By Kacie Shipman, MSW, LSW, Youth First, Inc.
Parenting is no easy task. It’s safe to say that most parents have felt concern over the well-being of their child. Talking to your children about important topics can be uncomfortable for a lot of parents. Often times, the feelings of being uncomfortable come from a lack of knowledge about the “right” thing to say.
As a Youth First Social Worker, I am often asked by parents what the right thing to tell their child about various topics would be. All children have different personalities, even in the same family. It is important to be sensitive to their personality differences, but always tell them facts and be truthful about safety in an age-appropriate way.
Children often ask questions at unexpected times about things they have heard or seen. It can be surprising if your child hasn’t asked about similar topics in the past or the question seems to be inappropriate for their developmental age. It is vital to answer as honestly as possible. If feeling caught off guard, it is okay to let them know you appreciate their question and would like some time to think about the best way to answer.
Talking to your children about their safety can start at a very young age in the early toddler years. Ensuring they know their parents’ first and last names is a great place to start. Toddlers can also practice the importance of staying by your side until it is safe to let go.
Using fear as a tactic to make children follow safety rules can often lead to feelings of anxiety or cause high emotions that lead to additional emotional challenges. This can create a sense of fear in children that the world is an unsafe place for them.
Children are not only hearing the words of their caregivers but sensing their emotions as well. Talking to children when the environment is calm and regulated is much more effective than in the heat of the moment when parents may be experiencing anxiety themselves related to an unwanted situation.
As children begin elementary school, they should be able to start working on memorizing their phone number. Another good practice is teaching children to identify safe adults should they be separated. If they become lost in a store, they should look for someone behind a cash register or someone wearing a uniform. If they are unable to find a store employee, they could look for another parent that has other children with them as well.
As children begin to mature and gain more independence, be sure to continue conversations about using good judgment and safety precautions. Allowing children independence with supervision supports their need for growth while still ensuring safety while their impulse control and time management skills are still developing.
Ensuring your children know there are emergency plans for all situations to help keep everyone safe can reduce anxiety. The unknown is difficult but knowing that your family understands how to be safe can alleviate fear.