Editor's Note: The safety tip for the month of February is provided by Mifflin County Communities That Care. This is an ongoing monthly series provided by CTC to help inform the public about key areas of safety concerns. The information for this month's article was provided by Cathy Dysinger, Mifflin County Programs director of The Snyder, Union, Mifflin Child Development, Inc.
LEWISTOWN - Keeping children safe is a topic of interest not only to parents and caregivers but also the community in general. Having safe neighborhoods for children and families is basic for a healthy functioning society.
The word "safety" makes most of us think about rules and supervision related to: fire safety (Don't play with matches.); pedestrian safety (Look both ways before crossing the street.); or car safety (Always buckle up!).
There is another aspect of safety: personal safety - helping children learn skills to keep themselves safe when faced with situations related to strangers or unsafe touch, also known as sexual abuse.
While most would say these also are important topics of safety, many parents and caregivers are not comfortable or lack information to discuss these subjects with their children. There is much in the media related to child abduction and assault, which can create fear in our minds so we sometimes rationalize if we don't talk about it, it won't occur. This could not be further from the truth! Certainly nothing can replace vigilant supervision of young children, but through the normal course of growing up, it is a fact that children move into less supervised situations.Giving them the skills they need to feel confident in recognizing unsafe situations related to personal safety and reacting appropriately is as much needed as the other safety rules mentioned earlier.
Just as young children do not grasp academic concepts or information the first time presented, so it is with personal safety. Children gain the knowledge and skills in a developmental fashion building block by block through practice and reinforcement.
First and foremost as parents and caregivers, we need to become comfortable in talking with our children about personal safety. Information needs to be at their level of understanding.
Talking points and tips include teaching your child:
Not to wander off and avoid lonely places;
His/her full name, your full name, address and telephone number;
What a stranger is. For younger children, they often have the misconception that a stranger is someone who looks mean or ugly. Reinforce that a stranger is someone you don't know;
The rules to practice with strangers when they are by themselves;
Don't talk to strangers;
Don't take things from strangers;
Don't go anywhere with a stranger;
Say "no," run away and tell a grown up;
About unsafe touch. Explain that no one should touch areas covered by a bathing suit except to keep them clean and healthy;
To always come and tell you or a trusted adult if someone tries to touch them in an unsafe manner.
Unfortunately, adults who want to hurt children often look for easy victims, so let your child know it is OK to scream if someone is making him or her do something he/she doesn't want to do.
Discussing and teaching your child beginning in the preschool years will form a natural continuum for communicating on these topics as he/she grows older and is less supervised. During the younger years, children want to know they are safe and cared for, so discussions can be comfortably introduced and will be of interest to your child. Children's books and coloring books also are available to help introduce the subjects of strangers and unsafe touch.
Practice in the real world will help children apply their skills and as parents, you will be able to discern their level of understanding. For example, Kid Connection is a perfect time to reinforce not wandering off or the concept of strangers.
Playing "what if" games also are another way that children will respond. For example saying to your child, "What if you get lost in the store, where would you go for help?"
There are many helpful sites on the Internet that have much more extensive information on the topic. Below are listed several as starting points:
Remember, the most effective prevention happens before a child is harmed and this can be done through education that instills confidence rather than fear.