Would your child know what to do if . . .
- He was lost at a shopping mall?
- A nice-looking, friendly stranger offered her a ride home after school?
- A baby-sitter wanted to play a “secret game that no one would know about”?
- She was at home alone and the doorbell rang?
- A friend dared him to hitchhike?
While most kids pass through childhood without ever experiencing harm at the hands of a stranger, some are frightened or hurt by crime. As a parent, one of your responsibilities is to teach your children how to protect themselves and respond to threatening situations. Take the time to listen carefully to your children’s fears and feelings about people or places that scare them or make them feel uncomfortable.
What can you do?
First, cover the basics:
- Rehearse with children their full name, address, and phone number (including area code) and how to make emergency phone calls from home and public phones.
- Tell children never to accept gifts or rides from someone they don’t know well.
- Check your neighborhood for areas that threaten children’s safety, like brush in wooded areas, overgrown shrubbery, abandoned buildings, poor street lighting, vacant lots littered with debris, and busy streets with no adjacent sidewalks or bike paths.
- Provide your children with a “code word” that only you, they, and anyone you trust to share it with will know. By doing so, you can add a layer of security against the persuasive stranger who claims to know you.
At School and Play
- Make sure your children take the safest route to school and friends’ houses, one that avoids danger spots like alleys, new construction, water courses, and wooded areas. Test walk it together.
- Encourage your children to walk and play with friends, not alone, and to stay in well-lighted, open areas where others can see them.
- Don’t hang a house key around your child’s neck. It’s a telltale sign that you won’t be at home when they return from school. Put it inside a pocket or sock.
- Teach your children to walk confidently and stay alert to what’s going on around them.
When Home Alone
- Have your children check in with you at work or with a neighbor when they get home. Establish and enforce rules about having friends over and going to some else’s house when no adult is present.
Who Is a Stranger?
- Explain to your children that a stranger is someone they don’t know well. A stranger can be a man or woman, well-dressed or shabbily attired, kind or threatening, pretty or ugly. If a stranger tries to follow them or grab them, they should run away, scream, and make lots of noise. Tell them to run to the nearest place where there are people and to shout “This person is trying to hurt me!” or “Stay away from me,” instead of a simple “Help!”
Choose Day Care Centers Wisely
- Ascertain as much as you can about the program’s reputation and whether there have been any past complaints. Is it licensed or regulated in any way?
- Learn about the teachers and caregivers. What are their professional qualifications? Are criminal background checks conducted before they are hired?
- Make sure you have the right to visit anytime and without an appointment.
- Find out how children relate to the staff. Are they happy and involved, or do they pull away from staff members?
- Ask about the philosophy of discipline.
- Make sure there is parent involvement such as group meetings and parent conferences.
These guidelines can also be applied to after school programs and baby-sitters. In any childcare situation, it’s a good idea to drop in unannounced periodically. Never give the organization blanket permission to take your child off the premises. Finally, talk with your child daily about how things are going and investigate situations that worry you or don’t sound quite right. Compare notes with other parents.
For more information, call the Boulder County Sheriff’s Office at 303-441-3600