Ah, summer! Time for many families to explore, relax, and try out new activities in different places with new people. Vacations, camps, overnights, outings to amusement parks, or increased “home alone” time can be wonderful experiences, and they can all be more enjoyable when children have basic safety skills – skills they can build on all year long.
Safety at Home
For some families, summer means spending more time together at home. This offers an excellent opportunity to build children’s boundary setting skills and review family safety rules about what is and is not okay to do when you are at home. Good awareness and the ability to express a clear boundary can stop most problems before they start. You can:
- Model effective boundary setting. If the children in your life are doing something that crosses your boundaries – perhaps by climbing or jumping on you, throwing balls in the house, or using words that you find offensive – tell them clearly and respectfully, as soon as you can. Model maintaining a boundary in the face of resistance!
- Use sibling bickering as a learning opportunity. When one child is feeling upset about another’s behavior, try coaching the child who is feeling bothered to express a clear respectful boundary. Coach the other child to listen. Deal with the crossing of appropriate personal boundaries with the same firm clarity you would apply to hitting, kicking, or spitting.
- Set clear boundaries about physical aggression. If your children are getting physically aggressive when they are upset with each other, stop the behavior. Direct children toward more appropriate and effective ways of managing their conflicts.
- Review safety rules for answering the door or phone. Revise rules based on your children’s development of skills and possible changes in your living situation. We recommend that young children check with the adult in charge first before they answer the phone or open the door, even when a parent is home.
- Update safety rules about going. We recommend that young people do not change the plan about where they are going, whom they are going to be with, or when they will be home without checking with their parent or other adult in charge first. It is important for everyone to be clear about what the expectations are.
- Review and practice emergency plans. What if there is an earthquake? What if someone gets hurt? What if there is a fire? Practice safety strategies.
Safety in Summer Programs
For many young people, summer break is a time to participate in fun activities with different people. These often offer new interests, new friends – and new challenges! You can:
- Set up clear safety plans for pick-ups, drop-offs, and getting help. Review your clear – and, we recommend, VERY SHORT – list of people the child can go with at pick-up time without checking first. Role-play how they will follow your family’s rules about checking first. Make sure that they have or know where to find all important phone numbers.
- Acknowledge differences. Meeting diverse new people can mean meeting people who are louder or quieter; who stand very close in conversation, or farther away than you are accustomed; who initiate play more subtly or in a ways that seem overbearing; or who use words and vocabulary differently than you do.Hearing that these kinds of differences are normal can ease anxiety and open the door to conversation about experiences and challenges. Discussions can lead to ideas for how to deal with those challenges. Mingled with all these new and normal ways of being might be someone whose behavior is truly causing a problem, and your talks might help uncover any potentially dangerous situation that needs adult attention.
- Teach kids how to set boundaries and get help to stop unwanted touch. Most of the adults who work with kids in summer programs are wonderful! A very few have bad intentions and can do great harm. Teach kids how to set boundaries to stop unwanted teasing, touch or games and not to keep secrets about any “special” treatment – favors, gifts, time – or ANY kind of touch. Watch our new video: “Kidpower Advice to Prevent Sexual Abuse At Summer Camp & Recreation Activities” for simple steps parents can take and how to teach kids to set boundaries and get help at summer programs.
Safety in the Community
Less time in school can mean more time in the community — visiting friends, going shopping, going to movies and shows, going to the library, and visiting parks. You can:
- Grant freedoms based on demonstrated skills. Before giving your children more independence, expect them to demonstrate the skills needed to manage it safely. For example, a child wanting to use public transit independently will need to demonstrate a willingness to get space between himself and a person making him feel uncomfortable; the ability to ask for help and persist, politely but firmly, until he gets help; and the willingness to get off the bus, take a different bus, or call for a ride if those are the safest choices.
- Make and practice Safety Plans. We want young people to have a picture in their minds of where safety is so that if they have a problem, they are moving toward safety, not just away from possible danger. It is normal for people to think of a familiar place or person as “safety.” However, in an emergency, we want our children to get help as quickly and as safely as they can. Role-play ways of getting help in emergencies where they cannot check first.
- Give permission to use self-defense skills appropriately. Any strong resistance will stop most assaults. However, young people often won’t protect themselves because they don’t want to get in trouble. Have a frank discussion about when it is okay to hurt somebody to stop that person from hurting you.
Safety on Trips
Travel is a time when we are dealing with many changes, and children need to know what to do if there is a problem. You can:
- Make a Safety Plan for how to get help everywhere your children go. What will each person do if you get separated? What if someone bothers you?
- Agree on the safety rules about different kinds of transportation. The rules on an airplane will be different than on a boat, which will be different at a rest stop on a long car trip. Talk about boundaries like where it is safe to go and where it is not safe to go without checking first.
With some planning, support, and practice, we can help make summer experiences not just safer for our children, but also more enriching and rewarding.