By Lexi Walters Wright
When it comes to personal safety, kids with learning and attention issues may be more vulnerable than other kids. So how can you teach your child about “safe” and “unsafe” people? Start with these tips.
Tell your child: “Never go with anyone unless you come and ask me.”
Keeping it low-key, talk about situations you know would make your child uncomfortable. Ask him if he’s ever been in one and to describe how he felt. Thinking through those situations now can help keep him safe later. But if he seems fearful while you’re talking, back off and discuss what he’s feeling at that moment. Then talk through the scenario another time.
The concept of strangers can be confusing to some kids. And some unsafe people are people kids know. One way to explain who to watch out for is to discuss “tricky people.” When your child is young, say, “Most people are pretty good. But some people have problems and they’re not so good. It’s my job to protect you from them.” As your child gets older, you can add that he’s in charge of his safety, too.
Explain to your child some of the uncomfortable things unsafe people may do. For instance, they may pay a lot of attention to kids and even give them presents. They may be physical with kids even when kids ask them to stop. Unsafe people may also use inappropriate words to comment on how kids look. And unsafe strangers may ask a child for directions or to help them look for something, like a lost dog.
Make sure your child knows it’s OK to say no to people he knows and doesn’t know. Talk through what he’d do in situations that involve strangers. What if the manager at the skating rink asks him to carry something out to his car? Act out situations that involve people your child’s familiar with, too. What if a neighbor he doesn’t know very well invites him in for a snack? Or if a relative keeps asking him for “hugs and kisses”?
Tell your child that no one is allowed to touch his body in a way that makes him uncomfortable. (That especially goes for bathing suit areas.) If your child has to have physical exams with a doctor, attend the appointment with him and ask the physician to explain what she’s doing, to give more meaning to the exam.
Tell your child that as soon as he feels uncomfortable at all, he should take the following steps:
Step 1: Loudly say, “NO!” (For kids who may have been constantly told to use their “inside voice,” this can feel unnatural.)
Step 2: Run away. (Kids may not be used to being allowed to run from adults. Emphasize how important this is!)
Step 3: Find a trusted adult. (If your child is out in public and can’t find you, tell him to look for a mom who has kids with her.)
Personal safety extends to your child’s digital life, too, starting at ever-younger ages. Learn how to protect your child against online predators.
Personal safety isn’t something you can bring up just once to your child. It needs to be part of regular, calm discussions. Start them when kids are very young, and get more detailed in discussions as kids get older.
Words have power. They can shape how kids with learning and attention issues feel about themselves. Here are nine things not to say, plus some suggested alternatives.
Kids with dyspraxia face all kinds of challenges that relate to coordination and movement (among other things). Victoria Biggs wrote Caged in Chaos: A Dyspraxic Guide to Breaking Free when she was a teen. We asked her for tips for what parents should avoid saying—and what they can say to help.
Lexi Walters Wright is veteran writer and editor who helps parents make more informed choices for their children and for themselves.
Mark Griffin, Ph.D., was the founding headmaster of Eagle Hill School, a school for children with specific learning disabilities.
Top 9 Things Not to Say to Your Child About Learning and Attention Issues
Talking to Your Child About Getting Evaluated
Talking to Your Child About Social and Emotional Issues
5 Things Not to Say to Your Child About ADHD
5 Things Not to Say to Kids With Learning and Attention Issues About Going Back to School
9 Ways to Show Empathy for Kids With Learning and Attention Issues
Learn how school vouchers can impact special education services and legal rights.
These free handwriting tools can help your child practice writing.
Hear from a mom who tried a simulation that finally helped her “get” her child’s struggles.
Feb 23rd at 10:00 am
Sign up for weekly emails with helpful resources for you and your family.
This email is already subscribed to Understood newsletters. If you haven't been receiving anything, add email@example.com to your safe-senders list.
Name must have no more than 50 characters. Email address must be valid. Email message must have no more than 140 characters and cannot include the < > / \ special characters. Please fill out all fields to send a message.
Don’t worry—we saved what you wrote.
Sign up to get personalized recommendations and connect with parents and experts in our community.
Only members can view and participate in conversations.
Child’s nickname is private and only you can see it.