Kids keep us busy! That’s why we parents must be conscientious about doing our part to keep them safe. And make the time to teach kids safety habits and techniques.
Here’s a baker’s dozen of safety tips for parents. And in case you are superstitious, I added a bonus tip, so (spoiler alert) there are really 14 tips.
13 Know Your Name
Young kids need to learn their parents’ first and last names. This can come in handy in various situations. For example, if they get lost in a store and ask an employee for help finding you, it’s better for your child if the clerk can announce, “Will John Smith please come to customer service?” Instead of broadcasting on the intercom, “I have a cute four-year-old girl with a purple dress who’s lost here at customer service.” I cringe when I hear such announcements, hoping they verify the identity of anyone claiming that child.
12 Teach Kids Their Address
When they grow, it’s a good idea for kids to know their own address. This can help in an emergency, like if they get separated or lost and not (yet) found. Remember to teach them their new address when they move. (And also tell them not to share it online or in chats.) It is for emergencies, to be told to school authorities or police officers by word-of-mouth.
11 Know Your Phone Number
How many phone numbers do children need to know? Mom’s cell, Dad’s cell, Mom’s house phone, and if they’re divorced, Dad’s house phone? That’s too many for practicality (for most kids). If parents don’t live in the same household, pick one number for each involved parent. Make it the best number that makes sense for your child to call if they need you.
If you have several important numbers, like those above, plus babysitter’s, etc., consider writing them down. (Have an emergency contact out of state. In a natural disaster, or large local emergency, cell towers can be overwhelmed, but often you can both call out to another state to leave a message with a family member there.) You can write or print numbers on a small card for your child to tuck into their pocket or backpack. That’s especially practical if your child is going somewhere without emergency number records (field trip, staying the night at a friend’s after school, etc.).
10 Safety Word – A Password for Others to Say They are Authorized
Have a family password. This is a word (or a few) that only your family knows. If you ever need to have someone other than the usual, approved parent pick up your child, you can give that someone the password. If anyone unusual tells your child they need to pick them up, instruct your child to only go with them if they have given the right password. Keep the password quiet and confidential, and if anyone accidentally tells it to someone outside the family, change it. Periodically check in with your child, and see if they remember it.
9 Danger Word to Say Something’s Wrong
This is kind of the opposite of number four. It’s a secret code between you and your kid to say something’s not right. You still keep it confidential. But you use it among your family, when others are around or might be listening, as a guard for your kids’ safety as well as your own.
One woman had her 12-year-old daughter with her at an event where they met a man who asked them to go out to ice cream. The daughter got the creeps from the man, and used the danger code word. That way, the mom knew her daughter didn’t want to go, and turned him down politely. It can be used in more dangerous situations as well. As above, periodically check in with your child, and see if they (and you) remember it.
8 Kids’ Safety for Finding your Lost Family
For your kids’ safety, talk to them about what to do if they get lost. If you get separated from your family, such as at the park, stay put. At a store or business, kids can learn to identify employees (by their name tag and location behind a counter) to ask for help or to use the phone. (Aren’t you glad they know your phone number as in tip three?) Alternatively, you can ask a woman with children to help you (think about asking a woman who reminds you of your mother).
7 Teach Personal Safety Basics (Stranger Danger)
First, teach your child that a stranger is someone they don’t know. If they don’t know an older teenager or adult, they don’t know if they’re bad or good. That is why they must not trust them, even if a person looks nice. (And especially be careful if a stranger acts strange, asks them for help, tries to give them a gift without a parent around, wants to take their picture, or have them go somewhere out of view of others). Make sure your kid knows what to do if a stranger gets too close, tries to grab or grabs them.
Priorities for the Safety Toolbox
The first and main priority is to run to safety. Safety is where you are, or another supervising adult, or a public place. Don’t walk, run! (And while you’re at it – yell and make a scene.)
If you can, the second priority is to yell (ideally while you’re running to safety). The bigger a scene you make, the quicker and more likely a stranger will leave you alone and go away. If you cannot run or get away, yell, LOUDLY! Screaming is okay, but it’s better to yell either “stranger danger” (People will catch on to what the problem is) or “fire” (not to be yelled in a crowd, but to get attention out in the open – people can’t help but look to see what’s going on if they hear “fire!” near their car or house.).
The third thing to do, only if, and while, you cannot run, is fight back. If they have a hold of you so you cannot get away at that time, fight! Struggle and fight for your life. Bite, scratch, elbow, head butt, kick. And as soon as they lose their grip, RUN to safety (first priority). (And, if you can, yell while you fight. Make a huge scene.)
And for your kids’ safety, teach them to stay away from strangers’ cars. The only thing more dangerous than a stranger is a stranger in a car. Do not, under any circumstance, get in a stranger’s car, especially if they want you to!
6 Stop Means “No” in Your House, for Kids’ Safety
This family rule helps children learn personal boundaries. Additionally, when they are raised with it, it helps prevent sexual abuse. It helps with rape prevention for life. I highly recommend this rule. Enforce it and follow it yourself, for your child’s sake: If someone is physically doing something to someone else in your household, and the someone else says, “stop,” the someone must stop. Period. No messing around. If anyone breaches your physical boundaries, and you say says “stop,” they must stop. (This rule and its seriousness does not apply to name-calling, annoying talking, and messing with property.)
Many boisterous children find it difficult to follow this rule (as do their wrestling fathers). But if you take it seriously, and reinforce it always, and follow it yourself, kids will learn from it and be better off. If they’re just playing and want to continue to play, they will learn not to say, “stop.” Following this rule is not just for kids’ safety; it also reinforces respect.
5 Take Responsibility for your Guns
Keep your guns locked or under your consistent control, always knowing where they are and keeping an eye on them if they are not locked up. It is in children’s nature to challenge rules and especially when it comes to very interesting things. And they usually don’t understand the gravity and permanence of death, or grave wounds. You know your child better than anyone, but it’s best not to take risks with deadly weapons, even if your kid is a rule-following angel.
4 Take Responsibility for Online Safety
When your child is old enough to go online, monitor their use and install parental controls. Teach them not to type in their real name, address, or any numbers from your router (or other numbers like account numbers), without your permission. Teach them not to give out their names or addresses to people online, unless they are sure those people are the ones they already know and trust. I recommend The Ultimate Guide for the Non Techy Parent. (If your teen is having difficulty with negative people online, closely monitor or get them offline.)
3 Take Responsibility for Kids’ Safety with Cell Phones
Ditto the advice in tip four, as many of these things go hand-in-hand. Warn your child that most people receive texts from unknown strangers. Teach them not to respond, or to show such texts to you, and consider blocking such numbers. (Teach them not to block their parents.)
2 Be Violence-Proof and Weapons Wary
Teach your child that if they see a student with a gun or knife at school, immediately get to safety and report it to the school staff. If they hear a rumor that a student has a weapon, instruct them to treat this seriously as well. Even if they didn’t see it with their own eyes, immediately report it to the school staff.
1 Random Drug Testing Improves Kids’ Safety
When your child is a pre-teen or older, I highly recommend random drug testing. At-home drug tests are easy to buy, not too expensive, and are a good investment. This technique works for our family.
Bonus: Know Who your Kids are With
Know who your children spend time with. Get to know their friends, whether you have the friends over, take them to the park, or meet them at school events. If your child goes to a friend’s house for the first time, go to the door, ask for the parent’s phone number, and give them yours. Make sure there is a parent there when your kid goes to a friend’s house. Notice if there are any red flags that might compromise your kid’s safety. (Bonus to the bonus: after the first visit, you can text them about subsequent visits.)
As part of all of this, get to know your child, regularly, as they grow and change (they are always with themselves). Ask questions that require a unique, informative answer (such as, “Who did you play with today? Who did you talk to? What did you do in _____ class? What was the best/worst part of your day?”). And if it seems like something is wrong, ask them. Show them that you care and you are there to talk to.
I hope you don’t feel too stuffed with that baker’s dozen of tips, plus a bonus! If so, just take it one thing at a time. You could print this out to make your way through it over time.
When you’re ready for more content to improve your kids’ safety, consider administering this quiz: How to Determine Your Child’s Ninja Safety Smarts Quotient. (Children will get a better score if you have already put into place the above tips.)
_ _ _
Jenifer Tull-Gauger knows what it’s like to be an “old soul” and a painfully quiet kid struggling to fit in. Her journey to 7th degree black belt is a testament of how she found inner strength through traditional karate. Now in leadership for the international U.R.K.A., she heads up a private dojo with her husband.
Jenifer combined her passions for art and writing, with what she’s learned from 23-plus years of teaching karate, to create a children’s character-building picture book series. The Dojo Kun Character Books help children to find their own power in their lives. JeniferTullGauger.com