When it comes to personal safety, kids with learning and thinking differences may be more vulnerable than other kids. So how can you teach your child about “safe” and “unsafe” people? Start with these tips.
1. Say it early, often and very clearly.
Tell your child: “Never go with anyone unless you come and ask me.”
2. Talk about uncomfortable feelings.
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.
3. Talk about “tricky people.”
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.
4. Be specific.
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.
5. Role-play different scenarios.
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”?
6. Make him the “boss” of his body.
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.
7. Give simple steps for scary situations.
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.)
8. Discuss online stranger safety.
Personal safety extends to your child’s digital life, too, starting at ever-younger ages. Learn how to protect your child against online predators.
9. Keep the safety conversations coming.
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.