Nobody wants to think of a situation where their child might be put in harm’s way. We push away the thoughts of house fires and school shootings and kidnappings. We don’t want to consider what would happen if we weren’t there to protect them. In all actuality, children are less likely to make the right decisions in such situations unless they’ve been trained. I find it soothing to know that my children are equipped with the knowledge of what to do. They won’t be crippled by ignorance.
You must toe the line between preparing them and terrifying them. My oldest loves to hear about the blood and the death tolls, but my youngest doesn’t even like to see cartoon characters get hurt. I have to keep my examples from getting too graphic while reinforcing a situation’s seriousness. It takes more than just telling your children about safety planning and then writing it off as something you’ve done. You have to practice with them, remind them of possibilities, and work in safety planning as a part of their lives. Again, the object is to enlighten them without scaring them. You don’t want pessimistic children; you don’t want to ruin the carefree spirit of childhood, but you don’t want to regret letting them be oblivious either. You’ll have to decide how much your children can handle, but try not to doubt how much they are capable of understanding.
The major things that my daughters and I work on are:
Calling 911 – In most cases if someone needed to call 911 in our house it would be me, but I have a heart condition, and if I were to faint and hit my head, or if I became unconscious by some other capacity, I don’t want my children trying to wake me up for days on end. They know to call 911 and for what reasons, we’ve practiced dialing it using my phone, they know how to recite our home address (and it’s also posted in several locations around the house), and they know what will happen if they call. I couldn’t teach them about calling 911 without explaining the problem of crying wolf. I let them know what to do if they happen to call by accident, and helped them to understand that if emergency personnel are rushing to our house for no reason someone else might really need help and may not get it as quickly (this applied more when we lived in our small southern Illinois town than it does now, but it’s still good that they know).
Fire Safety – This was one of the first things we ever worked on. It was important to not only teach them our escape plan, how to check a door handle, and why to stay low, but also how and why fires start. I didn’t want them to fear fires springing up out of nowhere. I suppose you could argue that in teaching them how fires start I also taught them how to start fires, but I think I’ve been successful at teaching them to respect the power of fire. So far no pyros.
Stranger Danger – One of my children will say hi to almost anybody. For a long time she couldn’t understand how someone was still considered a stranger after they’d said hello. I didn’t want to ruin her trust in people’s possible nobility, but she needed to know that a smiling face doesn’t always mean good intentions. I started by teaching them what to do if they get separated from me in a store. We then worked on whom to ask for help. We eventually covered kidnapping, and what to do should someone attempt to take them away. They aren’t afraid of strangers, but they are skeptical, and that’s fine by me.
Home Security – This one we started recently, but it’s really important. We’ve created a password and they know to not open the door for anyone who doesn’t know it as well. The first time I tested them went horribly. I knocked on the door once and they both screamed “Come in!” without even asking “Who is it?” beforehand. Then one of them actually unlocked the door without first asking for the password. I don’t want them to fear everyone who knocks on our door, but I don’t want them to fall for “My car broke down, can I use your phone?” either. No sir, not my daughters.
There are plenty of other things that we work on. From keeping our voices down when we’re out at night and hitting the deck if they hear gunshots, to knowing the difference between good and bad touches and the protocol for encountering a wild animal. I’d like to think that I’m preparing them to have long-lasting, productive, enjoyable lives. The more you know, the less you fear, and the better equipped you are to protect yourself from harm. One of the most important things I’m trying to teach them is to trust their instincts. I want them to not let “our little secret” deter them from telling me something occurred. I don’t see signs of ruining them thus far, and I’m confident in their abilities to make good choices should the need arise. Of course, I still hope there’s never a need.