At times, most parents feel a heart-stopping ache of vulnerability about the safety and wellbeing of their kids – because nothing is more precious in our lives than our children!
On a field trip in 1985, I faced the reality of my kids’ vulnerability to violence in a dramatic way. We were in downtown Santa Cruz in the middle of the day when a man threatened to kidnap a group of young children in my care, including my seven-year-old daughter and my four-year-old son. I put myself in between the man and the kids and yelled at him to leave us alone. We were in a face-to-face shouting match until I ordered a bystander to help. When this man moved to stand next to us, the man bothering us ran away.
As you can imagine, this incident left me full of fear and full of questions. How could I have prevented this from happening? What if he’d knocked me down? Was there an unprotected child that he went on to assault?
Kidpower was inspired by my search for answers, first about how to protect my own kids, and then how to protect all children, and finally how to protect everyone, from the misery and tragedy caused by bullying, abuse, kidnapping and other violence.
As loving parents and other caring adults, here are five steps from Kidpower you can take today to protect your kids from harm and empower them with skills for taking charge of their emotional and physical safety.
1. Replace fear, denial, and helplessness with awareness, action and skills. Worry often makes kids anxious without making them safer. Lecturing often makes kids tune out and feel bad without making them safer. Being in denial about the risks of violence is like being in denial about the risk of cars or fire. Children learn best when their adults calmly model making safe choices and enthusiastically rehearse with them the skills they need to be safe. Teach kids about “Stranger Safety,” instead of “Stranger Danger.” Remember that it does not serve children to believe that the world is full of dangerous people called “strangers.” Instead, Kidpower teaches children that most people are good and how to make safe choices with strangers. Teach them about touch in healthy relationships and how to set boundaries with people they know, rather than about “Good Touch/Bad Touch.”
2. Put safety first. Kidpower’s underlying principle is this: The safety and self-esteem of a child are more important than anyone’s embarrassment, inconvenience or offense. Make sure kids are well supervised by trustworthy people until they are truly prepared to manage on their own. Kids are not born knowing how to take care of themselves in many parts of their lives and safety is no exception. Children need their adults to model safe, respectful behavior, to pay attention to what they are doing at all times and to step in quickly when anyone’s behavior becomes unsafe. Don’t just trust someone’s reputation or that of an organization or school. Take the time to get to know everyone who is in charge of your kids and insist on getting answers right away if anything concerns you.
3. Make sure you know what your kids are doing. Safety for children lies in the adults who love them knowing where they are, who is with them and what they are doing. As soon as they are able, teach children to check first with you before they change their plans.
4. Teach kids that problems should not be secrets. Tell children that you love them and that you always want to know if they have a safety problem, even if someone they care about will be embarrassed or upset. Kids who are in the habit of talking to the adults in their lives and who trust these adults will listen will get help sooner and will have the support they need to prevent many problems. Ask your child occasionally in a calm, upbeat way, “Is there anything you’ve been wondering or worrying about that you haven’t told me?”
5. Prepare kids with positive practice of safety skills. Choices made in a few seconds can make a huge difference to a child’s safety. A potentially intrusive hand can be pushed away. A person stopping on the sidewalk can be left quickly by moving away and checking first. Bullying can often be stopped by projecting an attitude of awareness, calm, respect and confidence.
Remember that most of the people who harm children are people they know, so kids need to know how to set boundaries with people they know, including adults and peers, as well as how to stay safe with strangers. Our new Kidpower Book for Caring Adults: Personal Safety, Self-Protection, Advocacy, and Confidence for Young People, available at the Bookshop Santa Cruz and online, shows how to use Kidpower strategies and skills in your daily life with your family, school and youth organization.
On that fateful day in 1985, I was a young mother determined to stop someone who was trying to harm her children. I wanted what every parent wants – to keep her kids safe from all harm and to prepare them to navigate their world with safety and confidence. Over two decades later, I am awed and inspired by what Kidpower has become – and invite you to join me on this journey of working together to create cultures of caring, respect and safety for everyone, everywhere.
Kidpower Teenpower Fullpower International, known as Kidpower, is highly recommended by experts worldwide for taking a positive, skills-based approach to preventing bullying, violence, abuse and kidnapping. Instead of using fear to teach young people about danger, Kidpower makes it fun to learn to be safe, building habits that increase the skills and confidence of kids, parents, teachers and other caring adults that can last a lifetime.
Kidpower has served more than two million people of all ages and abilities, since its founding as a nonprofit organization in 1989, offering workshops through more than 20 centers and offices across the U.S. and around the world, as well as an extensive free library of articles, podcasts and blog posts online and low-cost publications that are used by hundreds of thousands of people every year. Visit Kidpower.org for more information about “People Safety” for children, teens and adults and training opportunities.