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ICPM-weekly-P2P-phone-calls-ad-enewsAs part of International Child Protection Month, we are offering free weekly coaching calls during September with an opportunity for live participation as well as providing notes and the recording of each call that we hope you will find helpful and share with others.

On Tuesday we had an excellent discussion about teaching safety without scaring kids on the “Turning Problems into Practices” coaching conference call. An overview of key points, notes from the call, and the recording are below.

Next week our discussion will be about Healthy Boundaries: Positive communication and self-advocacy skills to develop healthy relationships, on Tuesday, Sept. 15 at Noon PDT. Register to get the pre-reading and call information. You can submit your own question to be discussed on the call. >>>

An important part of parenting is protecting our children, not only from harm, but also from our own fear. If we want our children to be confident, competent, and able to make safe choices, we need to offer them our confidence in their ability to learn and practice skills to be safe, and practice (co-pilot) those skills with them until they show us they are ready to do it on their own.

We had 35 people register, and seven people asked questions about their specific problems in order to learn how to apply Kidpower safety skills and practices. Practices ranged from how to advocate with other adults on behalf of kids to specific skills and language to practice with the kids themselves. Below you can listen to the audio and read a summary transcript, along with links to the resources that were recommended on the call.

The questions addressed on the call include:

  • My early elementary age child is coming home with fear and anxiety after several safety presentations at school about fire, tornados or lock-downs
  • My son’s great-Uncle told him a scary made-up story about a ‘bad neighbor who steals children’ and now he’s very fearful of neighbors
  • My 8-yr-old has been hearing about race-based violence in other places and now she is very fearful of police
  • In my role as an educator, and the parent of a teen, I want to teach more about Internet Safety – but when I was researching it, I found all of these videos about parents testing their kids with fake predators to see what they do and no matter how much we say to kids they don’t always follow our instructions.
  • I am going to allow my 8-year-old daughter to stay after school to do activities for the first time. They say my school is safe, but I am able to walk into my school freely so I have some concerns.
  • I have read some stories in the news about boys being molested in the public bathrooms at family-friendly restaurants or at a gas station. My two boys have been too old to have Mom accompany them in the restroom for a while. They want to feel independent, and they don’t like me standing by the door.
  • My sister’s husband is a convicted pedophile. He will not admit that he is guilty and denies ever doing anything, but I am still uncomfortable with him being around my daughter who is 8 years old, and he gives her special attention…

The pre-reading for this call was the article: Teaching Kids to Be Safe Without Making Them Scared: Tips for Safety with Strangers and People Children Know

Learn more about HOW to advocate, intervene and empower young people by:


Kidpower Turning Problems into Practices Coaching Conference Call with Irene van der Zande — Call Topic: “Our Children Don’t Need Our Fear — Teaching Kids about Safety Without Scaring Them” (59 mins)


Question 1: My daughter has had several safety presentations at school. Whether it is fire safety or a police officer comes in to cover how to deal with a lock down or tornado – when she comes home from having one of these presentations at school, she is so upset and anxious. How can I help her manage this?

Solution Discussion: First, we have to acknowledge things like tornadoes and lock downs and fires can be scary. The way to manage this and reduce the fear is to focus on the things that kids can do so that they can feel confident and powerful in situations that might be worrisome. Some kids and adults worry more than others and that is okay. Sometimes the presentations of these programs focus on raising the awareness about safety issue and telling kids what to do without making sure that they feel successful by practicing doing it. When you raise awareness of safety issues without rehearsing skills, it can raise anxiety because you are talking about a problem, but you don’t know exactly what to do about that problem. At Kidpower, our focus is: “lets practicing being safe” and have fun doing it because we will coach them practicing and actually doing it. Research about teaching fire safety using “stop, drop and roll,” found that kids who had practiced the skills ahead of time were far less traumatized from later experiencing a real fire than those who were just told what to do.

  1. Practice with your daughter: “ I know this worries you, so let’s practice.” “Let’s practice yelling for help and going and getting help.” And it is most important for the adult to be calm and then in a fun way, say: “let’s make a “safety game” about what you learned today and let’s practice.” If she resists at first, that is okay. There are other ways to approach it: you can do breathing techniques for getting calm, and make a story together or use her toys to practice the safety rules.
  2. Recommendations: Protect children from the news, media, and conversations with other adults about scary situations—and not to have those conversations when kids are around—will all help reduce anxiety. Always project calm and confidence, as the adult in charge, and this will help kids too. For example, even during wartime – studies found that when people went into shelters from the bombing, the children were far better off (less traumatized) in the shelters where adults were singing and being positive that they would all get through this, than in those where the adults were acting and projecting fear.

