Safety Tips for Parents
As a parent, one
of your primary concerns is your child's safety. While some dangers--a hot
stove, traffic or an electrical outlet--seem easy to explain, dangers that
involve violence may seem more difficult to talk about. You may be afraid that
you will frighten your child. You may not know how to explain violence, or where
to start. You may also not want to recognize that your child could become a
victim of a crime.
Unfortunately, children of all
ages are victims of crime. Any child can be a crime victim, regardless of age,
gender, religious or ethnic affiliation, appearance, size or strength. The best
thing that you can do to try to prevent your child from being victimized is to
talk openly and honestly about safety, and about what your child can do if
anyone ever tries to harm him or her.
The old advice, "keep away from strangers," simply isn't enough. It
also isn't enough to address the issue of safety only once. Just as each time
you cross a street with your child, you remind him or her to "look both
ways," there are many ways you can incorporate safety information into your
child's daily routine. You can decide when, where and how you want to start
talking about these issues with your child. You could talk to your child alone,
involve others in your family, or start by reading a story.
The following tips have been collected from a wide variety of sources, including
organizations and individuals that work directly with young victims of crime.
The information is divided into several major categories: Keeping Records;
Avoiding Abduction; Gun Safety; Safety at Home; Child Sexual Abuse; Preschool or
Child Care Center Safety; Safety at School; Halloween Safety; Child Abuse; and
If Your Child Becomes a Victim of Crime. The information provided in the
following pages is intended to be used with the National Center for Victims of
Crime FYI bulletins "Safety Tips for
Children" and "Child Sexual Abuse Information for Middle School
Students," which provide you with written information to read with your
child and then allow him or her to keep.
none of these tips can guarantee safety for your child. However, teaching your
child about safety gives him or her the tools to recognize and respond to
potentially dangerous situations--tools that could save your child's life.
Try to create a climate where
your child feels comfortable talking to you. Tell the child that it is okay to
talk to you about anything and that you always want to know if someone upsets
him or her, even if it is someone you care about. A child needs to know that if
she or he tells you something difficult, they will be believed.
Teach your child his or her full name, your full name, telephone number and the
address where you live, including the name of the town and state. For smaller
children, putting this information to a familiar song can help them remember it.
Make sure your child knows how to make an emergency phone call and a collect
Establish routines with your children that keep you informed about where they
are and when they will be home. For instance, if your child has to stay after
school or wants to go somewhere after school, make sure they always call you
Create a support system for your child. Help your child make a list of all the
people in his or her life to whom they can turn for help.
Try to teach your child how to resolve conflicts without violence. You can be a
role model by using non-violent discipline techniques, such as time-outs,
removal of privileges and restrictions.
Role play situations with your child, so that your child can practice responding
to potentially dangerous situations. "What if. . ." games (such as,
"What if someone you don't know asks you to see his puppies or find his
lost kitten?") can teach your child how to say no to or escape from
potential abductors or abusers.
Keep a complete and updated
written description of your child which includes eye color, hair color, height,
weight, date of birth and any unique physical attributes. Include information
about glasses, braces, pierced ears and any birthmarks, scars or blemishes.
Take color photographs of your child every six months that are in good focus and
are good, accurate likenesses.
Make sure that your dentist has on file up-to-date dental charts and x-rays for
your child. If you move, get a copy of these records to take with you.
Know where your child's medical records are kept.
Have your child fingerprinted by your local police department. Fingerprint
accuracy is important, so always have them done by a professional. Keep a copy
of the prints in a safe place. (Going to the police station does not have to be
frightening for a child. It can be presented as a fun outing and done with
Maintain current addresses and telephone numbers of your child's friends and
Teach your child the tricks people sometimes use to interest children, such as:
offering a ride in bad weather; offering candy or money; asking for help looking
for a lost pet; or saying that "your Mommy or Daddy sent me to pick you
up." It is important to teach your child that it is not bad behavior to say
"no" to someone who asks for help. Talk over alternatives (like
calling 911) if someone is hurt.
