What’s streetproofing all about? It’s about helping your child identify and react to situations that are uncomfortable, unwelcome or even dangerous. It’s also about encouraging discussions with your child every day, practicing family guidelines and developing an understanding of what’s acceptable and what’s not.
As a parent or guardian you can help make personal safety second nature to your child’s daily activities. You may not be able to follow your child around everywhere, but you can teach your child to trust his/her own instincts and “keep their radar up”.
Here are some basic guidelines you can put in place to help streetproof your child:
Important information. Have your child memorize important addresses and telephone numbers and go over these on a regular basis. Whether it’s your own or that of a trusted neighbour or relative, children need to know where they can go, and whom they should call, if they find themselves lost or in need of help.
Dialing 9-1-1. Instill in your child that 9-1-1 is the number to call if they feel in danger. Point out local payphones in your area, or along your child’s regular route to and from school, and ensure that he or she can confidently use the phone to dial for help.
Stranger alert. Reinforce that strangers come in all shapes and sizes - including people who act friendly. For younger children who may not easily grasp the concept of a stranger, teach them who is not a stranger first, and then explain that everyone else is.
What to do if a car approaches. Explain to your child that adults rarely ask a child for help or directions. Teach them never to approach a stranger's car and to move away from a car that pulls up beside them. If they think they are being followed, they should run to the nearest public place and yell for help. Role-playing different situations such as stepping back from a stranger, saying "no" boldly or running away from a stranger, will help your child feel more confident handling real-life scenarios.
What to do if someone tries to grab them. Teach your child that what’s not normally your idea of “acceptable” behaviour is very okay if anyone tries to grab them against their will. Tell them to drop to the ground and throw a tantrum: kick, bite and scratch; scatter their books or belongings; scream; yell: “this is not my mother/father” or break things to get noticed. Tell them that “anything goes” if it attracts attention.
Personalized attire. Avoid your child’s name on T-shirts, lunch boxes, jackets or jewellery in public. A child is likely to respond to anyone who addresses him or her by name.
Know your child’s world. Take time with your child to check out the neighbourhood. Learn about their world including favourite play areas, preferred routes to and from friends’ houses, and with whom they interact as part of their daily routine.
Turn up the radar. Remind your child to "keep their radar up." Teach your child to watch, listen and trust their instincts. Discuss why it’s never silly to be ‘scared’ and that instinct is one of the best ways to spot and avoid danger.
The ‘no secrets’ rule. Stress the importance of “telling” and make sure your child understands that adults do not keep secrets with children.
Ground rules. Set rules with your child outlining "approved" and "off-limit" areas for playing. Review these rules each time your child goes out and take time to discuss why it’s best for them to avoid isolated parking lots, woods or unpopulated areas.
Check in time. Develop a family check-in procedure. Set a firm time for your child to check in either by phone or in person on a daily basis so you will always know where your child is, whom they are with, and when to expect them home.
Make a point of knowing your child’s friends. Keep a list of their telephone numbers, where they live and get to know their parents. Teach your child never to enter anyone's home without your permission.
The “buddy system”- tried but true. Make it a rule for your child to stay in pairs or groups when they're at the park, the mall, the movies or going to a bathroom in a public place.
When you're late arrange to meet your kids in the community centre, nearby doughnut shop or other public areas. Make sure they never wait in isolated areas such as empty parking lots.
Develop a password with your children and tell them if anyone attempts to pick them up on your behalf, that they must know the password.
Set the house rules. Safety rules for the child home alone and those for the street may be slightly different, but apply the same “stranger alert” principal. Sit down and discuss these with your child; write them out together and post them by the door or phone. Include as part of your list those names of “acceptable” or “parent approved” people who can enter the home.
Start a child identity kit. Your local police can assist you in creating your own child identity kit. Kits usually include: an up-to-date colour photograph of your child, at least one for each year (more for younger children), your child’s fingerprints, a medical and dental history including your child's blood type, medical problems, scars, broken bones, pulled teeth, braces, glasses, medication, allergies, etc. and any other pertinent information.
Need more information on parenting? Your Employee Assistance Program (EAP) can help with a child to elder care resource and referral service that is geared toward enhancing the quality of family life. Call your Employee Assistance Program (EAP) to see if you are eligible for the child to elder care resource and referral service at 1 866.468.9461 or 1.800.387.4765.
For more information about streetproofing your child contact your local police department, or log on to the Stay Alert…Stay Safe national streetproofing organization web site at: www.sass.ca.
* Content for this month’s Balancing Act originated from Stay Alert…Stay Safe reference material and information provided by the Toronto Police Service.
© 2005 WarrenShepell