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Keeping Kids Safe

What parents can teach.

Giving Kids the Skills They Need

A few years ago, some safety educators distinguished between "good touching" and "bad touching." But this distinction has proved largely ineffective. For one thing, it applies an objective standard to a subjective experience -- too fine a line for most adults, let alone most children. It fails, too, because it is a message absorbed only on an intellectual level, says Chaiet. When presented with a real threat, it's common to freeze up and not to be able to think or evaluate at all. When danger is present, kids need to know how to act quickly and not ponder. "The distinction between good touching and bad touching doesn't get kids to tell the person to stop," says Chaiet, "and it doesn't get them out of there."

That's why many of the programs widely used today focus on different kinds of training -- active skills that children can use in emergencies, and skills they are more likely to use because they have had some practice. Prepare and Impact Personal Safety concentrates on what Chaiet calls "adrenaline-based" training. The idea is to teach kids what to do by letting them actually feel what it's like to be threatened and to fight back.

In a typical class, a 7-year-old gets to practice talking back to and warding off a padded attacker -- striking back, running away, and yelling. The child role-plays "every level of boundary violation," from inappropriate touch, lying, and bullying, all the way up to physical assault. The process, says Chaiet, decreases a child's anxiety by increasing his or her sense of self-reliance and providing the child with a plan of action. The children are taught to use what gives them their power -- their voices and movement.

Taking Those First Steps

Somewhat anxiously, I sat down with my daughter to watch a video called Can't Fool Me from Yello Dyno, a retailer of child safety educational products. In the video, catchy song lyrics are set to familiar tunes that contain fundamental messages and tools for child safety ("Take three steps back." "Run like the wind!").

There were parts that made my daughter anxious and parts she loved. We talked about what she had seen and heard during the video and afterwards -- a lot. For days, she was singing lyrics from songs she had heard just once ("Yell, yell, yell!").

A week later, I asked my daughter what she might say if someone she didn't know tried to get her to follow him to help find a lost puppy. She smiled at me sweetly, then screamed, "Get out of my face!"

It seemed like a good start.


Jolie Bales is an attorney, mother, and writer whose work has appeared on WebMD and other sources.


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