While you always want to be watching your child closely, realistically it's hard to constantly keep an eye on our kids. That’s why it's important to prepare our little ones to be safe, in case they face dangerous or unexpected situations.
Dr Cath Laws is President of Protective Behaviours, a retired principal and a lecturer at the Australian Catholic University. Cath shares six essential steps to take when teaching children about their personal safety.
Listen to Kinderling Conversation:
1. Give children appropriate language
Children need to understand what being safe actually means. Even before they can talk, use the word ‘safe’ around them, in situations that you believe to be secure. Show them how it feels to be safe, and discuss it: "You’re having a nice cuddle with Mummy now, does this make you feel safe and warm?" Connect them to people and places where they can be comfortable.
2. Create rules
Introducing simple rules for your child to follow will help them to stay safe in certain situations. Tell them they must answer when they are called for, or that they should ask permission from an adult before going anywhere on their own.
3. Explain why an experience is bad
Most of a child’s knowledge is based on what parents teach them. We must explain concepts to them that they have never experienced before. Help your child by describing the reasons why they need to stop at a road: "You are very small and big cars sometimes can’t see you on or near the road." They will begin to understand that rules aren’t for getting in the way of fun, but are in place for important reasons.
Encourage them to think about what is safe for other members of the family, and empower children to think about these things before acting. Ask them, "Is it safe for you to be playing with that sharp pencil so close to your brother’s eyes? What could happen?" It’s also important to find ways to focus on safety without scaring kids - if your child likes to hide while you’re out and you can’t find them, acknowledge that it’s fun to play hide and seek but discuss how it makes Mummy feel when you can’t find them.
4. Recognise the difference between safe and dangerous risks
At times, feeling 'unsafe' can be fun, even if it's scary! Unsafe fun includes a little bit of risk taking, like jumping in the pool or climbing a tree. All kids need to take safe risks; we just need to develop the language around it so they know how to tell the difference between safe risks and putting themselves in real danger.
5. Describe what to do when lost
In busy places like shopping centres or carnivals, point out to your child the security guards and concierge staff, and explain what to do if they lose you. All children should know their full name in case of an emergency.
6. Identify warning signs
Teach them about different types of feelings, and what it’s like to feel safe and unsafe. Help children understand their early warning signs, which are different for everyone. It could be sweaty palms, the heart beating faster, and other signs of adrenalin acting in the body. Tell them to listen to these signs, so they can tell a trusted adult.
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