BUSH: Understanding kids and their fears

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How Can You Protect Them from the Real Dangers?

There are a number of things you can do to help your children protect themselves and still enjoy their childhood. The best defense against violence, abduction and abuse is information. Be truthful and honest with them. The more information children have, the better they will be able to handle any situation. As a parent, you should:

- Always know where your children are and who is supervising them. Make sure that the person(s) looking after your children always know how to reach you.

- Never leave young children alone at home, in a car or in a public place.

- Always go with them to any unfamiliar place when they are young. As they get older, set up a telephone check-in system to confirm their departures and arrivals, and have them carry enough money to call home.

- Have a family code word and teach your children how to use it. Tell them not to go with anyone unless they know and say the family code word. It is important that your children never tell the code word to anyone, but if they do, change it immediately.

- Set up family emergency procedures. Know the names, addresses and telephone numbers of your children's friends. Teach them what to do if you get separated while shopping.

- Teach your children how to get help in an emergency - dial 911 or "0? on the phone; find a policeman, bus driver, school, church, mall security or information desk, store cashier, or a house with a Block Parent sign.

- Teach your children their full name, home address (including city) and phone number (including the area code).

- Let your children know it's OK to say "No" if they think something they are being asked to do isn't right, even by someone they know. If someone tells them to keep a secret from you, they should tell you about it right away.

- Help your children to be comfortable talking about the private parts of their bodies so that, if necessary, they can tell you about "bad touches" (ones that make them feel weird or uncomfortable).

- Play "what if" games with your children. Ask them what they would do in a potentially dangerous situation and listen to their answers. Ask them why and why not, what is right and wrong. Practice how they should answer the telephone. Teach them what a stranger is. It is better to imagine the worse than to experience it!

Your children should know and follow these "streetproofing" rules:

- Don't go anywhere alone; travel in groups. Don't take short-cuts or hitch-hike, and avoid potentially dangerous places including public washrooms.

- Don't accept gifts from strangers or get into a stranger's car. Don't offer to help a stranger; adults don't have to ask children for help.

- If alone, never admit it to anyone on the telephone and don't answer the door or let anyone in.

- Don't be a target. Don't put their name on clothes or equipment; if bags or lunch-boxes must be labeled, do it on the inside.

- Above all else, your children should learn to trust their instincts. If they feel suspicious, scared or threatened, they should do something about it. They should get away as soon and as fast as possible, and tell someone as soon as they can. They shouldn't be afraid to yell out, "You're a stranger. Stop it. Leave me alone," - yelling can attract attention and may bring the help they need. In an emergency, they don't have to be polite!

Authored by: Dr. Matt Devereaux, Associate Professor and Child Development Specialist, Department of Family and Consumer Sciences

For more information, please contact your local UT Extension county agent at 615-563-2554.

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Carla Bush
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