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 a note from the teacher to parentsby Jennifer Cummings, M.Ed.

Keeping Kids Safe- Priority 1!

Every day, millions of children leave school and go home to an empty house. Whether a family has two parents off at work, or a single parent simply can’t be in two places at once, the reality is that many children leave the schoolyard each day with at least some amount of time unaccounted for by adults.

While this is a necessity for many families, a quick viewing of the evening news can help reinforce how important children’s safety is. Even older students have been kidnapped or worse, with no one being alerted until much later. Schools often talk about personal safety skills, but parents need to reinforce those skills with their children, too.

Sometimes parents are uncomfortable talking to their kids about dangerous situations, nervous about making them too fearful. Other times, parents feel that they live in an area that doesn’t have a problem. However, by knowing the appropriate amount of information your child can handle and talking to them over time, you can help teach your child important safety lessons in a relaxed, useful manner.

Not sure how to proceed?  Try these tips:

Contact your child’s school to see if they do a personal safety program or health unit. Try to coordinate talks at home with what kids are learning in class. It will be easier to begin a conversation when the topic is already on your child’s mind.

Give age-appropriate information. You don’t have to give little ones all of the gory details of the latest tragedy. Instead, use the information as a reminder to yourself to talk to your kids about being safe at school, in stores, and even at home. Use simple basics like creating a fire escape plan or calling 9-1-1 to introduce younger children to thinking about safety.

Begin safety training early. If you begin teaching kids about safety at a young age, they will listen more over time. Begin by talking about house safety (keeping doors locked, fire escape routes, fire safety, etc.) and continue through personal safety issues as they get older and spend more time away from you.

Give kids permission to scream. Many “good kids” don’t want to scream or yell in an attempted kidnapping because they are used to being good and doing what they’re told. Give your kids permission to make noise, yell, throw things, hit, and even swear if they are attacked. Practice at home, giving temporary permission for all of the above while you’re practicing :

Try out safety in a structured environment with older children. Going to a small store? Let your kids away from your side within the store, giving strict instructions not to leave without you for any reason, but keep an eye on them from afar. By doing this a little at a time, your child will learn to be aware of their surroundings when they are on their own, and you can see what they’re doing when you’re away from them.

Show kids what strangers look like. Children grow up thinking that strangers are scary looking men with dirty hair and bad skin. But, studies show that many people who abduct children are average looking people you wouldn’t look at on the street. Tell your kids about who strangers really could be.

Teach kids to tell. Allow your child to tell you information about their day and get them into the habit of sharing information with you in a non-judgmental way. If they share bad news, deal with it in an appropriate manner, without excessive yelling and screaming. By having good communication on a daily basis, kids will be more likely to come to you if there’s been trouble.

Tell your kids about strangers’ tricks. We have all heard stories about children who go with people who are “looking for their puppy” or “want to show you their new car”. Teach your kids what people may say to them and if the situation arises, the warning bells may go off sooner.

Teach kids to check in. Even if your child comes home to an empty house, there’s no reason they can’t have a contact person. As soon as they get in, they should be expected to call an adult (mom, dad, aunt, uncle, family friend, etc.) to check in that they are home alright.

If that adult doesn’t hear from your child, a plan to check up on them can be put into action. If something really is wrong, you’ll know about it much quicker than if you wait until you get home.

Enlist the help of the police. Many schools have resource officers who are more than willing to help parents teach their children valuable safety tips. Have questions? Give the school or local police station a call to see what help they can offer.

Join a self-defense class. Self-defense isn’t just for women. Children can benefit from learning some of the strategies used in these classes. The lessons are usually skill-oriented and are not as lengthy or expensive as karate-type lessons. Make sure you talk to the instructor before signing up, as some classes may have age restrictions.

Give an alternative. Every child has some things they don’t want to talk to their parents about. Give your child options about different people they can go to for information or to tell something important too.

These can be adult friends, ministers, teachers, or other close people. As a parent, talk to these people in advance, letting them know it’s ok for them to talk to your kids about tough subjects. Have an agreement that you will share anything that they hear that is troubling or dangerous.

PRACTICE! The best thing you can do for your child is give them the opportunity to practice what you want them to do: practice locking up the house for the night, practice screaming when someone grabs you from behind, practice saying NO to adults who want you to go with them, practice leaving the house in an emergency, practice, practice, practice! When children practice skills, they will be more likely to use them in a real emergency situation.

Nothing can make your child’s world 100% safe, but it is the hope of every parent and every school that their children will be protected from morning until night. By taking a few precautions and teaching good skills, you will be on the road to making your child safer when they’re on their own.

 

Jennifer Cummings

Ms. Cummings, author, and editor of the Education and School Section, she has a B.A.in psychology and an M.Ed. in special education from Framingham State College in Massachusetts. She was an elementary teacher in Massachusetts serving both regular education and special education students. She has taught grades 1,4, and 5.

"I believe that families' involvement in their child's education is one of the key ingredients to creating a successful school experience for children. Keeping parents informed about school-related issues helps parents and teachers work together for the best possible outcomes for their children. Learning together makes learning fun - for everyone!" - Jennifer Cummings.
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