How to ensure that your kids can handle themselves and their own safety when you're not around.

As parents, protection and safety of our children has become second nature to us. But being with them 24/7 is impossible and impractical, which is why you need to educate a child about the potential dangers out there.

However, there's a fine line between raising a street-smart kid and a fearful kid. That’s because there's no easy way to discuss how scary and ugly things can turn to because of a bad judgement call. These tips can help things seem less daunting to your child, while still making them aware of what really is out there.

This is your chance to express your worries about what could happen to them. Ask them questions like “what would you do if a man offered you sweets”, or “what would you say if someone asked you for help?” Apart from discussing how to handle situations, be honest about why you’re telling them these things — people can take them from mummy and daddy forever or harm them. Educate them about the dangers out there, and don't feel like you’re robbing them of their innocence. After all prevention is better than cure, right?

Little things like teaching them the best route back home, or informing you when they leave a place can offer some form of comfort for you and safety for them. Know your neighbourhood and teach them appropriate strategies for when they feel they're in danger. For example, when they're walking home and someone approaches them, tell your child not to go with them — talk loudly to attract the attention of other passers-by to prevent the stranger from doing something mean to them. Or if they feel threatened by a person, knock on the nearest home (caution them not to enter the house) and explain how they don’t feel safe and ask the homeowner to call you right away. It could even be as simple as calling you to come get them from the void deck, and walking away from the lift until you come down because someone is making them uncomfortable.

Whether your child is 2 or 12, the threat of stranger danger is very real. Explain to your child — especially if you frequent parks and other crowded places — that if he can't see you, it means you can't see him and that’s not acceptable. You want to tactfully remind your child why talking to strangers can be dangerous. Start off by defining a “stranger”, according to their age and maturity — for instance when they’re 3 everyone who is not you or family is a stranger, but when they’re 10, they’re better equipped to distinguish people. Tell them that police officers are generally safe.

Beyond physical bullies in school are the cyber bullies. Avoid physical bullies by walking away, going to the teacher for help and just not getting physical. Teach him not to stand up to any bully’s challenge because more often than not the bully is prepared for that challenge. If your child is a target of cyber bullying then encourage him not to respond to the messages or posts — that’s exactly what they want, to get some response. It’s also important to teach kids not to seek revenge because in doing so they become cyber bullies themselves, thereby triggering a vicious circle. Instead ask your child to get evidence of the bullying and report it to the school or you or a trusted adult, and show them their proof — adults should then take necessary measures.

Because saying no to you at bed- and bath-times has consequences, your child may not understand that it's acceptable to say no to others. Explain the different “no” situations — one leaves them tired out and dirty and smelly and no one will want to play with them. Also empower him with the right to reject people, especially adults. Teach them should always say “no” to candy or someone promising a reward if “they follow him”, except a list of trusted adults.

Regardless of where or how old your child is, here are some things he should never do: Reveal that they’re home alone when someone comes over or telephones; go near someone (not a trusted adult) who approaches them from a car; give someone his home address while he’s alone; follow a stranger when lost — unless that person is a uniformed police officer; never let someone else say something threatening — tell them to go to you immediately; and so on.

The little things you do to keep them safe can also put them in danger. For instance never write their name and home address on their bag or water bottle. Anyone can read out their name and call out, pretending the stranger already knows them and giving them a sense of false security. Make them memorise your mobile, home and SOS numbers in case of emergency — turn it into a game or song during car rides but emphasise that it is not to be sung on buses and trains. While briefing them, moderate your tone when expressing your worries or they’ll remember your sense of fear more than the message.

8. THE 5 Ps
These stand for Protect, Prepare, Practise, Praise and Preview. You can apply this to almost anything pertaining to your kid — from crossing the road to self-defence techniques. Be sure to monitor their progress, just so you can ensure you aren’t moving at a pace that's too fast for them. Only when you feel they’re confident and ready to move on to the next lesson, then introduce new concepts.

Photo: iStock

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