Instead of warning your child not to "talk to strangers," explain
specific situations that might happen and what your child can do in those
situations. Children may not have an understanding of what "stranger"
means; for instance, some children think that someone who takes the time to
befriend them is not a stranger. This also helps children to understand that
certain behaviors are wrong no matter who does them--remember people your child
knows are much more likely to harm them than "strangers."
Teach your child never to go anywhere with someone he or she doesn't know. Also
teach your child never to go anywhere with someone he or she does know
(such as a teacher, bus driver, neighbor, church official or member, etc.),
unless your child heard directly from you that it is okay to go. Explain that
sometimes people will say that you sent them or that you are hurt as a trick.
Role play situations with your child so they can practice saying "NO"
and avoiding dangerous situations. Talk about how hard it can be to say no to an
adult, especially if the adult is asking for help or offering something fun to
the child. Review with your child the "Safety Tips
for Children" FYI bulletin which addresses
how a child can avoid an abduction attempt.
Don't put your child's name on any of his or her clothing, school supplies or
school bags. A stranger might use your child's name as a way of suggesting that
she or he knows your child or you.
Walk your neighborhood with your child and pick out the safest routes to school,
friends' houses or other places your child walks. Identify with your child safe
places to go in an emergency, such as a trusted neighbor, open business or fire
Some communities have a "Safe Haven" program, where businesses
encourage lost or frightened children to come inside for help. If your community
doesn't have such a program, contact your local law enforcement agency about
Consider having your child take a self-defense class or study karate. A child
can learn ways to react if she or he is ever attacked. A child can surprise an
attacker by physically resisting and hurting an attacker in a vulnerable area
which allows valuable time to run away. Knowledge of self-defense or martial
arts can increase a child's self-confidence, which may make a person think twice
about attempting to harm your child.
Teach your child what to do if he or she gets separated from you at a store or
other public place. Don't leave your child alone (for instance, in a car or in
the toy department of a store). Never leave your child in the car, even if you
are "just running in." In addition to kidnappers, carjackers are a
threat to your child in this case.
Keep an eye on your child. Be especially careful at places where you might get
distracted, such as at an ATM or with the cashier in a store.
Your child also needs to know which strangers can be helpful, such as a police
officer, fire fighter, store clerk or cashier, or a mother with small children.
Guns are dangerous. If you have a gun in your home or are considering buying a
gun, there are a few facts you should consider:
Studies show that a firearm in the home is more than 40 times more likely to
hurt or kill a family member than to stop a crime.
Every six hours a youth between age 10 and age 19 commits suicide with a gun.
Talk to your child about guns. Even if you don't have one in your house, your
child may see them at school or at other people's homes. Explain that guns kill
people, even accidentally, and that they should never be touched by children.
Ask them to tell you if anyone shows them a gun.
Teach your child how to deal with anger and conflict. Disagreements that used to
turn into a schoolyard punching match could today turn into a schoolyard
Explain to your child that guns don't solve problems--they can kill or cause
life-long disability and pain.
Talk to your child about the differences between television or movie violence
and real-life violence.
If you keep any types of weapons in your house, keep them locked away out of
your child's reach. Do not show them to your child or let your child know where
you keep them. If you have a gun, keep any ammunition in a separate locked area.
Teach your child what to do if they do see a gun or hear one being fired. Review
with your child the "Safety Tips for Children"
FYI bulletin concerning gun safety.
Safety at Home
Use a babysitter until your child is old enough to be responsible in a crisis.
Check out every babysitter. Meet them, and ask for references before you hire
them. Let the child meet them too. Set clear rules in front of the sitter and
the child together, for instance: "Sarah should not be given a bath and
should be in bed at 9:00 on the dot." Do not ask babysitters to bathe your
Have a set of safety rules for your child if he or she is alone in the house. Be
sure your child knows never to open the door or to tell someone on the phone
that he or she is alone.
Make rules with your child about bringing home friends and inviting people over
when you aren't home.
Your child should always check with you before leaving the apartment or house
for any reason, unless it is an emergency, such as a fire.
Keep important numbers posted by each phone, such as 911, a trustworthy
neighbor, poison control, etc. Make sure your child can reach the phone and
knows what numbers to call in an emergency.
