How is Safety Instruction for Preschoolers Different than Safety for Older Children?

Preschoolers are developmentally different from schoolage children. They often are not able to distinguish fantasy from reality. They are less coordinated, more trusting, excitable, easily distracted, and less able to think beyond their immediate sensory experiences. As a result, they are less able to problem solve. All of these perfectly normal characteristics make them easier prey for abduction and abuse.

Safety instruction for the preschool age child relies more heavily on the vigilance of the parents. Three, four, and five year old children should be well supervised. They need weekly reminders of the rules for personal safety and reviews of the information that will help keep them safe.

Children of this age are not yet ready to use a secret code to identify an individual with whom they are allowed to talk to or go with someplace. Parents must be certain that any adult their child is with will not release them to anybody, but the individuals listed on an emergency contact sheet. This means schools, clubs, playgroups, or other gatherings for children must have on file and adhere to a list of trusted adults whom they may contact if the parent is for some reason not available for picking them up.

Parents must be ready to stay right by the side of their child in libraries, stores, and playgrounds.

Saying "No!"

Preschool children must be reassured that it is alright to tell an adult "no".

Parents can reassure their child that anytime they feel afraid of an adult, the adult has tried to give them a "bad touch", an adult has invited or demanded that the child go somewhere with them, or an adult has told them to keep something "a secret" from a parent that the child does not have to listen. That they can say no and they will not be wrong. The child can say no and the parent will still love them.

When talking with your child it is best to tackle each of these situations seperately. Most children of this age learn best by doing and will remember how to handle these situations better if you take the time to roleplay each situation with them. Give them the opportunity to practice saying, "No, don't touch me like that." "No, I'm not going with you." "Leave me alone."

Kids' Knowledge is Important

To be safe, preschool children do need the knowledge to help themselves.

Children should be able to recite their own full name, phone number, and address. The youngest children should learn their address backwards. Teach children the name of the town and state in which they live. Second they should learn the street name and the house or apartment number should come last.

Have your child practice dialing their own telephone number as well as being able to recite it. Phone numbers for the youngest children should also be memorized backwards starting with the last four digits, then the exchange number, and finally the area code. If a child is able to name their town and state, then it is easier to call all the exchanges in one area with matching four final digits than it is to call every number in any one exchange area. Children aged four and older can also be taught the 911 emergency number as well as appropriate times to use it. They should also learn their parents' first and last names.

Preschool children should know what to do if someone tries to take them away. Teach your child to yell, "Help, this is not my mommy/daddy!" This is more effective than just yelling, "help" or screaming and crying, since other surrounding adults my think that the child is simply having a temper tantrum. The added line identifies the abducter as someone who should not be carting the child away.

Lost Kid

Preschool children can be taught some basic safety rules in case they ever become lost or seperated from a parent.

Instruct your child to stay close to the spot where they first noticed that they were lost. Tell them to stop and look around. They should look for a close store, cash register, or police or security officer. If they are in a mall or outside on the street, once they see a store they should go in and go directly to the person running the cash register. Explain that often this person will be wearing a store badge, but not always. The child should then explain that they are lost and ask to have the store person help them find their parent.

At a park or playground where there is unlikely to be any regular workers, teach your child to look for a "very old grandma" or a "mommy with little kids" to go to for help.

Safe Touches

It is important for children to distinguish between safe and unsafe touches.

Express to your child that their body is their own and nobody should try to get them to do anything that scares or hurts them. Practice with your child so he/she will feel comfortable telling a friend, adult, or anybody, "No, don't do that." "Leave me alone." "Don't do that to me." in a firm, loud voice.

Talk to your child, letting them know that hugs, kisses, and touches should make them feel happy and good inside. Explain that any hugs, kisses, or touches that make them feel sad, upset, angry, or scared are not the right kind. Let them know that if somebody tries to give them a hug, kiss, or touch that makes them feel upset in anyway, they have the right to say "no!"

Saying no to these touches includes those that you may want to give to your child. But by allowing your child to refuse a hug or kiss when they don't want one from you, gives them the practice and assurance they may need at a later time for a touch that does not have innocent intentions behind it.

Tell your child that every person, including them has private body parts. The private areas of each persons body should not be touched by anyone except for themselves, you as a parent during cleaning or for health or injury reasons, or a doctor for health or injury reasons. It is simplest for a preschooler to understand that their private areas are any body part covered by their swimming suit.

