for release Friday May 16, 2003
by Melodie Davis
Safety 101: Protecting Your Child
When I was a young parent, it seemed like every day I heard stories that scared me. Don't let the lid on your toilet up, a toddler might drown. Don't let your child play with a balloon, especially after it has popped or been deflated. They might choke on a piece. Don't let them stand up in a shopping cart, they might fall out and hit their head. I began to despair: How will they ever survive? Can't they have any fun? Then there were all the viruses and sniffles to worry about: if their fever spikes, is it meningitis? Does too many bruises mean leukemia? How can we adequately childproof our home-and Grandma's, and the babysitters, and on and on?
The responsibility for your child's health and well-being is an awesome and terrifying responsibility. You love your child so much it hurts-and you know how much it would pain you to have anything happen to him or her. But yet, how can you take reasonable precautions without ruining your child's life?
My husband and I watched a group of 7-8 youngsters at a neighborhood park recently having a grand time swinging long sticks at each other. They didn't need fancy toys, they had the universal toy: a stick. They didn't seem to be endangering one another or actually poking anyone, but if I had been responsible for them I probably wouldn't have let them play like that. We kind of shrugged it off, recalling our own childish games with cousins and friends doing similarly dangerous things. (If they had looked mean or like they were hurting each other, we might have intervened.)
Today there is plenty to worry about: various kinds of warfare, kidnapping, murder, molestation to name a few of the worst. But parents have to use common sense in protecting their children, and teaching them some basic self-protection rules can go a long way in helping them survive the pitfalls and dangers inherent in growing up.
There are several ways to teach basic safety rules. We enjoyed using a cassette tape (today you'd probably use video or DVD) which made safety rules memorable and fun. Having fun with it takes away some of the scariness. For instance, our daughters easily memorized their phone number by using the sing-along song on the tape and inserting their own number at the correct place. They learned that if they got lost in a crowd, they should look for "a mother or grandmother with children" to ask for help.
As they got older we carefully used a secret password if I left them at the library, to do some shopping, or if separated for other reasons. I told them they shouldn't go with anyone even if that person said "Mom" had told them it was okay, unless the person knew the password. The children learned from their audiotape of songs and stories that if anyone grabbed them in a store, it was okay to scream loudly, "This isn't my mother" or "father." And that they should tell an adult they love and trust if anyone touches them in a place covered by their underwear, and so on. It is amazing to me how these memorable lines come back to me from the tapes even now as I write, and I know they do for my kids, too.
A local commercial shows a very small child practicing dialing 911 for help-which we practiced, too. Of course you also have to teach them that they should never dial 911 unless it is really an emergency.
Today our safety concerns extend to the Internet, and making wise rules so kids are safe there, too. Use an Internet Service Provider that allows you to block your children's access to certain services, and keep the computer in a central place where you can easily see what is going on. If they are old enough to use the Internet they should know and abide by certain rules like never going to meet anyone they have met only through the Internet.
After you have read everything you can read on child safety and helped them understand the things they need to know, then relax, knowing that you have prepared them well. You will continue to look out for them as much as possible, but everyone has moments when they weren't as careful as they should be and children get hurt. Things happen. We can prepare, hope and pray-and then there comes a time when you have to let them venture out from your protective watch.
For a free brochure on "Protecting Your Child" write to me at: Melodie Davis, Another Way c/o Name\Address of YOUR newspaper; or e-mail: Melodie@mennomedia.org.
You can also visit Another Way on the Web at www.thirdway.com.
Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three daughters.
NOTES TO EDITORS: text = 762 words; end material = 105 words
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