Keep windows and doors to your home locked. Intruders often enter through
unlocked entrances. Make sure your child knows how to work door and window
Teach your child what to do if she or he comes home to an apartment or house
that looks broken into. Tell your child never to go in if it looks like the home
has been broken into--the burglar could still be inside. Also talk about what to
do if someone tries to break into the house while your child is inside. Teach
him or her to get out of the house, if possible, and to run away to seek help.
Don't hang a house key around your child's neck. It advertises that the child
goes home to an empty house. Put it inside a pocket or on a ring in your child's
If your child comes home before you, establish a rule that he or she must call
you upon arriving home. Get a beeper if you are not reachable by phone.
Make sure your child knows an adult neighbor, friend or family member that she
or he can call in an emergency or if she or he gets lonely or scared.
Review with your child the "Safety Tips For
Children" FYI bulletin which addresses some
strategies for keeping safe at home.
Child Sexual Abuse
The most important sexual abuse prevention strategy is good communication with
your child. Take the time every day to talk with your child, and make sure that
you can really listen and observe your child while he or she talks. Learn about
your child's activities, but also about his or her feelings. Encourage your
child to always share his or her problems and concerns with you.
Talk to your child about sexual abuse. Always mention people the child knows as
well as strangers. (Remember your child is about four times more likely to be
sexually abused by someone she or he knows than by a stranger!) This can
increase your child's safety because it is easier for your child to respond to
something she or he knows can happen, and it will definitely help your
child to talk with you if anything ever happens. Try including this topic in
discussions you have about other risks your child may face (such as crossing
busy streets, fire safety, or what to do if lost).
Reassure your child by emphasizing that the vast majority of adults never do bad
things to children and that most adults want to protect children from harm.
Use the proper words for sex organs, such as penis and vagina. It is hard for a
child to talk openly about sexual abuse if she or he doesn't have the words or
has been taught that parts of the body are dirty or bad.
Explain that some areas of your body--the parts your bathing suit covers--are
private, and no older person should touch them, except a doctor when you are in
the room with them. One way to approach what "private" means is to use
things that belong to your child, such as toys, books, bed -- anything of your
child's someone else should ask permission to touch or use.
Suggest solutions to your child, such as: "If someone touches you in a way
that feels uncomfortable, tell them to stop. If someone pretends that touching
you was an accident, move away or firmly take the person's hand off of
Be specific. Tell your child that an adult or older child should NEVER:
Put their hands down your pants or up your skirt.
Touch your private parts, even
through clothes or pajamas.
Ask you to touch their private
parts, or ask you to remove their clothes.
Take off your clothes.
Take pictures of you with your
Take their clothes
off in front of you.
Most parents try to teach their children to listen to adults and to "do as
they are told." Teach your child that there are times that it is okay to
say "no" to an adult, and that you will support your child when she or
he does so. Even things that seem harmless, like making your child kiss a
relative goodbye, can make a child more vulnerable to sexual assault.
Teach your child that they can always say "no" to someone who wants to
touch or hug them-- even to you. Practice with your child ways of saying
"no" that feel comfortable in various situations.
Be on the lookout for signs that something is wrong. If your child says she or
he doesn't like someone or shows reluctance or discomfort around an adult or
teenager, ask why. Ask if the person has done something to make him or her
uncomfortable. A sexually abused child may show unusual interest in sexuality,
or may exhibit changes in behavior such as becoming withdrawn or violent.
Ask your child to tell you if someone touches them in a way that makes them feel
funny. Explain that the person may ask a child to promise not to tell or may
threaten the child. A child may be told something terrible will happen (such as
their Mom or Dad will be killed) if she or he tells anyone about the abuse. Ask
your child to report any time an older child or adult asks them to keep a
Preschool & Child Care Center Safety
Before entering your child into
a preschool or child care program, check with state or local licensing agencies
and child care information services to make sure the program is reputable and to
check if there have been past complaints.
Find out about the school or center's hiring policies and practices. Ask how
they recruit and select staff. Find out if they examine references, background
checks and previous employment history.
Ensure that you have the right to drop in and visit the program at any time--and
then do so!