Recommended reading:

Question 2: I have an uncle who tells stories to my young son – who loves to hear his made-up stories. But recently, he started telling a story about a bad neighbor who would steal children. My son put his hands over his ears, but the uncle would not stop. I had to physically move my son away and now he is asking questions about the neighbors and is afraid of them.

Solution Discussion:

Discuss and set a boundary with Uncle – He tried to minimize it when I told him that the story was scaring my son.” So you can try again and make a bridge. You can say, I understand you were trying to tell a story and be entertaining – and it is not okay when you tell a story about people hurting kids. Think ahead of what he might do if you said this. Come up with ways to encourage Uncle to make it right with your son. Maybe try to challenge him to come up a new story where kids are empowered. If he tells you that you are “being silly.” Just THROW THAT AWAY and say, “I am doing my job protecting my child.”

Practice with your Son:

  • You could say, “Sometimes grown-ups make mistakes and he should have listened when you covered your ears. I am talking with Uncle so that he knows to listen to you next time.”
  • Try having a signal with the uncle when the story is not going in the right direction. Try changing the story so that the kid does a safety skill and the neighbor learns what not to do next time. Or interrupt and say, “Let’s find a different story.”
  • You could have Uncle say, “I am sorry I did not pay attention when you covered your ears, I should have listened when you did that.”
  • Practice Checking First before changing the plan – in many situations. For example: a friend wants to go over to the bushes when they were supposed to stay on the play area, he can say, “No, we need to stay right here.”

Recommended Reading:

Question 3: My daughter is 8 and has been hearing a lot about race-based violence and she feels really scared now. How do I explain to her and help her to not freeze or panic when she sees a police car? She is hearing about things that have happened in other areas from kids discussing it. She is afraid of all the “what if’s.”

Solution Discussion:

  1. Check with the law enforcement groups in your area to have them come and talk with the kids. Ask them to come and talk about how to get help from law enforcement, about their jobs, and about what they are doing to make places safer. So part of it is if you take the police officer, who is unknown and make them known in some way then that can help ease the children’s concerns. Many police departments do a wonderful job with training and community involvement, and are horrified by this kind of violence. As a citizen you can demand your law enforcement agencies are really working to not let their own bias or prejudices keep them from doing the right thing. Tell them that kids are scared, so we need to work together so they feel safer.
  2. Recommendations for your daughter: People need to know what to do if someone in authority does something that is against the law or being unsafe – and we have lots of examples in our articles on dealing with prejudice and institutionalized oppression. For example, it’s important to Be Calm, even if someone is very rude or awful; Keep your body still and hands out of pockets. Record the interaction if you can with a phone. As an adult you can say to her, “We are going to stay safe, we are not going to argue.” Then tell her how to get help after.
  3. Make sure the school is addressing, and not allowing, racist or hurtful remarks. Since you say that she does hear these kinds of remarks from other kids – give her some skills to keep herself safe, protect her feelings, and how to report to a teacher. By helping to address prejudice at every aspect in her life, she will be safer. Ask the school if you can have some lessons on diversity and welcoming differences. If kids are talking to each other, they are all probably worried, so doing some training with them on what they can do in those situations.

Recommended reading:

Question 4: In my role as an educator, and the parent of a teen, I want to teach more about Internet Safety – but when I was researching it, I found all of these videos about parents testing their kids with fake predators to see what they do and no matter how much we say to kids they don’t always follow our instructions. I know we need to practice and not just talk, but how do we do that?

Solution Discussion: It is important to “co-pilot” (Do things with your kids). You go with your kids first together, then as they learn skills you can let them get ahead of you as if they are on their own. For anything they want to do on their own, first do several practice runs first with you there so that you and they are sure they have the skills and knowledge to handle problems that might come up. Then they can do it on their own and tell you about it.

Same with the Internet; have them show you where they are going, what they are doing and who they are communicating with. By going through it with them – you have the chance to see pitfalls that you might not have seen otherwise. They need these things in the process:

  1. Knowledge – What is too personal? What is not safe?
  2. Skills – What to do in the moment to be safe.
  3. Developmental level to be able to do those skills in real life, as well as online.
  4. Adult leaders to support them

Recommended reading:

Question 5: I am going to allow my 8-year-old daughter to stay after school to do activities, I have never allowed her to do this, but I want to teach her how to be safe. They say my school is safe, but I am able to walk into my school freely so I have some concerns about this and my daughter’s choices.

