Let’s talk about teaching kids safety skills. Our children are, after all, the most precious, most important things we have. And sometimes teaching them about all the “what ifs” of life can be overwhelming and scary–not just for the kids, but for us grown ups as well. But there are ways to teach them how to stay safe, keep others safe, and what to do in an emergency in an empowering and proactive way.
Now, this is a very personal topic. Each family should decide which topics to teach and when. What your children need to know varies widely depending on where you live, what types of activities you engage in, and most importantly the age and maturity level of your kids. When it comes to safety, one size does not fit all. For instance, almost every parent needs to teach their children what to do if they become separated from them in a public place. But different families may have different opinions about what they want their kids to do in that situation.
I’ve created a comprehensive checklist of ideas organized by topic to get you thinking about what your children need to know. And I have included lots of extra space for for writing in your own items you want to cover. You can download it here for free by entering your e-mail.
Here are a few tips for getting started on teaching your kids about safety AND our absolute favorite, must-have items for kiddo safety.
Tips for Talking Safety with Your Kids
Done right, educating your kids about dangers will make them feel more safe. They will be confident that they know how to avoid situations and what to do if they are in one. And safety-mindedness will become a way of life–just another good habit like remembering to brush your teeth.
Incorporate it into everyday conversation
There are topics that work well for formal lessons. You might incorporate learning your address and the parents’ cell phone numbers into memory work. Or you might plan a unit on fire safety, compete with practicing your escape plan and a field trip to the fire station.
But I weave the majority of my safety “instruction” into our everyday life. Children want to know why we do what we do. And moms and dads are constantly in the business of protecting our kids from threats, big or small. So I talk about that. “Oh, what a cute dog they have! Remember that you should always ask permission from the owner AND mom or dad before you pet a strange dog. Even dogs that look friendly can be frightened of strangers and bite.” “When I am buckling your sister into her seat, you need to stand beside me with your hand touching the car. That way, you will stay out of the way of other cars in this busy parking lot.”
This can help alleviate some of the anxiety that can come with talking about dangers. And it teaches that safety is an all-the-time focus and important part of life.
Use proactive, positive language whenever possible
Learning about safety should be empowering for your kids. Instead of a giant “NO” list (No doing this. No touching that.) Focus on telling them what they SHOULD do and how it will help keep them safe.
Look back at one of my earlier examples: “Oh, what a cute dog they have! Remember that you should always ask permission from the owner AND mom or dad before you pet a strange dog. Even dogs that look friendly can be frightened of strangers and bite.” See how it differs from, “Don’t pet strange dogs”? That is worded positively and gives her tools to use in a situation. AND it gives her critical information about why the rule is important. Kids always want to know why. And, from my experience, these lessons sink in better when they do know.
Doing this will also help in those moments that you need to give a hard-line, stern “NO”. Your child will see that you are not just saying, “Don’t . . .” for the millionth time today. You mean it!
Teach your children to practice self-calming strategies
So you might be asking yourself, “What on earth does this have to do with safety?” But it is impossible to stay safe and think clearly about what to do in a situation if you are freaking out. Now this is a difficult one–even for adults. But that is precisely why I begin to teach my kids to self-regulate early on and often. It can take YEARS of practice to gear yourself down, take a breath, and focus clearly on what needs to be done in a stressful situation.
Know that feeling when you just discovered you locked your keys in the car? Or your battery died on you in an empty parking lot at night? Imagine that times 100. This is how your child can feel in even relatively minor moments of crisis. When they see a strange dog approaching, hear the smoke alarm, lose sight of you in the mall–will they have the presence of mind to do what they have been taught to do?
So I use any moment when my children are stressed out to practice two techniques:
- Breathe calmly – Have a kid who is terrified of bugs or hates going to the doctor? Begin instilling the habit of taking slow, deep breaths as soon as they begin to feel stressed. Over time, this will become automatic so they can gear down and do the next step, which is . . .
