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Oregon Family Magazine

Nanny Connection: Child Safety

02/26/2010 ● By Anonymous

I hear other moms talk about teaching their children about personal safety. What all does that include? My kids are under ten years old.

What a great thing to be thinking and talking about! Here are some thoughts you might want to consider: We all have a personal space (“bubble”) around us. This bubble helps keep us safe. It lets us decide how close someone can get to us, and they, how close we can get to them. We change the size of our bubble depending on how we feel (happy, sad, mad, scared, etc.) and our relationships with other people. Our bubble is usually smaller with people we know and trust, like our family and friends, and larger with people we don’t know, like strangers. Our bubble usually changes from large to small as we get to know someone (a new friend, classmates, teacher, doctor, counselor, case worker, etc.).

You can help your child learn to respect other people’s personal space by reminding them about their “bubble”. This is the space they take up when they stand with their arms out to their sides, and turn in a circle (for an adult, a circle about 6 feet wide). Everyone has a “bubble” and we need to ask before entering someone’s bubble (“Can I play with you?”) and tell other people when we do not want them in our bubble (“Please leave me alone”). It’s ALWAYS important to respect other people’s bubbles. This includes: stopping an action when someone asks (hitting, pushing, tickling, etc.); leaving when someone asks; being close if we are able (comforting, hugging, back rub, etc.) when someone asks; etc. You can help your child identify their own and other people’s bubbles in different situations - on the playground, waiting in line, playing sports, etc. As the parent, you have the final say about who your child interacts with, and how; and who interacts with your child, and how.

Strangers are people we don’t know (even if we see them on the street every day). Some strangers are safe, some are not. How do we know? It’s hard to help children learn the difference without stereotyping, but here are some suggestions to help them: Most strangers who help us are safe (teachers, doctors and nurses, ministers and priests, team coaches, scout leaders, etc.). Most strangers in uniforms are safe (police officers, letter carriers, military, etc.). Most strangers who work in stores are safe (cashier, bagger, security, customer service, etc). Most strangers who have dirty or ripped clothes or dirty or messy hair are not (homeless people asking for money, teenagers hanging out on the mall, etc.). Most strangers who seem drunk or “high” (can’t walk straight, talk “funny”, smell like alcohol, etc.) are not safe. There are ALWAYS exceptions to this, so please listen to your child! We do not talk to strangers or give them any information about us (name, address, phone, etc.). We do not give things to them or take things from them. We do don’t get in their car or help them “look for their lost puppy”. Your child should always tell a safe adult if a stranger is bothering them.

Hands can help (feed us, hug us, rub our back, etc.) and hands can hurt (push us, hit us, pull our hair, etc.). Touch can feel safe (hugging, being held, comforted, etc.) and touch can feel yucky (being hugged when we don’t want to, being tickled too much or too long, being touched in private places, etc.). ANY time your child feels that touch is yucky, for ANY reason, they need to tell a safe adult. If the first adult they tell doesn’t believe or help them, they need to keep telling until they find an adult who will. It is important to believe your child because children rarely lie about this. Often the effect is worse if your child thinks they will get in trouble if they tell, or the adult doesn’t believe them or doesn’t do anything to keep them safe. It is NEVER your child’s fault if they are touched in yucky ways.

You can help your child (and yourself) feel safer by making a safety plan. What should they do if you are not available to help them? Who do they know that is safe? Who can they go to for help if they feel unsafe (at home, at school, in the neighborhood, in the community)? How do you want them to act if they are around strangers?

I hope this helps as a starting place. Using this as a guide, you will likely be able to teach your children the values and skills you believe are most important. Good luck!