Child Safety Tips

February 27, 2007 12:00 am

How can I keep my child safe?

•Make sure you know where each of your children is at all times. Know your children's friends and be clear with your children about the places and homes they may visit. Make it a rule for your children to check in with you when they arrive at or depart from a particular location and when there is a change in plans. You should also let them know when you're running late or if your plans have changed to show the rule is for safety purposes and not being used to "check up" on them.

•Never leave children unattended in a vehicle, whether it is running or not. Children should never be left unsupervised or allowed to spend time alone or with others in vehicles as the potential dangers to their safety outweigh any perceived convenience or "fun." Remind children to never hitchhike, approach a vehicle or engage in a conversation with anyone within a vehicle they do not know and trust, or go anywhere with anyone without first getting your permission.

•Be involved in your children's activities. As an active participant you'll have a better opportunity to observe how the adults in charge interact with your children. If you are concerned about anyone's behavior, take it up with the sponsoring organization.

•Listen to your children. Pay attention if they tell you they don't want to be with someone or go somewhere. This may be an indication of more than a personality conflict or lack of interest in the activity or event.

•Notice when anyone shows one or all of your children a great deal of attention or begins giving them gifts. Take the time to talk to your children about the person and find out why the person is acting in this way.

•Teach your children they have the right to say NO to any unwelcome, uncomfortable, or confusing touch or actions by others and get out of those situations as quickly as possible. If avoidance is not an option, children should be taught to kick, scream, and resist. When in such a situation, teach them to loudly yell, "This person is not my father/mother/guardian," and then immediately tell you if this happens. Reassure them you're there to help and it is okay to tell you anything.

•Be sensitive to any changes in your children's behavior or attitude. Encourage open communication and learn how to be an active listener. Look and listen to small cues and clues indicating something may be troubling your children, because children are not always comfortable disclosing disturbing events or feelings. This may be because they are concerned about your reaction to their problems. If your children do confide problems to you, strive to remain calm, noncritical, and nonjudgmental. Listen compassionately to their concern, and work with them to get the help they need to resolve the problem.

•Be sure to screen babysitters and caregivers. Many states now have a public registry allowing parents and guardians to check out individuals for prior criminal records and sex offenses. Check out references with other families who have used the caregiver or babysitter. Once you have chosen the caregiver, drop in unexpectedly to see how your children are doing. Ask your children how the experience with the caregiver was, and carefully listen to the responses.

•Practice basic safety skills with your children. Make an outing to a mall or park a "teachable" experience in which your children practice checking with you, using pay telephones, going to the restroom with a friend, and locating the adults who may be able to help if they need assistance. Remember, allowing your children to wear clothing or carry items in public on which their name is displayed may bring about unwelcome attention from inappropriate people looking for a way to start a conversation with your children.

•Remember there is no substitute for your attention and supervision. Being available and taking time to really know and listen to your children helps build feelings of safety and security.

What can be done to lessen the opportunity for abduction and kidnapping?

•Teach your children to run away from danger, never toward it. Danger is anyone or anything that invades their personal space. If someone should try to grab them, tell them to make a scene; loudly yell this person is not my father/mother/guardian; and make every effort to get away by kicking, screaming, and resisting. Their safety is more important than being polite. Teach your children that if they are ever followed in a vehicle to turn around and run in the other direction to you or another trusted adult.

•Never let your children go places alone, and always supervise your young children or make sure there is a trusted adult present to supervise them if you cannot. Make sure your older children always take a friend when they go anywhere.

•Know where your children are and whom they are with at all times. Remind children never to take anything or respond in any way if approached by someone they don't know. Teach them to run away as quickly as they can to you or another trusted adult.

•Talk openly to your children about safety and encourage them to tell you or a trusted adult if anyone or anything makes them feel scared, uncomfortable, or confused. Discuss security issues with your children so they will understand the need for precautions. Advise your older children about steps they may take to help safeguard themselves. Know your children's friends and their families. Pay attention to your children and listen to them. If you don't, there's always someone else who will. And others may have ulterior motives for befriending your children.

•Practice what you teach by creating "what if" scenarios with your children to make sure they understand the safety message and can use it in a real situation.

