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Recently, a wonderful five-year-old who I’ll call Alice and her parents reminded me for perhaps the millionth time how what we teach and the way we teach it can make such a big difference to the safety of kids and the peace of mind of their adults.

It gives me joy to show parents how to respond to children’s questions (and sometimes imaginative suggestions) in a way that makes the child right while also teaching them what they need to know to be safe – and to see parents’ and kids’ anxiety dissolve as we have fun practicing.

Here are just three of many “Ah Ha” moments from a recent Kidpower Starting Strong workshop for children ages 3-5 with their adults.

1. Safety is having a backup plan.

Starting Strong! Safety skills for children ages 3-6 with their parents.

After we had practiced the Kidpower safety plan for getting lost in a store, Alice’s mother said that, when they go to a busy place like the Monterey Bay Aquarium, she tells her daughter to just stay right where she is and they will come find her.

“That’s good,”I said, ”And in case waiting takes too long or becomes too hard for your daughter, you also need a backup plan. I suggest going to the nearest person working at an exhibit to ask for help. You can also write your mobile phone number on her arm and have her practice showing it to the worker whom she is asking for help.” (This last idea came from our California Program Director, Erika, from long ago when her children were small.)

Alice then chimed in, “I know what MY backup plan will be. I will go outside and to the water, find a boat and sail home!” You can imagine the look on her parents’ faces behind her.

“You have a WONDERFUL imagination!” I said with a big smile. “And that can be your 10th backup plan, AFTER you have tried 9 other things first!”

2. When it’s OK to lie to stay safe.

During our Kidpower boundaries on touch practice we teach kids that they may have to tell an “emergency lie” to be safe. When I pretended to be a family friend who was asking Alice not to tell anyone that I had touched her (shoulder) after she set a strong boundary, she refused to answer, even with my coaching her to say, “I won’t tell if you stop.” She looked at her parents and said firmly, “I don’t break promises and I don’t tell lies.”

I said, “Let’s check with your parents. I think they will agree that most of the time, we want you to tell the truth and keep your promises. But problems should never have to be secrets. If someone wants you to promise not to tell about a problem, that is breaking the safety rules. That’s when you can tell an emergency lie and break a promise to be safe — because then you need to tell your parents what happened as soon as you can.” Her parents emphatically reinforced my message, and we were able to practice all the way through.

3. Addressing stranger fear to build stranger safety skills.

As soon as I started the Together or On Your Own demonstration to show how we have different safety rules in different situations, Alice said with a fearful gasp, “That’s a stranger! I saw a stranger once – he tried to give me an egg. My friend took the egg and it opened up and had a snake in it!”

I skipped right over would probably be a very elaborate and interesting story about the snake and said, “You were right not to take the egg. Your safety rule is to Check First with your adult before you take anything from a stranger. And we practice our stranger safety rules so that you don’t need to be afraid of strangers. A stranger is just someone you don’t know well. At Kidpower we believe that most people are GOOD, which means most strangers are good. For example, are YOU a stranger to anyone?”

Alice shook her head, while her parents nodded theirs, so I asked, “Are there people anywhere who don’t know you yet? … Maybe millions of people?” As she started to nod, I went on, “And YOU are a good person, Alice, even though you are a stranger to millions of people.” After that, we practiced the Checking First rules about animals, other kids, friendly strangers, and neighbors.

I heard later from Alice’s parents that since our workshop she has been enjoying reading the Kidpower Safety Comics, practicing the skills, and discussing with them how to keep herself and other kids safe. “Now that we saw how you talk about and practice safety skills in ways that reduce fear and worry, we are feeling so much calmer ourselves, which is really helping us make safety plans and practice so that she can use the skills in real situations without being scared.”

When we talk with children about existing or potential problems, it’s important to stay calm, no matter what they say, and find positive ways to help them join us in practicing safety skills. We want to build their confidence that they have the power to make safe choices, and to be persistent in asking for help with problems.

You can find more information about how Kidpower teaches The Power of Positive Practice™ approach, and of course there are lots of examples of how to practice Kidpower skills with children in our Safety Comics series, the Earliest Teachable Moment book for parents and caregivers of young children, and many of our other Kidpower publications.

Kidpower Safety Comics Series - 3 Books 

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Published: August 27, 2018   |   Last Updated: August 27, 2018

Kidpower Founder and Executive Irene van der Zande is a master at teaching safety through stories and practices and at inspiring others to do the same. Her child protection and personal safety expertise has been featured by USA Today, CNN, Today Moms, the LA Times, and The Wall Street Journal. Publications include: cartoon-illustrated Kidpower Safety Comics and Kidpower Teaching Books curriculum; Bullying: What Adults Need to Know and Do to Keep Kids Safe; the Relationship Safety Skills Handbook for Teens and Adults; Earliest Teachable Moment: Personal Safety for Babies, Toddlers, and Preschoolers; and The Kidpower Book for Caring Adults: Personal Safety, Self-Protection, Confidence, and Advocacy for Young People.

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