Driving to work this morning, I was stuck in traffic on the 2 Freeway and I looked up to the overpass and watched as two kindergarten-aged children walked across the pedestrian bridge alone. I took the next off-ramp and circled back until I could see that they were not alone.
It is a hot day in July. You visit your sister’s house. The children are anxious to get in the swimming pool. You help the children into their swimsuits and then you and your sister retire to the kitchen to talk and share a cup of coffee. Hardly!
Our minds have been trained to think of swimming pools or any unprotected water as a potential threat. We automatically shift into protection mode when young children approach water. One adult for every two children in the pool! We understand the importance of that rule and wonder who was not paying attention when a child drowns at a birthday party or in the neighbor’s back yard.
We need to create a similar alert watchfulness for young children when they are outside of our homes. This heightened attentiveness does not mean that we alarm our children, become tense, nervous and lash out at the child; rather, we become so practiced in our protective behavior mode, that we can shift into this gear without creating any anxiety in our children. We remain relaxed and natural but with a new set of instincts that change our level of alertness when we are in circumstances where our children might be in danger.
Thankfully, most of our children’s activities are contained within schools, playgrounds, and homes. But it is on the edges of these safety zones that danger can lurk. It is the child that strays away from the group, becomes the straggler at the park or when walking to school that is quickly identified as a potential victim by the practiced predator. Most children under the age of five or six are unable to understand danger, whether it is drowning in the neighbor’s pool or being snatched by a stranger or molested at school. They need to have adequate supervision and simple, concise rules of behavior and communication in order to keep them safe.
The vulnerability of the young child requires that we as adults stay alert and pay attention. There are thousands of stories of adults intervening in the nick of time to protect a child from danger. This can be from accidents, assaults by strangers, and even from abuse by their own families or caretakers. We have a collective responsibility to protect every child from abuse and violence.
In order to begin changing our mindset, let’s look at some simple, but effective, rules that will protect your child.
Rules: Part One
- When outside the home, young children must be in the direct line of vision of an attentive caretaker at all times.
- Parents must directly participate in the child’s activities whether they are at home or playing with friends.
- Create a place in your backyard or common areas where children are safe to play under your watchful eye.
- Attend play dates at other homes, particularly when there are more than 2 or 3 children invited.
- In public areas: parks, amusement centers, restaurants with child play areas, malls or while shopping never take your eyes and/or your hands off your child.
- Never let a child go to the public restroom alone.
- Teach your child to identify strangers.
- Do not expect your child to be able to fight off an assailant, run, say no or disable his car anymore than they will automatically learn to swim if they fall in the deep end of the pool.
Summary: We all want to say yes to our children when they ask to go outside and play. So say yes, pick up a chair and move to the yard, the driveway or the garage. Your child will know you care; the stranger (or neighbor) will know you are watching.