How to best protect a child from harm is a question every parent will ask. At its most fundamental level, it is about striking the right balance between overprotectiveness and overexposure. Despite best efforts to keep a child protected, they will inevitably be exposed to crime, chaos, and confusion well before any of us will ever wish they would. But safety is ultimately the by-product of awareness and preparedness. This means an aware child is a safe child, and a prepared child will always be far more empowered to play a proactive role in ensuring their own certainty for safety.
So what are the best practices for a parent to employ? Here are five protective strategies to help your child prepare today for a safer tomorrow:
1. It is always better to have “the talk” too soon rather than too late.
It doesn’t matter if the concern is about “inappropriate touching” or “safe sex.” As soon as something presents itself as a realistic risk, it’s time to have the talk. Too many parents find themselves so consumed by their fears of the improbable that they blind themselves to the reality of the possible. If you ever find yourself thinking, my child “couldn’t possibly be dealing with that issue now” the answer is, yes, they likely are.
2. Practice makes perfect
It is important to keep in mind that talking to children about safety or just telling them what to do is not enough. Children learn best through active participation. When talking to a child about danger, we want to provide them with simple solutions to problems they can solve themselves, but to do so without raising their level of anxiety. Remember: no one fears what they know well, which means we want them to be engaged in their own decision-making process. Ultimately, to utilize their own problem-solving skills, and then practice those skills in a safe, learning environment. Instead of telling your child to call 911 in an emergency, actually practice (be sure you don’t really call 911, so put your phone in airplane mode). Help your child respond to the dispatcher’s probable question, “What is your emergency?” You can reinforce simple sentences such as “please send the police and ambulance” and remind kids not to hang up the phone. You can also put that information on a piece of paper on the refrigerator where the kids will see it all the time.
3. Don’t make safety scary, make safety fun.
The more you are able to encourage your child to participate in effective and practical strategies that will help to keep them safe, the more natural those strategies will become when they need them the most. If you are visiting an amusement park, or the zoo, or even a shopping mall, have your child pick out a place that is easy to recognize and easy to remember. Since they identified this landmark, they will be more likely to remember it if they get lost or separated from you.
4. Board games offer a treasure-trove of everyday safety strategy.
While board games are a great way to spend quality time together as a family, they also offer the opportunity to engage your children in conversations about what is going on in their life. No matter what game you’re playing, there will be multiple opportunities to initiate a dialogue about a wide variety of subjects and topics. Board games also offer a parent the perfect platform to talk about safety because so much of the success in winning a board game is related to strategy and thinking/talking through how to navigate different scenarios and challenges.
While playing, have your children tell you about their school day or how they felt during the school’s practice fire drill or practice lockdown. Help them to think slowly and methodically and give key details. Ask your child how they made some quick decisions about their safety.
5. Most importantly listen more than you talk.
The more you listen to your child, the more connected the two of you will become, and the safer they will feel — not just emotionally safe — but secure in their comfort to come to you with their concerns, too. Ask questions that will spark their interest, and respond with as many open-ended questions as possible. If you are ever unsure of what one of their questions may mean, or the intention behind such a question, one effective technique may be to “boomerang” the question back onto them: “Mommy, what does bravery mean?” could be easily responded with, “Well, what does bravery mean to you?” Or help them to answer their own question themselves, “Hmmm, well let’s think about this together, which character in The Lion King do you feel was the bravest?” By encouraging your child to take part in the answering of their own questions, you not only encourage them to participate in their own learning process, but you will re-confirm the bond that you have with your child as a shepherd of safety. ◙
About the Author Spencer Coursen
Spencer Coursen is a nationally recognized threat management expert and author of The Safety Trap (St. Martin’s Press, 2021. see below) He is a combat veteran, former supervisory special agent, and private security professional who’s unique global experience has supported an exceptional record of success in the assessment, management, and resolution of threats, conflict resolution, employee terminations, physical security assessments, expert witness testimony, policy authorship, protective intelligence, and vulnerability reduction. Mr. Coursen is the founder of Coursen Security Group (CSG) — a premier threat management firm based in Austin, Texas. CSG provides expert security assessment, consultation, and protective strategy to help organizations, public figures, and private families succeed in staying safe.
Check out Spencer’s new book The Safety Trap on Amazon by Clicking Here