10 Tips Every Parent Should Know to Keep Their Kids Safe

By Marijo Tinlin September 23, 2010 3 Comments   

Most of us don’t want to think through the worst case scenario for our children. We would rather die ourselves than have our children get hurt, kidnapped or worse. However, if you don’t know what to do to keep them safe, you won’t be able to say you tried your very best.

Jill Starishevsky, Assistant District Attorney in The Bronx, New York, and author of “My Body Belongs to Me” gives us ten tips for parents to use to keep their kids as safe as possible. In her years working as a prosecutor convicting child predators and sex offenders, she has seen and heard things done to children most people cannot fathom. These tips come from her experience practicing law, as well as being a parent to two young children.

No Secrets – from the youngest age, do not allow the word “secret” – she suggests saying “surprise” instead. Her example is when grandparents want to take their grandchildren to ice cream but not tell Mom and Dad.  There should be no secrets because a child cannot differentiate between an innocuous secret like ice cream and a predator’s secret of something inappropriate. Train your child: no secrets in our family!

Interestingly, Starishevsky says children are more afraid of breaking a promise to keep a secret than about the threat of whatever a predator offers, such as no more gifts or bodily injury.

Teach your children the correct names for their body parts – When children are comfortable saying ALL their body parts – head, shoulders, knees, penis and vagina…they will be much more likely to disclose inappropriate activity appropriately. Starishevsky says in her years of prosecuting, she has heard so many euphemisms – “hoo hoo” for example or worse, “cookie” and some are from children who are preteens. They don’t know the proper language for their own bodies so if they do summon the courage to disclose inappropriate activity, a trusted adult may miss what they are trying to tell them. (By the way, a missed disclosure is extremely damaging to the child, she says).

Starishevsky suggests teaching your children than anything covered by a bathing suit  is private and that that area stays private to anyone, including other kids. She said one common situation involving sexual abuse comes from other children.  It’s important your child knows what’s private stays private.

By the way, physicians are supposed to ask you, the parent, during a physical examination if it’s ok for them to exam your child’s private areas. This is how they are supposed to be trained so if that’s not happening, you may want to discuss this with your pediatrician. The important part there is that it is a perfect opportunity for you (and the doc) to teach your kids that it’s their body and that it’s not appropriate for anyone to look there without permission.  

Let children decide how they want to express affection – This is very empowering for a child. Knowing that you are not going to make them give Auntie a kiss gives them the freedom to express themselves as they wish. By forcing any affectionate behavior, you are teaching them that adults have the right to make demands of them for affection. If a predator demands something inappropriate, the child may not be equipped to tell them they don’t want that.

This may not fly well with your older family members who just want a hug but it’s perfectly fine to say no. Your child should understand it’s their body; they have permission to say no to anything they are not comfortable with. Likewise, you can tell them it’s completely fine to be impolite if someone is hurting you in any way. “Their safety is paramount,” says Starishevsky.

Practice “What If…?” scenarios – in an innocuous way, such as during bath time or when you’re driving to soccer practice, just ask “What if someone tries to give you candy and I’m not around?” or “What if someone asks you to help them find their lost puppy?” Go with their answers – and keep asking more questions. The practice should not be accusatory or confrontational, meaning you don’t want to say “Oh no! You don’t say that!” It should be more discovery for you to see how your child thinks about the situation you are describing. “Ok, so you help that person pick up the heavy chair and now you’re in the building with him alone, now what would you do?” “What if you’re in the basement and you can’t leave…”

By running through these scenarios before something like that happens equips your kids with the thought process to say “this is not right; my mom or dad doesn’t know where I am or didn’t give me permission.”

This also goes back to the “No Secrets” rule – if someone is giving your child expensive gifts such as XBOX games or fancy sneakers, your child should know keeping that from you is not what your family does. He or she may not want to tell because the gifts might stop but if your child is trained to never take anything from strangers without your permission, it will make it much harder for a predator to ingratiate themselves with your child and eventually move to inappropriate behavior.

This applies to sleep overs and parties too – “What if your friend shows you a gun?” “What if you’re at a sleepover and someone shows you their privates?” “What if your friend tells you to taste something you’ve never seen?” Again, by running through these scenarios before they happen can help your child go through the thought process before it happens.

So many times, as Starishevsky describes in her powerful book My Body Belongs to Me, many kids just freeze when something bad happens to them, such as inappropriate touching. In her book, the child does that for a split second before saying “no” and running out to tell a trusted adult what just happened.  Because the child knew what to do, the perpetrator was immediately caught and the child was safe.

