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Teaching your kids to be safe — and stay safe.

Even though you must entrust your children to the supervision of other adults at times, you can teach them to avoid harmful situations involving not only strangers, but possibly even someone they know.

While the slogan “stranger danger” may have been well intentioned years ago, it sadly falls short of the reality. According to the Crimes Against Children Research Center (Figure 9), 80 percent of offenses against children are committed by a family member or acquaintance. What’s more is that cultivating a distrust of all strangers may actually do more harm — after all, police officers, firefighters, and even a good Samaritan may be strangers, but exactly the people your children should turn to in a dangerous situation.

Guide them to trust their instincts and say “no.”

The best thing you can do is teach your children to be aware of their surroundings at all times and to follow their instincts — if something doesn’t feel right to them, it probably isn’t. Empower them with your permission to say “no” when, for example, they don’t want to be hugged by one of their friends’ parents. Make sure your kids understand that they are not expected to be polite by agreeing to a request that makes them uncomfortable.

Talk to your kids about safety, frequently.

Remember that predators, whether they are total strangers or acquaintances, create ruses that draw on young children’s sympathies and trust. They will often trick children into looking for a lost pet or use a puppy to lure them into a car. Ask them: “What would you do if we got separated at the park or the mall?” Or, “What if one of your friends has access to a gun?” Think of the possible scenarios, teach them how to respond, and rehearse it over and over again.

More importantly, encourage a “no secrets” atmosphere at home. Let your kids know that they won’t get in trouble for breaking a secret someone else asks them to keep. This gives them permission to keep you informed of possible harmful activity.

Get to know your kids’ friends, as well as their parents.

It’s not always easy for young children to recognize a potentially dangerous situation, especially when visiting a friend’s house. Do everything you can to meet other parents in person. When dropping off your kids, go inside with them just to get a read on the surroundings, and don’t be afraid to ask if that family keeps guns in the house that are, or aren’t, locked up.

There will be many times a friend or neighbor will suggest going out for ice cream or sharing a ride home, which may be perfectly safe. But it’s best to instill in your children the practice of always asking you first. This lets your kids off the hook by removing all judgment from the equation and keeping the responsibility on you.

For more information.

There can be so many variables when it comes to teaching your kids to be safe; that’s why I encourage you to engage with your physician, your children’s teachers, and other parents. In the meantime, check out this helpful resource:

FBI Kids Safety Tips

Laura Calili, MD

Author of this Article

Laura Calili, MD, specializes in pediatrics. She is a guest columnist and located at Riley Physicians Pediatrics – MMP South, 8820 S. Meridian Street, Suite 125, in Indianapolis. She can be reached by calling the office at 317.865.6600.

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