Prohibit, in writing, the release of your child to anyone without your
authorization. Also give the school or center the name of anyone other than
yourself who will be responsible for picking up your child regularly. Introduce
this person to the staff so they can recognize him or her.
Safety at School
Throughout the United States,
children and teenagers are increasingly carrying guns and other dangerous
weapons to school. From small towns to big cities, children have increased
access to weapons, and many children feel they need guns for
"protection." As a parent, it is important for you to realize that
school and playgrounds could be potentially dangerous to your child.
Encourage your child to talk to you about anything that happens at school,
including things that upset him or her.
School bullies have always been a problem. Nowadays, they might be carrying
weapons or be involved with drugs. Teach your child safe ways to handle
confrontation, and ask her or him to tell you immediately if anyone bullies or
Reinforce school policies against carrying weapons to school by talking about
them with your child. Also talk to your child about his or her fears of safety
while at school.
Other children are not the only threat to your child at school. Child abductors
or molesters sometimes take their victims from schools or playgrounds. Remember
that "strangers" are not the only potential threat. People who harm
children can also be teachers, principals, coaches, counselors, custodians, bus
drivers and other types of school employees -- all of whom have access to large
numbers of children. This threat exists regardless of whether your child attends
a public, private or parochial school.
Be involved in your children's school, and attend school board meetings and
hearings. Speak out about safety concerns you have. Other parents probably have
If your school does not automatically contact you when your child does not
appear for class, work with other families to get such policies established.
Encourage professional safety, prevention and support programs in the local
Children's costumes should not
keep them from being able to see clearly or move easily and quickly. Avoid masks
that block any part of your child's vision.
Children should trick-or-treat in groups, with a buddy system, and be
accompanied by an adult who can remain in the background.
Stop only at familiar apartments or homes in your neighborhood.
It's best to trick-or-treat when it's light outside, but if that isn't possible,
give children flashlights and keep them in well-lit areas. Always walk on the
sidewalks, never in the streets.
Teach children never to go into anyone's house, apartment or car for candy.
Give children treats before they go out so they will be less tempted to eat
candy you haven't had a chance to examine. Children should not eat any of the
treats they receive until they get home. The adult traveling with the children
can carry candy for eating during trick-or-treating.
Eat only treats that are wrapped and unopened. A parent should examine all candy
and throw out anything that seems suspicious. Fruits or homemade items should be
YOUR CHILD BECOMES A VICTIM OF CRIME
Believe him or
her. Many children who tell adults about crimes are afraid they will not be
believed. Many aren't. Be sure to take your child seriously, even if a violent
crime was not committed.
Reassure the child that what happened is not his or her fault. A child who was
hurt or accosted while breaking a rule (such as being somewhere you said they
were not allowed to go) may be especially afraid that you will be upset with him
Immediately get him or her any needed medical attention. In the case of a sexual
assault, an injury might not be obvious, and a medical exam is needed to detect
internal injuries and screen for possible exposure to disease or infection.
Try to temper your own reaction. Your child is likely to become very upset if
she or he sees that you are upset. They may also think that they did something
wrong and take responsibility for your pain. They may decide it is better not to
keep talking to you if you exhibit extreme emotions.
Trying to pretend something didn't happen or telling your child to "just
forget about it" will not help. Both you and your child will experience
stress related to the crime, whether or not you acknowledge it. The best way to
cope with the problem is to talk, listen and get support.
Do not try to take the law into your hands. Your child needs you, and needs to
try to get back some normalcy in his or her life. If you try to harm someone who
has hurt your child, you could be arrested and even go to jail. Your child must
then cope with this added trauma.
Report the crime -- even a suspected crime -- to the police.
Get support. Contact a local crime victim agency or child advocacy center. They
can offer you and your child support and important information about your
rights. Don't try to handle this alone. There are many organizations that can
Your local phone book, law enforcement agency, or hospital can help you find
local services. Or you can call the National Center for Victims of Crime's FYI
program, a toll-free crime victim referral service at 1-800-FYI-CALL.
FYI: A Program of the National Center for Victims of Crime.
Copyright © 1997 by the National Center for Victims of Crime. This information
may be freely distributed, provided that it is distributed free of charge, in
its entirety and includes this copyright notice.