Don’t ever put your child’s first name in a visible area on them – Starishevsky recommends initials only or put their name in small letters on the inside of a backpack. A predator who reads the first name from a backpack or tote bag or coat can immediately ingratiate themselves with a child by using their first name. “Hey Susie, your dad had to stay late at work so I’m going to take you home…”

Teach your child your name, address and phone number – Your child should know your name is not “Mommy” or “Daddy.” Starishevsky says she taught her daughter their phone number at the age of 3 by singing it to her several times over the course of a day. She says even now, as a school-aged child, her daughter still sings the number. This is a very effective teaching tool.

Also the chances of getting your child back if he or she gets lost is exponentially improved when they can tell an adult what their phone number is or their address. Even if it’s just the grocery store for a second, it dramatically improves your chances of getting your child back quickly when an adult can call out your real name.

Teach your child to find a safe person but don’t move very far if they ever get lost –  Starishevsky says this one is a little bit tough because you don’t want your child wandering around looking for a policeman or an employee of wherever you are, but you want them to find a safe person. Her recommendation is to instruct your child to find a “Mommy with children.” In her work over the years, she has not seen a mom with her kids turn out to be a predator looking to abduct a lost child.

Along that line, she suggests keeping a picture of your child from the last 6 months on you at all times. Give a copy to your babysitter as well. And here’s a great tip from Starishevsky – if you are going out for the day with your kid, take a picture when you leave. This way, you will know exactly what your child is wearing so if the worst happens and they get lost, you can quickly describe to police exactly what the child looks like and you don’t have to try and rack your brain when you are in the middle of panicking.

This is also a great situation for them to know your name, address and phone number. Starishevsky also suggests sticking your business card in their pocket or backpack as well as a back-up.

Teach your kid about the buddy system – when they are walking home, it’s much better to walk with a friend or with another mom and her kids. Also, teach your kids to be aware of their situation and if something seems strange or they suddenly feel scared, get away and find a trusted adult immediately.

She says the buddy system works. Perpetrators almost never try to abduct two kids at once for fear of getting discovered.

It’s ok to say “NO!” – Along with the buddy system, teach your kid if someone does try to take them, they should scream and run. They do NOT need to be nice.  They absolutely should raise their voice. In addition, teach your kid it is fine to tell an adult who asks for help “no, my mom or dad won’t let me.” Again, the empowerment of knowing it’s ok to tell an adult “no” when you have not given permission is a very important tool. You should teach them to come and ask you if a stranger asks for help.

Starishevsky says to teach your child adults don’t need help finding their puppy or help carrying something heavy. They should ask another adult if they truly need help – not a kid. Teach your kid they are not there to help adults; adults help adults.

Internet Safety – Starishevsky says kids are younger and younger when they are getting online these days. Parents need to be involved from day one, such as helping choose a screen name that doesn’t identify their child in any way. Teach your child that they never give out their name, address or phone number.  Don’t post pictures with a school uniform or team name and don’t name teachers in posts. Don’t post pictures at familiar places, such as Yankees Stadium because a predator can figure out where your child goes to school or what city your child lives in from these facts they’ve just displayed.

Also, always keep your computers in a common area in the house so you can keep an eye on what’s going on. You can see who your child is chatting with or friending. Starishevsky says they may not realize that cute 15-year-old boy in the next town is really a 55-year-old pedophile who posted a fake picture and is looking to get your daughter to meet him at the mall so he can abduct and assault her.

“You don’t want to taint your child but you want to let them in a little to scare them enough about what can happen.” Starishevsky says.

About Jill Starishevsky

Jill Starishevsky

Jill Starishevsky is the author of My Body Belongs to Me which is going into its second printing.  She is also is an Assistant District Attorney in New York City, where she has prosecuted hundreds of sex offenders and dedicated her career to seeking justice for victims of child abuse and sex crimes. Her mission to protect children, along with her penchant for poetry, inspired My Body Belongs to Me. A mother of two, Jill is also founder of HowsMyNanny.com, a service that enables parents to purchase a license plate for their child’s stroller so the public can report positive or negative nanny observations. Follow her on twitter @SafetyStar.

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3 Comments to “10 Tips Every Parent Should Know to Keep Their Kids Safe”
  1. livelybrowsers says:
    Thanks for good stuff
  2. Terrific comment Mike. Thanks for the feedback. jill
  3. Great tips, Jill. Parents also OPEN THE DOOR for your children to come to you about sexual violence and/or abuse. Most parents make the mistake of telling children (especially teenage females) "If anyone ever touches you, I'll kill them." By doing so, all you do is SCARE your child from ever telling you. Instead, tell your child, "If anyone ever touches sexually, I am always here for you. ALWAYS." Once your child is old enough to be dating and in intimate situations, change the statement to "If anyone ever touches you sexually against your will or without your consent, I am always here for you. ALWAYS." Then be sure to discuss consent, boundaries, respect, and how special your child's body and privacy is. Feel free to see the many strategies we provide parents at HelpMyTeenIsDating.com

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