Summer is nearing its end, 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. There were so many, but we picked a few of the top concerns to address in this blog.
Back to school – keeping your child safe……..
Q: 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?
A: 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 walking to school. We recommend he use the buddy system and not walk alone. Children walking alone are more vulnerable, so 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. 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 what the plan of action is if a car/stranger stops to ask/talk to him. Explain: 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. If anything unusual happens along the way, he should always report it to the main office when he arrives at school.
1. Q: 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.
A: A plan of action again 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 (family meetings are a great venue to open this conversation) 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 adult 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).
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” “its grandma you can open door” etc., “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 comfortable. 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? Often, children benefit from a written schedule as to how to spend the alone time.
3. Q: My son is starting Kindergarten and we are leaving the comfort of the preschool where I knew all the parents. What do I do when a kid I don’t know wants to have a play date with my child? I am not comfortable letting my child go to a house where I don’t know the family.
A: This was a tough one for us when our children went to elementary school. We would NEVER send our children to a house if we did not know the family and had not been to the house ourselves. With that said, even if you know the family, there are still some safety questions you have the RIGHT to ask. The safety of your child should always come FIRST, not the concern of offending or hurting the feelings of the parents of your child’s friend.
Let the interested parent know up front how excited you are that the kids are friends and you would like to have play dates. Let them know that you feel it is important for the adults to get to know each other as well. Tell them you are not comfortable with your child going to someone’s house you don’t know Within the same breath, suggest you meet at a park and get to know each other (also great way to observe how the kids play in an unstructured environment). Or, invite the parent with their child to your home for the play date and coffee. You can also go with your child on play date, or have the child to your house. This is a great way to make a new friend yourself. We (Cherie and Sally) have always been so surprised by the parents that allowed their children to come to our houses when they didn’t know us at all. (Although we are the KidSafe Moms). Remember you are the first line of defense in your child’s safety- always keep that in the forefront of your mind.
What if you do know the parents? There are still some good questions you can ask
• Will you be home the whole time? If not, who will be watching the kids? (gives you the opportunity to be comfortable or not with the answer) Personally, we have turned down play dates because we were not comfortable with a nanny or teenage sibling watching them.
• Do you own a gun? Half of Americans have a gun in their home. Even your relatives. Ask if it is locked up secure from the kids. Too many accidental deaths from kids randomly finding a gun.
• Do you let the children play in the parent’s bedroom? We suggest parents bedrooms be off limits to play dates. It is often the place where guns are hidden and perhaps other inappropriate items for children. (Pornography, etc.)
• Does your child have any allergies? This is need to know information.
At the end of the day, you need to trust your instincts as a parent and communicate with your child. We recommend that you sit down as a family and have a discussion about back to school safety. Discuss your child’s concerns and come up with a plan of action that works for your family. For more information and parent tips visit our web site www.kidsafefoundation.org……. If you have a question email us firstname.lastname@example.org. Here is a preview of Q & A for next week:
Q: My daughter’s friends are all on Facebook – she has been away for the summer and unplugged – but when she gets back the issue is going to come up again she is only in 6th grade