It’s hard when your baby birds start leaving the nest. We want them to be independent, but also want to protect them at the same time.
But we (usually) let them spread their wings. We let them go to a friend’s house, ride their bikes around the neighborhood, and attend camps and other places where we can’t oversee their care. And although some of us would like to insert an OnStar device in them or make them carry around a Nanny Cam, deep down we know they’ll be okay.
That being said, we live in a dangerous world, and even the most protected kids should know the basics of safety — and more importantly, what they should do when they encounter a bad situation.
Most safety information available is geared towards kids ages five and up, but experts agree you should start discussing safety issues as early as pre-school. Yes, pre-school. Even if you are the only care taker, even if you are constantly with your child, even if you don’t think it can happen to you. Unless you plan to live in a bubble, you should at least address the basics.
Just make sure you talk about it calmly and in a developmentally-appropraite way, which means no hysterical screaming, crying or Mary Kate and Ashley videos.
It’s important to have “house” rules and then some basic safety guidelines for when you’re outside of your home environment. Here are five important conversations you should address with your child before they enter kindergarten.
1. Gun Safety. According to Pew Research, more than a third of Americans report that either they or someone in their home owns a gun. In a perfect world, these are all stowed and locked away appropriately, but we all know that’s not the case. Teach your kids that if they ever see another child handling a gun they should leave the room immediately, and encourage them to get an adult. Also, tell your child that no adult would ever give permission for a child to handle a weapon, so don’t believe a friend that says he or she is “allowed” to play with it. It’s also important to explain to your child that real guns are different from the ones shown on TV or video games, and can seriously injure a person.
2. Stranger Danger. I hate this one. It is so difficult to teach your kids to be kind and cautious all at the same time. Although child abductions are much rarer than the media portrays, it is still an important conversation to have. According to the site www.mychildsafety.net, you should begin talking to your child about Stranger Danger when they are old enough to play on playground equipment by themselves — even if you are right there. An easy way to explain to your kids about strangers is two-fold: first, explain that adults know they should not approach little kids without their parents. If an adult you do not know is asking a child for help or offering something, they probably aren’t safe. More importantly, kids need to understand that they should never go anywhere without asking their parents permission — which is something even pre-schoolers can comprehend.
3. What to do if they are lost. Although most kids under six are rarely walking around by themselves, it is a very real issue that kids and parents can get separated in a crowded shopping mall, amusement park or grocery store. First, encourage your child to stay put. Explain to them that you will always return to where you were, but you can’t guess where they may go next. Second, make sure your young children know your first and last name and will call out for you. Practice this at home. If you don’t return immediately, tell your child to find another mom with kids and let them know that he or she is lost. Mothers are often the most emotionally invested in ensuring a child is taken care of, and most men are fearful of helping due to the risk of being labeled a predator.
As your child gets older, practice your cell phone number with them. If your child has a problem memorizing the digits, write it down inside their shoe or pocket and let them know they can give it to another mom if you become separated.
4. Inappropriate Touching. I was shocked at my daughters’ four year old check up when my pediatrician told them that even a doctor shouldn’t touch them unless their mom was in the room, but it ended up being a great teaching moment. We went home later that night and talked about “private parts” and how no one should be touching them without Mommy or Daddy knowing. We also discussed that no adult should ever tell them that they shouldn’t tell their parents something.
5. If all your friends jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge. Okay, I learned this one from my dad, but it comes in handy. Peer pressure starts early. One kid says they are allowed to do something and the next thing you know you have a bunch of four year old’s throwing sand at each other on a swanky golf course (may or may not have actually happened.) It’s important to talk to your kids about following your rules, not what another child says. It’s one of those things you shouldn’t have to discuss, but you can’t always count on kids to understand unless it’s implicit.
Safety doesn’t have to be scary if you approach it calmly and rationally, but the important thing is to start discussing these things early and often.
What discussions have you had with your young child?