Reassure your child that if anyone ever gives them a bad touch, that it is not their fault. Let them know that they should tell a trusted adult such as you or a teacher as soon as they can. Even if the person that gives them a bad touch tells them its a secret or threatens to hurt them or someone they love they should still tell. Let them know that you will protect them and that secrets about bad touches are not the kind that should be kept secret.

Ignoring Strangers

Tell a child that a stranger is any person that they do not know. Discuss with them that some people may try to talk to them only to get them to go somewhere unsafe or to get the child close enough to carry away.

Explain to your child that they are supposed to ignore strangers. Reasssure them that ignoring a stranger is not being rude it is being safe! Tell them that an adult should never need the help of a child. That if an adult truly needs help they will ask for help from another adult, not a child. Tell them if they can hear a stranger talking to them, they are too close. Let them know they should never go close to a stranger who whispers to them.

Then role play different situations. You play the part of someone driving by in a car asking for directions. Congratulate them when they don't talk to you and turn around and run, not walk, away. Ask for help hunting for a puppy or a kitten, offer them candy or a new ball, whisper to them about a walk to the playground, or pretend to drop something when your arms are full. Each time help your child remember, no talking at all, turn and run away.

Parents' Knowledge Is Important

Parents need knowledge beyond what they explain and rehearse with their children.

Parents must take the responsibility to know about each person with whom their child comes in contact, they must be careful not to let their child wear any clothing or other articles visibly labeled with the child's name, and they need to understand their own child's ability to handle different situations. Be sure to keep in mind that to a preschooler, an older child or teenager is often perceived as an adult. Preschool children will often take the advice or direction of another child because they assume they are adults and that they are supposed to listen to the older child.

As a parent it is your responsibility to know the adults in your child's life. Teachers, club leaders, religious leaders, activity instructors, coaches, baby sitters, and others with whom your child spends any time are the very people you need to scrutinize and question. Don't assume just because they are in a position of authority that they have earned this trust. Check into their background. Do they have a police record? Where did they last work? Do they have references? Have they undergone a child care background check? Your child is more likely to be easily influenced by an adult they are familiar with, one whom is in a position of authority, so it is your job to assure that these individuals deserve your trust.

Make sure that your child does not wear clothing, a back pack, jewelry, or any other item labeled with their name. Child abductors will use any bit of information they can to lure a child away. Using the child's own name, makes the child feel as though they are not a stranger, but rather a friend. If you must label clothing or athletic equipment for school or sports mark the clothing on the inside hem or tag. Label equipment on the bottom or inside where it can be identified as belonging to your child, but not so that their name can be read by a passerby.

Take the time to think about your child's ability to handle unusual situations. Are they easily intimidated? Overly friendly? Talkative? Do they feel stressed in new situations? How well has role playing gone? Remember that just because your child may be bright does not mean they are emotionally prepared to avoid abusive situations. Keep practicing and talking with your child. But remember at the preschool age, there is no substitute for direct, trusted supervision of your child.

Instill Confidence

One of the best ways to help your child stay safe now and throughout their lifetime is helping them to develop a positive self-concept. When a child has good self-esteem they will have the confidence they need to say "no!" when it is necessary. Confidence will keep them calm and thinking clearly in unusual and potentially dangerous situations. Confidence will allow them to be brave enough to let you know if abuse has occured. Confidence will help them walk tall and speak in a self-assured manner therefore avoiding being the easy prey that child abusers seek out.

You can instill confidence in your child by loving them, listening to them, and believing them. That's all it takes.

Love them enough to do your part to protect them, be patient and do not berate them when they are acting in a frustrating manner or struggling with a new skill.

Listen to them so they will talk to you, now and in the future. Take the extra ten minutes needed to listen to their day at school, their playtime with their friend, or their tears over a mistake in a game. Listening to the simple daily events reassures them that you will listen when the subject is more frightening or confusing.

Believe them when they talk to you about abusive situations. Whether they have been bullied on the playground, challenged with a dare, or taken advantage of by an adult or other child listen to their explanation. Believe what they have told you even if you don't want to, even if it makes you uncomfortable. Stay calm. Reassure them that it was not their fault. Tell them you will protect them. Then take any steps necessary to make sure it won't happen again. Enlist the help of a school or other institution, other parents, or the police as the situation justifies.

Helpful Links