- Think critically – Teach them to identify the actual danger and put it in perspective. Then tell them to ask themselves what the rule is for staying safe. Sometimes my oldest wants to lose her mind about a bug flying around her while she goes down the stairs. When that happens, I stop her and (after reminding her to breathe) explain that she needs to think about it. The real danger is the stairs, not the bug. Then I ask her what the rules are for safely going down the stairs?
Again, these life skills are not mastered overnight. Heck, most adults I know could use practice at them. But they will not only help your children stay safe, they will give them great coping strategies for any stressful situation.
Consider Using Skill Trek
Skill Trek is a family-centered program that is designed to teach your children life skills of all kinds. These skills range from making a bed to changing a car tire depending on the age of your child. And while it is a great program for filling skill gaps in so many areas, my favorite part of this program is their section on emergency preparedness.
This program is a fantastic tool to prepare your children for emergency situations – big or small – that may occur now or later in life when they’re adults. And they do it in a way that helps you impart this practical knowledge as a normal part of your daily routine. Using Skill Trek will take the stress off wondering whether you have thought of everything you should be teaching them and guides you through preparing your children for the unexpected.
Our FAVORITE Safety Gadgets for Kids
These products make our short list of must-have items for kiddo safety. Obviously, there are many more things, like fire extinguishers and first aid kits, that a properly equipped home should have. But these are our picks specifically for the kids themselves. Again, use your best judgement on what is appropriate for your little ones and at what age.
Keeping track of even a couple of kiddos in a busy or open space can be challenging. I have a friend who put whistles on her three children every time they went out of the house. Even the two-year-old had one and so did Mom. They knew that if they wandered too far and couldn’t see mom or if they were in danger to blow it loud and keep blowing! And Mom taught them that three short chirps from her whistle was the signal to check in with her.
Such a great tool for multiple kids playing in an open space! I prefer these plastic whistles to the actual metal safety whistles because I think they’d be a little gentler if a child fell on one and are still loud enough to serve the purpose. Don’t forget to use lanyards with safety releases for very young children!
Wristband ID Safety Bracelets
I think these are a fantastic idea for little ones who are too young to remember their parents’ phone numbers or who might be too shy to talk to strangers. I coach my oldest that if she is ever separated from us in a public place she is to (1) stay where she’s at, (2) look for another mom with kids, (3) tell her that she is lost but knows her mom’s cell phone number.
But what about my little one who is far too young for those instructions? An ID bracelet like this one ensures someone who finds my child will have my info fast. It is not out of sight inside her clothing. And it stands out. It doesn’t look like jewelry or an accessory.
OK, these are for kids who are a little bit older and more responsible. But I think they are a must-have as soon as possible. Just pull the pin and an alarm sounds. And this is no wussy little alarm! People will take notice. I highly recommend them for adults too.
This particular model has an app you can download to tell you the child’s location if the pin is pulled. And LOOK how CUTE it is! No one would guess what a fierce self-defense device this little bee is.
And, lastly, what kid doesn’t love flashlights? But they are really, really practical too. You never think about them until the power actually goes out. Every member of the family should have one near their bed and in other strategic locations throughout the home as well. These cute little ones are perfect for kiddo-sized hands, waterproof, and come in a pack of five with different colored rings. So each family member can have their own!
We mostly use them for camping, sleep overs, and clandestine reading after lights-out. But it’s good to practice keeping them in their predetermined locations and stocked with fresh batteries. It’s a great way to involve kids in home safety. And it can help them feel more secure if they have bedtime jitters or fears of the dark.
Of course, thankfully, bad things rarely happen. But preparing your children for all the what ifs in life helps to prevent trouble before it starts. And it will provide you and them more peace of mind knowing that they know what to do.
I would really love to know what your family does for teaching the little ones about safety. I have discovered so many great ideas from other moms. Don’t forget to download my free checklist of safety ideas to teach your kids and let me know what I’m missing. And follow me on Pinterest for more ideas from our Safety Skills for Kids board.