At any age, we are safer when the people who care about us know where we are going, who is with us, and what we are doing. Teaching children to Check First with their adults, such as parents, teachers, or other caregivers, before they change their plans can help to protect them from many kinds of danger.
Most of the time, children and teens are harmed by people they know rather than by strangers. So, it is important to be clear that this safety rule applies to any time they change the plan you’ve agreed on, including with people they know.
To avoid problems, start by being very clear on what the plan is for each day or place. The younger children are, the more specific and short-term this plan needs to be. For example, “Right now, I am leaving you at your tumbling class while I go shopping. Stay here in the room and be sure to tell the teacher if you need to leave to use the bathroom. If I am late picking you up, tell the director so she can get hold of me.”
With older children and teens, ask them to tell you their plan for the day to make sure you are all on the same page. You can also agree with them about different ways to Check First, such as by texting – and about places or people where they can go without Checking First, as long as they Think First and let you know. If young people are living away from home, they are still safer if they communicate about their plans with their housemates or friends.
Depending on the age, abilities, and life experiences of children and teens, relevant “Think and Check First Before You Change the Plan” situations that you can practice with them might include:
- before you use the stove or pick up something sharp;
- before you play “Hide and Seek”;
- before you get close to a dog, or any animal, such as a squirrel, a bird, a cat, or a snake;
- before you open the door to someone you were not expecting;
- before you go into a swimming pool;
- before you dive into a lake;
- before going with a friendly neighbor, even if this is another kid who invites you to do something fun;
- before going with anyone, including someone you know, and even if they say that your parents said you should go;
- before getting into a car, even if you are going to be late to school, even with someone you know;
- before you leave your family or group during an outing to go to the bathroom, or go back to get something you’ve forgotten;
- before you go with a friend to a party or to a park;
- before you get close to someone you don’t know well, including a person who is trying to approach you by asking you a question, offering to give you something, or wanting you to help them look for a lost child or dog.
The following Think and Check First practice is simple to teach and takes less than five minutes. Remember to make it fun and not scary. You are just pretending to be someone who doesn’t know the safety rules rather than someone who is dangerous. Help kids be successful by pausing and coaching them on what to do. Here’s what you say (in italics):
Here’s a Kidpower Safety Skill that can help you have more fun and less trouble. Check First with your adults before you change your plan about where you are going, who is with you, and what you are doing – even about people and places you know well. It can be hard to walk away from someone you like or to wait to do something you enjoy, which is why we practice. You might know this already but you can use this practice to teach this skill to other kids in your life.
Suppose I am your neighbor and you’ve often been at my house before, and I say, “Come on over. I’ve got some baby kittens you can play with!” (You can change what you are inviting them to do depending on the interests and ages of the kids.)
Everyone say, “I’m going to check first.” (Coach kids to repeat after you and stand up and move away.)
Suppose I say, “But I’ve already checked with your grownups and they say it’s okay.”
Everyone say, “I still need to Check First!” (Coach them to repeat after you and stand up and move away.)
Now coach kids to move away from you as you call out, “Hey! Where are you going?”
Coach them to go to someone – or even a chair – pretending to be their adult in charge (parent, babysitter, grandparent, older sibling, etc.) and ask, “May I go visit our neighbor and see the baby kittens?
Have the “Grownup in Charge” say, “Thank you for checking first. Yes you may.”
If kids have mobile phones, you can have them pretend to text to Check First and get a reply. You can apply more emotional pressure by pretending to be someone who comes instead of the adult they were expecting to give them a ride, or by pretending to be another kid who says, “It will just take a minute. You’re not a baby are you?”
If you are pretending to be someone the child does not know well, coach younger kids to move out of reach right away – and not to talk with a stranger who is approaching them – just to go to their grownup. Coach older kids to Think First by assessing whether there are people close by to help and what the approaching person’s behavior is. If they are not sure the situation is safe, their job is to move away and get to safety.
The Kidpower Pizza Story is a fun way to explain the importance of Checking First to kids, including with people you know – both for their safety and for the emotional safety of their grownups.
Once a boy was walking home from school while his mother was waiting for him at their house. His father got off work early and drove up and said to his son, “Let’s go get pizza.”
This was great except that they forgot to do one very important thing, which was to call the boy’s mom. When her son didn’t come home, what do you think his mom did? That right, she started worrying.
The boy’s mom called her husband, but he didn’t answer. So she called the police. They did an all-out search of the town until the boy and his dad got home, full of pizza.
Do you think the mom was happy that her son was safe? Yes of course. And do you think she was upset that he and his dad forgot to let her know before they changed the plan? Yes she was! Remember that even if grownups forget the safety rules, you can help them to remember!
Instead of worrying or talking about the bad things that might happen, we at Kidpower recommend that you use stories and practices like these that can help to empower kids and prepare them to take charge of their safety.
Our Kidpower Safety Comics series provide an easy, fun way to introduce and practice safety skills with children and youth.