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
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
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
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.