Summer is drawing to a close, and we are getting our kids ready for back to school. So we asked our mom friends if they had any questions or concerns about their children’s safety. Here are a few of the top concerns:
Question #1: Walking to School
My child will be walking to school this year. He is in 5th grade and I want to give him safety skills without scaring him. What should I tell him?
Sit down with your child and talk to him about a plan of action for walking to school. Make sure your child is comfortable with it. We recommend he use the buddy system and not walk alone because children that walk alone are more vulnerable. You should set up a group for your child to walk with – other children or perhaps a grown-up that you trust to walk with them. Children are always safer in numbers.
“What If” Scenarios
Outline the route to school for him. Don’t take shortcuts and stay on the sidewalk. Do some dry runs with your child before school starts. Discuss “what if?” scenarios while you are walking. What would you do if it started raining while you are walking? What if a neighbor offers you a ride? Discuss all options – help your child learn the safest and smartest choice. A child should check first by using their cell phone.
Review the plan of action if a car/stranger stops to talk to him. Explain that adults should not ask children for help. They should ask adults. He should NEVER get into a conversation with a person in a car. He should yell “NO!” run and go tell a trusted adult. Explain to him that he does NOT have to be polite to an adult he doesn’t know. His safety always comes first. And if anything unusual happens along the way, he should always report it to the main office when he arrives at school.
Question #2: Home Alone
I have to go back to work and my 10 and 6 year-olds will have to be home alone for two hours in the afternoon before I return home from work. I am a wreck! What do I teach them about being home alone? My 10 year old has never been home alone.
Let Them Know What to Expect
Again, a plan of action is a great start. Think about it: When you know what to expect as an adult, you are more comfortable and confident. It is the same for our children. Sit down with your children and discuss a plan of action for staying home alone. Begin by simply explaining the new schedule and explaining that he will be home alone for a few hours each day. Ask your child how he feels about that. See what areas of concern he/she has.
Make a plan with your child as to what the guidelines are for the home alone time. What are the two important steps to take once the kids are in the house? (Lock the door, and call to let designated adults know you are home.) Can they use the microwave? The computer? What should they do if there is a medical emergency? Can they watch TV? Do Homework? Shower? Show your child where the list of emergency numbers are next to the house phone (four trusted adults, including a neighbor, and emergency services).
Never Answer the Door
Here is the most critical skill: We recommend you teach your children to NEVER answer the front door. If there is a knock on the door they should go directly to the phone (not peek to see who it is) and call the first person on their list. It is the responsibility of the adult to decide how they would like their child to proceed – then tell your child what to do (“Great job checking first with me – don’t answer the door – I am not expecting anybody” or “its grandma you can open door” or “stay on the phone with me until they leave.”) Children should not be answering the phone unless you have caller ID and you have decided beforehand (in your plan of action) which numbers/people they can connect with while home alone. KidSafe recommends children not use the internet while home alone – unless they check first with you. We also recommend no friends while your kids are home alone.
Set these guidelines with your child. Let them know the boundaries they have. This is an ongoing conversation. Practice leaving them alone before school starts to get into the habit and get more comfortable with the idea. Have a neighbor knock on the door to see how they respond. Use this for further discussion of the seriousness of not answering the door while home alone. It takes practice to break the habit of answering the door.
Sometime during the first week of school have a check-in conversation with your child. Ask how it is going? What is tough? Frightening? What is working? Keep the lines of communication open, and the school year should go smoothly.