Do you struggle with the balance between keeping your kids safe and still letting them run off to just be a kid? Certainly the world we live in today has changed and so has the rules regarding child safety. So, LoveToKnow rounded up a true expert in the field of kid protection: please enjoy these words of wisdom in our interview with Samantha Wilson.
About Samantha Wilson
As a former police officer, Samantha has experienced first hand the horrendous things people do to each other. Although this was a tough job, it also taught her some real-time skills turning this experience into an opportunity to educate parents about how to keep their kids safe.
As the author of Safe Kids Safe Families (HarperCollins) and a syndicated columnist, she has become an internationally recognized expert in child and family safety. Her advice has been published in a variety of news avenues from the Chicago Sun Times to Parents magazine. In her words, "the whole point of what I do is to try and reduce fears as a parent. I try to provide the tools to guide them in safety, but then let them go and enjoy their kids - because you can't lock them up forever."
Kidproof Child Safety
Samantha used her unique skills to develop a business educating families in safety matters. Kidproof Child Safety has a strong following in Canada and the United States. In addition to a wealth of safety articles online, her company also holds classes for both kids and their parents. From babysitter skills to Internet safety, the courses cover all the hazards families face today. For more information, visit her websites:
Exclusive Interview with Samantha Wilson
What is the best way to explain "stranger danger"?
The first thing is to stop calling strangers dangerous. You are just increasing the fear of people. As a previous cop, I have seen some horrible things people do to each other. However, I know that there are more people in this world that will help your children, rather than hurt them. You don't want to instill this fear in your children, because a fearful child is really a good target, as their natural instinct to recognize strangeness and dangerousness in people will be clouded because they will be afraid of everybody. Instead, we want to say it is okay to talk to people. I am not suggesting that kids should just wander off and start conversations with people, but while they are supervised and about in the mall, start asking them questions like, "if you were to choose somewhere here to ask for help - who would you choose?" That sort of question will get your child to select someone and then you can ask "why?" Then you can look for opportunities to have a conversation about which strangers are better than others. Help them to look to make the safe choice.
Encourage them to actually talk to people and not be afraid of everyone. It is okay if your kids talk to people. They do it everyday and if we tell them, "don't talk to strangers", we are making a big mistake, because they do talk to strangers everyday!
It is actually more than likely that it would be someone that they know that would hurt them. In my opinion, Stranger Danger is wrong. It makes kids afraid of the wrong people and it gives conflicting advice.
The best way to teach kids appropriate safety with others is to make it a rule they are never to go anywhere with anyone without getting a parents permission first. It is real simple that way. It applies to absolutely everything. This rule is not just about bad guys; it is a rule that applies to everything they do. It also works for you to know where your kids are.
At what age are most kids ready to walk to school alone?
When you think your child might be ready to walk to school alone, go with them a few times. Talk to them along the way and ask them questions like, "what if someone was chasing you, like a bully or maybe you just became afraid for some reason, who would you go to on this street for help?" And discuss it with them. A lot of parents are quite surprised by what their kids will say. Sometimes it is completely off track and then you would know they are not ready!
It is not strangers and abductors that we are truly worried about; it is actually other kids that are usually the problem. So, parents have to shift their focus from perceived fear (abduction) to real fear (bullies). If your kids are going to be walking alone, help them to find safe places along the way in case of trouble. Certain neighbors or even stores are good options - feel free to even ask these people ahead of time.
For those latchkey kids - what are some home-alone safety tips?
- There should always be another adult close by that your child can go to for help. (This should be prearranged.)
- Always make sure the house is completely locked up.
- Have a list of constructive activities - like a to do list of what they should be doing while home.
- Always have a child call their parents as soon as they arrive home to check in.
- Don't allow Internet use while home alone.
Any advice on keeping your kids safe and still allowing them some freedom?
You need to take small, safe baby steps, but although small, they must continue to move forward. Test your kids' ability to make a safe choice along the way. Until you're really ready to let them go on their own, you need to supervise them when you are doing that. Good ways are through scenarios and role plays. Teach them the correct ways to handle situations. They will be ready eventually, and the key thing is talk them all the way through, and start as young as you can.
What is the most important issue for parents to keep in mind?
One of the worst things that parents can do regarding kids safety is shifting the responsibility on to the kids themselves. Unfortunately, with tools and technology, parent's response is to tell the kids, "you need to call me." But wait, remember you are the parent; it is your responsibility to keep your kid safe.
Kidproof Safety Activity
Samantha shared her frustration with schools requiring kids to label their stuff with their names. "These just make it easier for a predator to identify kids and pretend to know them," she explains. Of course, you don't want your child to lose all their jackets and mittens, so Kidproof created a simple, fun activity to reinforce safety while also creatively labeling your kid's school materials.
Together with your children, create a symbol that will represent them, such as two moons and a star. Go to the craft store and buy a fabric pen and label all their school bags, lunch boxes, jackets with this symbol. As you sit together doing this activity, take the time to discuss safety with your child. So the whole process will actually serve a dual function - to label their stuff with a safer symbol and then the symbol also becomes a reminder of the safety conversation. Every time your child will sit down at the cafeteria table and open their lunch box; they will see those two moons and a star. Therefore, the tips and advice you give will constantly stay at the top of their mind when they are away.