Simple ways to safeguard your kids

PEER PRESSURE. STRANGERS. THE Doberman next door. Every kid has been warned about them. But the safest kids are the ones whose parents have taught them what to actually do about them. The “don’t talk to strangers” sermon only goes so far when what he really needs to know is which way to run.

According to Prevention’s Survey on Children’s Health and Safety Behaviors, kids are well versed in certain safety points. They know what to do in home emergencies, such as fires or injuries. But the safety trouble spots (per the 424 parents surveyed) in this survey were these: Kids don’t wear bicycle helmets (67 percent don’t use them). Kids have access to guns. (Out of the nearly 50 percent of households surveyed that have guns, only half keep them locked up.) Kids live in neighborhoods that have safety problems. (Almost half of parents rated their neighborhoods “somewhat safe” or less.)

Yet you can help your child outsmart danger. In addition to the usual dose and don’t, teach her these real life, streetwise strategies.


If all bikers of all ages wore helmets, it would prevent one head injury every four minutes and one death a day in the United States. Add to that the injuries that could be prevented if helmets were always worn with in-line skates and skateboards, and we’d be saving something like the entire population of a small city.

“Two of the biggest reasons kids don’t wear helmets are (1) no one thought to buy them, and (2), if their friends don’t wear them, they don’t think it’s cool,” says Richard A. Schieber, M.D., medical epidemiologist at the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta. But helmets reduce the risk of head injury by 85 percent and the risk of brain injury by almost 90 percent.


If Pearl Jam wore protective gear instead of “grunge” you wouldn’t have to do a thing. But for now, you’ve got to be firm (the “wear it or don’t skate/bike” rule). Build the habit early. Wear your helmet while you’re supervising junior’s first ride. Find out if the law is behind you. Nine states and 18 communities already have laws mandating kids’ helmet use.

See if the neighbors’ kids need helmets, too. Buying in bulk may drop the price. Choose one with the ANSI Z90.4, Snell Memorial Foundation or ASTM seal-of-safety label.


Go pro. Get the same helmets worn by the likes of bicyclists Greg LeMond and John Tomac. Remember that helmets only last through one wreck. Your bike helmet is fine to use for inline skating, roller-skating and skateboarding, too.

Don’t let Dad pick it out. When picking out your helmet, look for something plain so your favorite stickers show up. Or head for Giro’s “Fat Hat,” a helmet that looks like a baseball cap. You can even wear the brim in the back.

Have a comeback. Tell the twerps who are teasing you that you need protection at the speeds at which you travel and that maybe someday they’ll need the same thing. Or mention that because you wear a helmet, you can have more fun every day without being benched by an injury.


Firearms are an emotional issue. But physicians argue that they’re a health issue, too, since 1 out of every 10 children and adolescents who die is killed with a firearm. And many more are injured. For teen boys alone, ages 15 to 19, the rate is even higher.


It’s best not to keep a gun in the home where children live or visit, say the experts. But if you do have a gun, your best safety strategy is to keep it unloaded and locked up. Better yet, lock the gun and ammunition separately, and keep the key with you. When you know your own turf is safe from firearm injuries, ask about the homes where your child plays. Another important step is to deglamorize gun use by talking to your kids about the dangers of guns.


Walk away. Memorize this motto and use it whenever you see a gun or other weapon: “I will not touch it. I will leave the area right away. I will tell a grown up after I leave because I want to be safe.” That goes even if it’s at your best friend’s house.


You can’t single-handedly childproof the neighborhood, but by being aware of the dynamics of strangers, dogs and bullies, you can help your child do something about them.

Dealing with people they don’t know… Strangers don’t always look like they’re strangers–they can look like neighbors or other kids’ fathers. Reinforce that the bad guy doesn’t always look like Freddy Krueger.


If you’re going to be late picking up your child, call ahead and have a teacher stand with him until you arrive. If you have to send someone who your child doesn’t know, determine a password ahead of time. It shouldn’t be anything obvious like “Ninja Turtles”. Tell your child not to get near a car until he hears that password.


  • Know where to go. Have some checkpoints between home and school, or home and after-school activities, where you can run and be safe if necessary. For instance, if you haven’t crossed Main Street yet and you spot trouble, run back to school. Or if you’re past Main Street, run to the convenience store. Work out these routes with Mom or Dad.
  • Drop the books. If someone approaches you on foot, drop your book bag there–even if you don’t want to lose it–and run. Anything you’re holding will prevent you from running fast. And as you’re going, yell “stranger!”
  • Go the other way. If a car approaches you and someone starts talking to you or wants you to get inside, say “No!” and run in the opposite direction the car is facing. You can get away before the driver turns the car around.
  • Let the machine get it. “Don’t talk to strangers” goes for over the phone, too. Let the answering machine take messages. You can always call back if it was someone you know and Mom and Dad approve.
  • Dealing with dogs…When the dog/kid meeting goes awry, it’s usually because kids are overfriendly or superscared. And dogs often aren’t nuts for the kids, either. Friendly kids head for dogs on chains or reach through fences or car windows to pet them. The only way these confined canines can defend their turf from an outstretched hand is with their teeth.
  • Scared kids scream and run. Dogs can mistake these screams for injured prey. Running gets dogs more excited.


Ideally, kids under the age of seven shouldn’t be alone with a dog, even if they’ve met the pet previously. Most kids are bitten by dogs they know (often their own!).

  • Take the T-approach. Once you have permission to approach a dog, remember that a head-on approach makes a dog feel threatened. So go to the dog’s side and hold out a hand, palm down, for sniffing. Pet the shoulder or under the chin, not on the top of the head.
  • Feed it your homework. If a dog is barreling toward you and barking, stay still and place something between you and it–your homework, your knapsack, your bike or your skateboard. If he’s interested in biting, he’ll chomp at the closest object and then back off.
  • Just walk away. If a dog comes too close, turn toward him and back away slowly. Avoid eye contact and don’t smile. (The dog thinks you’re baring your teeth and that you want a fight.) Or huddle down so you look like a log rather than prey. Make fists and hold them up to your ears. (Fingers and ears are easy to bite.)
  • Handling a bully… About one in seven schoolchildren is either a bully or a victim. That means this affects approximately 5 million U.S. children under age 15.


Kids can only do so much on their own about bullies. And few kids feel good about telling a teacher they’re being picked on, even though it’s a great strategy. As a parent, the best thing you can do is NOT tell your child what to do. Instead, work together to find options he thinks are dignified and acceptable. Then rehearse them.


Know your options. Some hints: Say “I don’t like it when you hit me. Leave me alone”. And be strong (stand tall, with your head up, looking the bully in the eye), not whiny or angry when you say it. You don’t want to make the situation worse by calling the bully names or by making threats. Another alternative: Don’t give the bully any response. No matter what, get away from him as soon as you can. Then evaluate how well your option worked and whether you’ll need to do something different next time. (One way to choose a solution is to ask yourself: “Is it safe? Is it fair? Will it work? How will people feel if I do this?”)

Think first. Using your fists rarely solves anything, because when you get mad, the bully usually becomes even more of a bully. If he’s hurting you, run away or do what you need so you can get away. If that involves anything physical, make sure you know the risks of doing it. Ask yourself, Will this stop him? Does he have a knife? Will this make him madder? Have the options rehearsed before you meet him. Knowing what to do might make you look confident enough that he won’t pick on you in the first place.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *