When a missing child makes the news, every parent has the same thought flash through their mind: what if that was my child? Unbearable thoughts. This is a good reminder that we should all talk to our children about street safety rules.
First, some facts for parents. Almost all missing children in Canada are taken by a non-custodial parent who could not gain access through the court system. Random abductions are very rare indeed. Canada is a very safe and friendly country. Sadly, most harm that befalls children in our society is inflicted by their family and caregivers, not by strangers.
Still, we need to teach our children safety rules and review them a couple of times a year. I think it’s helpful to approach the subject with children the same way you would fire safety, or Elmer the Safety Elephant. You don't need to discuss what happens to children who are abducted. Simply explain that to be safe when they are away from home, they need to know and apply 5 rules to keep them safe. It’s NOT their job to decide which people are good and bad, or when something is safe or dangerous. It’s only their job to apply the rules every time!
Here are the rules every child should have en-grained in their heads. It comes from an abridged list from the Protective Parenting program created by one of my mentors, the late Larry Nissan.
1. I Won't Go with Someone I Don't Know
This is a rhyme your children should chant in their heads. Have them say it out loud to you. Have them practice saying it out loud to another adult with assertiveness. It's a rule! Children should not have to decide if a person looks like a nice person or a bad person. It's not their job to think, judge and assess. It's only their job to follow the family safety rules.
2. Adults Should Seek Help from Other Adults NOT from Children
If an adult asks for help, go get another adult to help them. That means that even if they are old and have a cast or crutches and need help carrying their groceries to their car; even if they have lost their kitten and also have a picture of that kitten don't help. Here is why – adults try to trick children, so children don't need to think about how “real” the problem looks, they only need to follow the family safety rules. Adults seek help from adults, NOT children. If you are asked for help, tell the adult you will help, by getting your teacher, or parent or some other adult to help them.
3. Family Code Word
Make up a family code word that ONLY your family knows, and keep it in your heads no writing it down on paper to remember. If someone needs to pick up your child for you, tell them the password and then create a new one since that one is now used up. Tell your child to always ask for the password if it's not the pre-arranged parent picking them up.
4. Take Two Steps Back
Always keep two steps back from a car. If a car slows down and asks for directions, take TWO STEPS back from the car. You can give driving directions from the sidewalk. NEVER get into a car for any reason. Even if it's cold or rainy and they can drive you a few blocks home. Not even if they say your mom was in a car accident and they are supposed to take you to the hospital to see her and she didn't have time to give the code. Remind them that since these can be tricky, it's not their job to evaluate the safety of situations, just follow the family safety rules!
5. A Weapon Means SCREAM, YELL, KICK AND RUN
Abductors are also cowards (why else would they be doing this?) and even if they threaten you, they will not chase you if you are running through a parking lot or screaming. If they touch you, make a scene and shout at the top of your lungs: “This is NOT my PARENT!” This is even the case if they hold a gun. They don't want to fire a gun in public and be noticed.
About the Author:
Alyson Schafer is a psychotherapist and one of Canada’s most notable parenting experts. She is the resident expert on The Marilyn Denis Show, CTV News Channel and CBC’s The World This Weekend. Alyson is an “Ask an Expert” Columnist for Today’s Parent Magazine, and sits on the Health Advisory Board for Chatelaine Magazine. Alyson is the best selling author of “Breaking The Good Mom Myth” and “Honey, I Wrecked The Kids” and her latest, “Ain’t MIsbehavin”. She is an international speaker including the inaugural TEDxKids in Brussels and offers free parenting tips at www.alysonschafer.com.