressions, physical promixity, and of course the undefinable ‘creepy factor.’  And as parents, not only do we need to listen to that voice ourselves are parents–we need to teach our children to recognize and listen to that voice in their own heads, too.    

Have you told your child “Don’t talk to strangers”?  de Becker brilliantly illustrates why that is actually a counter-productive lesson.  First, if our children are ever in need of help, being reluctant to speak to a stranger is an obstacle to keeping themselves safe.  Children need to (a) know how to choose which stranger is likely the most safe, and (b) go to that person and ask for help–because a child sitting alone, looking lost & vulnerable, makes for a ‘perfect’ victim to a predator.  By the way, de Becker gives a suggestion about whom children should ask for
help.  Surprisingly, it wasn’t policemen–it was mothers.  Citing
plenty of statistics, he argues that a mother, or even a (non-parent) woman, is far more likely to be the safest choice for helping a lost
child.  

When your child shys away from a stranger–even a friend of yours–how do you handle it? I encourage you to keep in mind that while politeness is important, so to is learning how to keep themselves safe.  Parents can also help children learn to listen to their inner voice by asking questions: “How would you like to say goodbye to Ms. Smith?”  or “If you were in this restaurant alone, who would you ask for help–and why?”

Although the book is a little too full (for my tastes) of frightening stories, the wisdom inside is well worth it.  

(And if you live in Austin, I’m leading a 3-part series/book group to discuss “Protecting the Gift” and how to keep our kids safe.  More info here )

4 Comments on “Keeping Kids Safe

  1. Thanks for this helpful reminder! My daughter rides to school on her bike now and I am relieved to see the things I told when she was younger about using her intuition and “find a Mom,” are still good advice. I always learned that if it feels bad, it probably is bad, so change course or take action.

  2. What funny timing — just the other night, a friend was instructing her daughter to look for mommies to help her (using me and a couple of others) when she’s lost/separated from her own mommy. I thought that was a good lesson to instill in my own kiddoes.

  3. You should check out freerangekids.com – Lenore, the founder, often has great advice about giving children age appropriate freedom, keeping them safe, and not falling prey to fears that our children are always at risk. 🙂

  4. The video Stay on the Safe Side with John Walsh is a really good video. My son put into place many of the ideas almost immediately.