Solution Discussion: Even in a place where she feels safe, she needs to follow the Check First Before Changing the Plan safety rule. This way if someone asks her to leave the building or even go to a part of it where the adults in charge don’t expect her to be – she will know how to check first with the adults in charge – and how to contact you if adults are changing the plan. We believe that most people are good! And we cannot always know – so we make and practice safety plans. Kids need specifics about what the plan is and they need reminders.

  1. What is the safety plan for each kind of situation and how to get help.
  2. Use role-plays to practice — e.g., “what if I am late to pick you up, let’s practice what you need to do” (check first with a teacher, do not go outside, stay in the building with your teacher).

For adults, we need to manage a way to protect them from all the details of what can go wring and instead focus on the practical skills and ways we stay safe most of the time; for example we don’t give kids gory details about getting hit by a car – we simply teach them to look both ways before crossing the street, and we practice with them until they show they are competent with the skill before we let them cross alone.

We need to show kids our confidence that we can keep them safe most of the time and when we are not there, they have the skills to keep themselves safe. They do not need our fear. A long time ago, I told my young daughter that I wished I could give her a better world to live in – and her perspective was totally different: She said, If we lived in the age of the dinosaurs we’d have to be worried about being eaten – all the time. Kids like stories of overcoming and being strong in the face of fear and danger and how they are strong and powerful. This along with the actual skills will help them be safe.

Recommended reading:

Question 6: I am a Mom, with two sons. The boys are 8 and 10. I have read some stories in the news about boys being molested in the public bathrooms at family-friendly restaurants and at gas station. My boys have been too old to have me accompany them in the restroom for a while. Often I have had another male who could go with them as part of their group, but that’s less and less the case. What can I teach my sons? They want to feel independent. They don’t like me standing by the door.

Solution Discussion: First need to access the places to go to the bathroom, and make agreements that make sense based on the situation – maybe you do wait by the door, or wait down the hall, or at the table. It depends how isolated the restrooms are. Teach them to look in before you go in; look down the hall to see who is in the line; if someone starts focusing on you, even if you really have to “go”, you will leave the bathroom and get help. If someone approaches them, then they need to leave right away. Since you have two boys, they can go together and b prepared by knowing how to yell and leave. Also have them take a good self-defense class for in the unlikely event that they might need to use physical skills to get away from someone and go to safety.

You explain: Once they have the skills and you have confidence that they can get out of a situation if they have to, practicing simple moves and using their voice, then they can have more independence. Here are the steps:

  1. Look
  2. Leave
  3. Yell
  4. Pull Away
  5. Hit an aggressor, if needed
  6. Get help, even if it is embarrassing

Recommended reading:

Question 7: My biggest struggle is my sister’s husband is a convicted pedophile. He will not admit that he is guilty and denies ever doing anything, but I am still uncomfortable with him being around my daughter who is 8 years old. He pays very special attention to her and because he is with the family she is very comfortable around him.

I’ve told her that she is not to be around him by herself—without going into details…but should I? I feel bad because she will never be allowed over at my sister’s house without me. My sister gets very defensive regarding him but how can I keep my daughter safe? Should I alert the school that he should never be able to come and get her?

Solution Discussion: You do not want to give him access to kids whether he admits it or not. Kidpower principle: Safety is more important than anyone’s embarrassment, inconvenience or offense. Tell your daughter, “unfortunately he has had problems where he has been unsafe with kids and we need to follow our safety rules.” This is so hard, stay calm when you talk to your daughter. You should tell the school, and tell her, “I will never send him to come get you even if he makes up a story.”

  • Make the boundaries very clear – with her and your family – that she is not to have any physical contact with him or be alone with him, not even for a second.
  • Practice checking first before going or changing the plan.
  • Practice boundary-setting skills with her – so that if he were to say something like, ‘come do something special in my room,’ then you coach her to say, “no, I need to stay with everyone.” And if he says, ‘don’t you care about me?’ She can say, “Of course I care about you, and I am following my safety rules.”
  • Give your daughter a signal that she can easily use to get your attention if she is uncomfortable or bothered by something when visiting with family, so that you will know there is a problem and can help her right away.
  • You can say to your sister who has decided to stay with him, “I am sorry, I wish this was not true, but I am not going to ignore what happened, and I will make my decisions, too.”

Recommended reading:

Learn HOW to advocate, intervene and empower young people by:





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Published: September 10, 2015   |   Last Updated: September 10, 2015

Beth (she/her/hers) is the Web Communications Director and a Senior Program Leader for Kidpower International. She is a former journalist, now writing & editing coach, business technology and strategy consultant, child protection and gender inclusion advocate, and has been a Kidpower instructor (for all-ages) since 1992.