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Keep Kids Safe from Strangers in Summer

Updated on July 25, 2007

Summer poses some unique safety challenges. Vacations, camp, sleepovers, amusement parks, or even just more time at home alone can be great experiences. Make sure you can relax knowing that your child is armed with basic safety skills. Use this summer to build a base of knowledge they can use all year long.

Setting Boundaries

We don't want to frighten children unnecessarily, but it's important to educate them on the threats that are simply a reality of our world. When you present your cautions wisely, children should not be worried and the safety rules you put in place don't have to take away from summer fun.

Teach kids to be smart with strangers. They don't need to be afraid, but they do need to be safe. One wonderful technique is to let children interact with strangers at a park or other public place while you observe. Afterwards, give constructive feedback, reinforcing behavior you'd like to see again and correcting any dangers actions the child may have taken. If a child is afraid of another adult, for whatever reason, validate his fears and let him know that you support his decisions. We don't want skittish kids, but that's better than being over-polite and getting into danger.

Model respectful behavior by telling children clearly when they do or say things you don't like, especially in matters of personal space. Requiring children to respect your boundaries enables them to require that others do the same for them.

Teach kids to create and respect boundaries with siblings and friends as well. Coach a child to use words that encourage negotiation and respect. This goes for physical behavior as well as verbal. When you teach kids to respect each other you also protect them from strangers.

Home Rules

Examine your rules around the house. Have your children grown out of old rules? For example, have they started answering the phone when you are home? This is something you may not want them to do when you're out. What happens when the doorbell rings? In our house kids are allowed to open the door for their friends, but not for any adult. (We can see through the door.) Older kids left home alone shouldn't open the door to anyone.

Role play with younger kids and have older children tell you what they think the rules are. This type of feedback will make any miscommunication apparent. For rules to work, everyone not only has to agree to their use, but you also need the child's buy-in. Explaining why certain rules are in place will help kids understand their necessity.

Even having more unsupervised time to surf the web can pose significant danger. Make sure kids understand issues related to chatting with cyber strangers.

Safety in Summer Activities

Kids may be participating in new activities with people you don't know. While most people are good and therefore most strangers are good, there are a few bad guys. Keep in mind that all future friends and teachers are currently strangers. We don't want to instill such a fear of the unknown in our kids that they become introverted due to irrational fear. In an emergency you want your child to feel comfortable asking for help from a stranger such as a policeman. (Another safe person many parents tell their kids to seek help from is another mother.)

Teach kids it's okay to talk to people they meet at camp or other activity but that they are not to go someplace with them without making sure that you know. Additionally, there shouldn't be a need for young kids to give out personal information such as telephone number or address.

Make sure the child knows if anyone besides you will pick them up from various places. A good rule of thumb is to have a policy with your child that you will tell them beforehand if someone else will be picking them up. They are not to go with anyone without your pre-arranged permission.

Make time and space for kids to ask questions. Just before bed when you are tucking them in often works well. Try asking leading questions or share some of your own experiences to help them open up.

"The first time I went to sleep away camp, I was really excited AND really scared. Do you ever feel that way?" or, "Is there anything you've been wondering or worrying about which you haven't told me?"

Make sure kids know they will not get in trouble for defending themselves. It's okay to hurt somebody in order to stop that person from hurting you. It's important to validate kids' natural instincts to avoid danger. The icky feeling is there by design. By honoring feelings of fear you teach your kids to trust themselves.

Vacation Safety

Make a plan for how will handle certain situations, such as if you and your child are separated. Decide what you'll do if someone is making the child feel uncomfortable. Think about different spaces such as airports, airplanes, rest stops and other bathrooms. Practice in public spaces close to home before a big trip to make sure kids are following your vacation safety rules.

The main thing to instill in kids about being away from home is simply the fact that in unfamiliar surroundings it's important to be more alert than we may be at home.

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