8 Vital Safety Skills to Teach Your Child
As parents, one of our primary jobs is keeping our children safe. No parent wants to see their child hurt, and most of us would gladly put ourselves in between our child and any threat coming against them.
Sometimes, though, threats come against our children in ways that are less obvious. Sometimes, they are unexpected, or we aren’t around to protect them. It is our job, then, to teach our children the skills that they need in order to protect themselves and stay safe in this world.
Let’s talk about eight vital safety skills and topics that we all should be teaching our children about, from a young age.
It is a heartbreaking and terrifying reality that mass shootings and gun violence is becoming more “normal”. It is common sense to teach our children about guns, whether or not we support gun-ownership or own a gun ourselves. We should teach our children that guns are weapons that by themselves are not harmful, but can be very dangerous when in the wrong hands. Kids should know what to do if they see one (get away immediately and tell a trusted adult). At the appropriate age, it is also wise to teach children how to use a gun—how to unload it, how to shoot it, and how to defend themselves with it in a life-threatening situation.
For families who do choose to own a gun, it is absolutely vital to store the gun safely: generally unloaded and always in a locked container that nobody except the responsible adults in the home know how to open. On this note, any key to a gun safe should be well-hidden in a secret or inaccessible place, and any combination to a gun safe should only be used when children are not around and able to see. Don’t take any chances with kids accessing guns in your home!
Talking about guns with other parents that your children spend time around is also wise. Know if your kids are visiting friends’ homes where guns are present, and make sure that those guns are being stored safely. This also goes back to teaching our children what to do if they see a gun: get away immediately and tell a trusted adult.
2. Self-Defense and Personal Safety
Equipping our children with self-defense skills is a no-brainer. Personally, I want to ensure that my kids can kick some serious butt if they need to. Whether they are being targeted by bullies at school, or being threatened by a predatory adult, kids can learn to defend themselves through classes in martial arts and/or self-defense. Having an open dialogue about personal safety is also a good idea. This means talking often about things like not answering the door when parents aren’t home, never getting into a stranger’s car, being alert of your surroundings in public, and knowing how to get to safety when you are in a situation where you feel threatened.
3. Internet Safety
In our technological world, we have to face virtual dangers every day. Scams are becoming harder and harder to spot, and inappropriate content is all too easy to access online. Child predators, anonymous bullies, and viruses are also dangers. It is more important than ever to us to teach our kids about how to be safe on the internet.
Monitoring our children’s internet activity is the first and one of the most important steps. Monitoring software such as Covenant Eyes can be installed for when you aren’t able to directly supervise. Having a discussion about being safe on the internet is also important. We should warn our children not to talk to strangers online, to tell a trusted adult if anyone is harassing them on the internet (or otherwise), and not to open emails from people they don’t know or click on any links they aren’t sure are safe. We should help our kids set strict privacy settings on any social media profiles they have, and show them how to block people if they ever feel disrespected.
And, we should explain that there are inappropriate things on the internet such as pornography. One option is to teach kids to respond to unexpected inappropriate images by immediately looking away, blocking the screen, and asking for help to close it. Parents are responsible for choosing settings and software that protect our children from images like this.
4. Drugs and Alcohol
Many parents struggle to find an effective way to convince their children to avoid experimenting with drugs and alcohol, especially as they grow into teens and face peer pressure. One way is to have an open line of communication with your kids. Allow them to talk to you and ask questions about anything without you becoming angry, judgmental, or embarrassed. Stay involved and interested in their lives, and ask them questions about what’s going on with them.
Leading by example is also important. Choosing to drink alcohol only in moderation, if at all, sets a positive example for your children. Obviously, avoiding using illegal drugs is a no-brainer. But also pay attention to your attitude towards others’ drug use. If your children see your friends and family members drinking a lot and using drugs, they can be confused about what is right and wrong. Consider carefully who you choose to expose your children to, and be sure to have discussions about any drug and alcohol use that your children witness.
We need to avoid having the “sex talk” as an awkward, abstract, one-time conversation in which we embarrass and potentially traumatize our children. Instead, sex should be a topic that parents and children can discuss confidently, and on an ongoing basis. This can start at a young age, simply by answering questions our children have about body parts and where babies come from. We can provide answers that are straight-forward and age-appropriate. Generally, I try to start with less detail and allow the child’s questions to guide us to where we need to explain more. Often they will ask what they need to know at the age they need to know it.
Kids should also be taught that their private areas are not for others to look at or touch (with the exception of doctors and caretakers in specific situations). They should know how to say “NO!” when they feel uncomfortable. They should know that they will be listened to and believed and protected if they tell their parents that somebody has abused them, or made them feel uncomfortable.
As they grow into young adults, we parents are responsible for setting safe boundaries for our children. The fact is that sex, when used for the wrong reasons, can be incredibly harmful in many ways. STIs and unplanned pregnancy are two of the physical risks, but the emotional impact of sharing physical intimacy with another person is often overlooked. I believe that sex is meant to be shared between only two people for their entire lives, within a committed, loving, mutually respectful relationship.
To protect teens from being hurt by poor sexual choices, parents can enforce boundaries around dating, parties, and spending time alone individually with peers. Each family should decide on the boundaries that work best for them, but in general, teens need to be able to make their own decisions while still being guided and supervised by their parents.
6. Interpersonal Boundaries
Setting and enforcing boundaries with others is a skill that many adults lack. Teaching our children how to do this at a young age can help them to avoid a whole lot of pain and struggle in their relationships with others. We can teach our children the importance of setting healthy boundaries without feeling guilty.
One way to teach this is to lead by example. Setting boundaries with our children allows them to see what that means. It means communicating clearly where one’s limits are, and expecting others to respect them. We can encourage our kids to set their own boundaries within our family and with others. Being both assertive and kind is not only possible, but wise!
7. Decision Making
Many parents are so determined to protect their children from harm that they end up smothering them. While it is our job to protect our kids, we also must allow our children to choose things for themselves, and learn to be good decision-makers. As parents, we provide supportive guidance, but we should not try to control our kids. We can only control ourselves.
The way this works is by parents setting the ground rules for their children, and then allowing them to make their own decisions within those boundaries. We might set a ground rule that our kids need to have their homework done by bedtime, but we can allow them to decide how they will manage their time to make that happen. When they break the rules, there are consequences. Even the decisions that turn out to be bad ones are important learning experiences. We all have those, whether we’re children or adults. We can also help our children to brainstorm solutions and strategies when they are having trouble meeting their responsibilities.
Kids must learn to make wise decisions for their own safety, and for a healthy and happy life and future.
As Christians, there is no more important skill to teach our children about than the power of prayer, when it comes to seeking both wisdom and protection. God says in his word that both are available through him when we ask. There is no greater source! In the end, no matter how well-prepared or educated or careful our children are, they are still at the mercy of other forces in our world.
Parents should pray over their children for safety, and teach them to do the same for themselves. God hears us when we call to him in faith, and we want our children to trust that with all of their hearts.