•Consider installing an alarm system in your home with a monitoring feature. Make sure your home is secured with deadbolt locks, and ensure landscaping around it doesn't provide places for people to hide. Check other access points such as gates, and make sure they have been secured. Consider installing exterior lighting around your home. Make sure your home is fully secured before you go to sleep and items such as ladders have been stored inside. Prepare a plan to vacate your home in case of any emergency. This should include but is not limited to a fire. Have a plan if an intruder tries or gets into your home.

•Make your children part of securing your home. If you have installed an alarm system, demonstrate it to your children and show them how to make sure doors and windows are locked. This will not only help calm their fears but will also help make them part of your "safety plan" at home.

•Have a list of family members who could be contacted in case of an emergency. Designate a family member or close associate who would be able to fill the role of advisor in case of an emergency.

•Be alert to and aware of your surroundings. Know the "escape routes" and plan what you would do in different emergencies. Practice "what if" scenarios, so you will be well prepared. Know the location of local hospitals and best routes to take to reach them. Know how to reach the nearest local lawenforcement agency or sub-station.

•Know your employees and coworkers. Do background screening and reference checks on everyone who works at your home, particularly those individuals who care for your children. Their knowledge of your family is extensive so make sure you have an equivalent understanding of whom they are.

•Consider varying your daily routines and habits. Do not take the same routes or go at the same time on your regular errands. If you take your children to school, change that route as well.

•Take steps to secure personal information about yourself. Consider getting a post office box and registering everything you may there including your vehicles and drivers' licenses. Have personal bills sent to your place of work or the post office box. Be discreet about your possessions and family's personal habits and information.

•Report any suspicious persons or activities to law enforcement. If you feel you or your children have been targeted or are being stalked, immediately report this information to law-enforcement authorities. Do not wait.

•Remember you are your best resource for better safeguarding your family. Do not become complacent about personal security issues.

How can my child be safe when walking to and from school?

•Instruct your child to always TAKE A FRIEND when walking or riding his or her bike to and from school. It's safer and more fun to be with your friends. Walk and ride in well-lit areas, and never take shortcuts. When walking and biking stay aware of your surroundings and observe all traffic rules in place to more safely share the roads and sidewalks with others.

•Even though there is safety in numbers, it is still not safe for young children to walk to and from school especially if they must take isolated routes before or during daylight. Always provide supervision for your young children to help ensure their safe arrival to and from school.

•Your child should stay with a group while waiting at the bus stop. If anyone bothers your child while going to or from school, you should teach him or her to get away from that person, and TELL you or another trusted adult. If an adult approaches your child for help or directions, remember grownups needing help should not ask children for help; they should ask other adults.

•You should visit the bus stop with your children and learn the bus number. This will avoid confusion for your children about knowing which bus to ride.

•Instruct your children if anyone they don't know or a person who confuses, scares, or makes them feel uncomfortable offers a ride, say NO. Children should never hitchhike. Also children should never accept a ride from anyone unless you have told them it is OK to do so in each instance.

•Tell your children that if anyone follows them on foot to get away from him or her as quickly as possible. If anyone follows them in a vehicle they should turn around, go in the other direction, and try to quickly get to a spot where a trusted adult may help them. Advise them to be sure to TELL you or another trusted adult what happened.

•Teach your children if anyone tries to take them somewhere they should quickly get away and yell, "This person is trying to take me away" or "This person is not my father/mother/guardian." If anyone tries to grab them, teach them to make a scene and every effort to get away by kicking, screaming, and resisting.

•Children should be taught to never leave school with anyone they don't know. They should always CHECK FIRST with you or another trusted adult. If anyone tells them there is an emergency and they want your child to go with them, your children should always CHECK FIRST before doing anything. Make sure your children understand to TELL a trusted adult if they notice anyone they don't know hanging around the school.

•Walk the route to and from school with your children pointing out landmarks and safe places to go if they're being followed or need help. Make a map with your children showing acceptable routes to school, using main roads, and avoiding shortcuts and isolated areas. The map will be a good guide if your children ever need help finding their way.

•Remember to practice these safety rules with your children to make certain they really know and understand them. Make the walk to and from school a "teachable moment" and chance to put their skills to the test.

What about when my child is home alone, especially after school?

•Determine if there are other community resources or organizations providing after-school care or support.

•Ask your child how he or she feels about being alone. Is your child afraid to be left alone, or does he or she have the maturity and initiative to want to assume that responsibility?

•Decide if you feel your child can follow directions and solve problems on his or her own.

•Determine how long your child will be alone, how accessible you or another trusted adult will be in case of an emergency, and how safe the neighborhood is by contacting your local law-enforcement agency and checking the incidence of crime in your neighborhood.

•Make sure you've set specific rules to be followed by your child while he or she is alone, and give your child specific instructions about how to reach you at all times. This should also include information about what to do if your child needs assistance and can't reach you right away.

•Remember you're in charge, even if it is from a distance.

•Once you've decided to proceed, you should check to make sure your child knows: his or her full name, address, and telephone number; your full name, the exact name of the place where you work, your work telephone number, and any pager or cellular telephone numbers you may have; how to make a telephone call to request help in an emergency using 911 or the appropriate number(s) in your area.

What are the most important things parents should tell children about safety?

•Always check first with a parent, guardian, or trusted adult before going anywhere, accepting anything, or getting into a car with anyone.

•Do not go out alone. Always take a friend with when going places or playing outside.

•Say no if someone tries to touch you, or treats you in a way that makes you feel scared, uncomfortable, or confused. Get out of the situation as quickly as possible.

•Tell a parent, guardian, or trusted adult if you feel scared, uncomfortable, or confused.

•There will always be someone to help you, and you have the right to be safe.

What should a parent know when talking to a child about safety?

•Don't forget your older children. Children aged 11 to17 are equally at risk to victimization. At the same time you are giving your older children more freedom, make sure they understand important safety rules as well.

•Speak to your children in manner that is calm and non-threatening. Children do not need to be frightened to get the point across. In fact, fear can thwart the safety message, because fear can be paralyzing to a child.

•Speak openly. Children will be less likely to come to you about issues enshrouded in secrecy. If they feel that you are comfortable discussing the subject at hand, they may be more forthcoming.

•Do not teach "stranger danger." Children do not have the same understanding of "strangers" as adults; the concept is difficult for them to grasp. And, based on what we know about those who harm children, people known to children and/or their families actually present greater danger to children than do "strangers."

•Practice what you preach. You may think your children understand your message, but until they can incorporate it into their daily lives, it may not be clearly understood. Find opportunities to practice "what if" scenarios.

•Teach your children that safety is more important than manners. In other words, it is more important for children to get themselves out of a threatening situation than it is to be polite. They also need to know that it is okay to tell you what happened, and they won't be tattletales.

How can I protect my child when he/she goes onthe Internet?

•Choose search engines carefully. Some are specifically designed for kids, and others offer kid-safe options.

•Tell kids when they come across any material making them feel scared, uncomfortable, or confused to immediately tell you or another trusted adult.

•Help kids find information online. By searching the Internet together you help them find reliable sources of information and distinguish fact from fiction.

•Many Internet service providers (ISPs) offer filters to prevent kids from accessing inappropriate sites. Talk to your ISP about what safe-search options they offer. Remember, as a consumer you have a right to choose an ISP with the services meeting your family's needs.

•Talk with your kids about their e-mail accounts, and discuss the potential risks involved.

•Before you sign up with an ISP research the effectiveness of its spam filters. You may also purchase spam-filter software separately.

•Teach kids not to open spam or e-mails from people they don't know in person. Remind them not to respond to any online communication in a sexually provocative way. Ask them to show you suspicious communications.

•If your kids receive Ee-mail containing threats or material making them feel scared, uncomfortable, or confused, report it to your ISP. Your ISP's address is usually found on the service's homepage.

•Report e-mails with evidence of online sexual exploitation, such as child pornography, to the CyberTipline at www.cybertipline.com or 1-800-843-5678. NCMEC will refer your report to the appropriate law-enforcement agency.

•Urge kids to restrict access to their profiles so only those on their contact lists are able to view them. Explain to them unrestricted posting of profiles places their personal information in a public forum and could put them at risk from those who wish to take advantage of such information.

