With the recent spate of crimes against children, it seems like the world has become a dangerous place and we cannot let our children out safely. Some parents (very naturally) take the over-cautious side and prefer not sending their children out at all.

A parent of a 13-year-old recently called me to cancel her daughter’s appointment as she felt she could not send her to therapy alone by rickshaw. The mother had also stopped sending her daughter to school picnics and friend’s parties, and insisted on taking sessions on the days she could accompany her daughter to therapy. “Everyday the newspaper is filled with horror stories, how can I trust that my daughter will be safe”, she lamented.

But is confining a child really the solution?

It’s unrealistic to feel we can control negative events from happening but it’s more realistic to think we can reduce the probability it will happen.

Here are a few tips on what parents can do to keep their children safe in a variety of situations.

At home and in the neighbourhood (playground, building compound)

  • Know where your child is at all times. Take an active role in your children’s activities. If you are at work and your child is looked after by help/daycare then check-in every couple of hours to know what your child is doing.
  • Keep your ears open: Even though you may be tired, listen to your child’s daily activities. Watch for statements like “This uncle met me in the park and offered me…” or “Last night I had a bad dream that someone was hitting me….” Usually children are sensitive to their parents’ moods and may not relate inappropriate behavior they experience because they don’t want to worry them. Work hard to establish trust and patience with your child.
  • Help children memorize family phone numbers. This includes the home landline number and parents’ mobiles numbers. Children can begin learning this as early as age 4.
  • Teach your child responsibility and reporting from a young age. Kids who play in the building compound should be instructed “If you are leaving the compound inform me first. If you are going to shift location to a
    friend’s house, let me (or anyone at home) know”
  • Teach your children that they can be rude to an adult if they feel threatened in any way. They need to hear it from your directly because this message often contradicts everything they have heard before.

Outside home with family

  • Don’t ever leave children unattended in a vehicle, whether it is running or not.
  • Question and monitor anyone who takes an unusual interest in your children.
  • In Public places instruct your child about what to do if they are separated from you… “Go to the nearest information desk and ask for me.”
  • With toddlers avoid letting them out of your sight for even a few seconds. Statistics show that a few seconds is all it takes for a child to get lost.

At a party/picnic/overnight excursion

1. When sending your child to a picnic or party alone make sure you have names and addresses of their friends’ parents.
2. Ensure your child has memorized atleast 2 family numbers
3. If sending your child alone on an overnight trip give them extra money as a reserve. Write down phone numbers and emergency contact numbers on a piece of paper and put in an obvious place in the bag.
4. Drill the “no talking/responding to strangers” rule firmly.
5. Make sure children are supervised appropriately. Ideally children below 10 should be under adult supervision at all times.

At School:

  • Be sure your child knows that no one is allowed to pick him up unless you or another parent (guardian) has designated that person to pick them up.
  • Let your child know that if someone is late to pick him/her up to inform the teacher and wait in the school.
  • Tell the child never to leave the school with a stranger, no matter what.
  • Talk to your child about the seriousness of taking weapons to school. Be sure he is aware that he should tell someone in authority IMMEDIATELY if he sees or hears that another child has brought a weapon.

Other tips:

  • Enrol your child in a basic self-defense programme such as karate
  • Have ready pictures of your child: a recent full size photo as well as a passport size photo. Know their current height weight and other distinguishing physical characteristics.
  • Teach children the difference between a good touch and bad touch. Explain body parts that an adult can touch and places that are “no touch” zones.
  • Have your children practice their most annoying scream. They may need to use it someday.

5 Safety Tips kids should know

(Adapted from www.huffingtonpost.com)

1. Know your name, surname and full address. Learn the numbers of your home phone and your parents’ cell phone.
2. It is okay be RUDE to a grown-up if you feel you are unsafe (such as if the stranger touches inappropriately or asks inappropriate questions.)
3. Don’t let anyone on the phone or at the door know that you are home alone.
4. If you ever get lost in a mall, ask the closest store attendant for help and then stay where you are until you are found.
5. If you are ever “scooped,” (picked up suddenly without warning, by a stranger) scream, kick, bite and FIGHT as hard as you can to get away! NEVER trust what the “scooper” tells you.

The famous Psychologist Erik Erikson denoted “Trust Vs Mistrust” the first stage of psycho-social development in a child. When a child learns to view the world as a basic trustworthy place he also develops healthy beliefs about who he can and cannot trust.

From a young age, parents need to teach children basic safety rules without instilling unnecessary fears.

Dr Shishir Palsapure, Psychotherapist with Care Hospital cautions parents “Talk about realistic risks of danger rather than scaring children. Tell them such things can happen and they need to be careful but not paranoid about dangers. This way you will build a neutral view of the world with safe and unsafe situations. And children will not develop generalised anxiety”

Teaching a child how to protect himself is just like teaching any other social-emotional skill, so parents need to ensure it is done without making it seem like the world itself is a scary place.