•Encourage them to choose gender-neutral screennames or nicknames — such as their initials or a word. Make sure the name doesn't include information revealing their identity or location.

•Remind kids to use the privacy settings on social-networking sites to restrict access to their "spaces" or blogs to only people they know in person.

•Visit social networking sites with your kids, and exchange ideas about what you think is safe and unsafe.

•Ask your kids about the people they are communicating with online.

Insist your kids never give out personal information or arrange to meet in person with someone they've met online without first checking with you.

•If your kids receive an IM from someone they don't know, tell them to block the sender. Remind kids to IM only people they know in person and who have been approved by you.

•Encourage your kids to think before typing, "Is this message hurtful or rude?" Also urge your kids not to respond to any rude or annoying messages or ones making them feel scared, uncomfortable, or confused. Have them show you such messages.

•Use P911. What's a P911? It's shorthand for "parent alert" — a code some kids use to let others know a parent or guardian is watching. If you have trouble translating your kids online "lingo," visit www.NetSmartz.org. There you'll find a list of popular terms and abbreviations used in IM and chatrooms.

•Kids should use webcams or post photos online only with your knowledge and supervision.

•Remind your kids to ask themselves if they would be embarrassed if their friends or family saw the pictures or video they post online. If the answer is yes, then they need to stop.

•Remind kids to be aware of what is in the camera's field of vision and remember to turn the camera off when it is not in use.

•Caution kids about posting identity-revealing or sexually provocative photos. Don't allow them to post photos of others — even their friends — without permission from their friends' parents or guardians. Remind them once such images are posted they relinquish control of them and can never get them back.

What can I do to make sure my child is safe during the summer, when school is out?

•Be sure to go over the rules with your children about whose homes they may visit when you're not there and discuss the boundaries of where they may and may not go in the neighborhood.

•Make sure children know their full names, address, and telephone numbers and how to use the telephone. Be sure they know what to do in case of an emergency and how to reach you using cellular or pager numbers. Children should have a neighbor or trusted adult they may call if they're scared or there's an emergency.

•Caution children to keep the door locked and not to open the door or talk to anyone who comes to the door when they are home alone. If you have arranged for a family friend or relative to stop by, make sure your children feel comfortable being alone with that person. Make certain they understand not to tell anyone who calls they are home alone.

•Don't drop your children off at malls, movies, video arcades, or parks. These are not safe places for children to be alone. Make certain a responsible adult supervises your younger children at all times when they are outside and away from home.

•Teach your children in whose vehicle they may ride. Children should be cautioned to never approach any vehicle, occupied or not, unless accompanied by a parent, guardian, or other trusted adult.

•Make sure your children know to stay away from pools, canals, or other bodies of water without adult supervision.

•Since daylight lasts longer during the summer months, be sure your children know their curfew and to check in with you if they are going to be late. If you allow your children to play outside after dark, make sure they wear reflective clothing and stay close to home.

•Choose babysitters with care. Obtain references from family, friends, and neighbors. Many states now have registries for public access to check criminal history or sex-offender status. Observe the babysitter's interaction with your children, and ask your children how they feel about the babysitter.

•Check out camp and other summer programs before enrolling your children. See if a background screening check is completed on the individuals working with the children. Make sure there will be adult supervision of your children at all times, and make sure you are made aware of all activities and field trips offered by the camp or program.

•Investigate daycare settings thoroughly before placing your children. Make certain the center or family-daycare home is licensed; completes full background screening for all employees at, volunteers of, and others affiliated with the facility; and allows parents and guardians to freely come and go as they wish. Observe the personnel and activities several times before making your decision and visit unannounced after placement.

•Be sure all custody documents are in order and certified copies are available in case your children are not returned from a scheduled summer visit.

•Always listen to your children and keep the lines of communication open. Your children are your best source for determining if everything is okay. Teach your children to get out of dangerous or uncomfortable situations right away and practice basic safety skills with them. Make sure they know they are able to tell you about anything that makes them feel scared, uncomfortable, or confused.

SOURCE: National Center for Missing & Exploited Children