Potential dangers such as child abduction and sexual assault lurk in every possible place where our children spend most of their time. The recent case of an eight-year-old girl who was sexually assaulted and murdered sent a gruesome message to all parents and guardians of children.
Yet, many still are still rather careless about their children's personal safety. I still see parents leaving their children behind in corners of the shopping malls and children sitting in a shopping cart outside the shops. Children walking to the neighbourhood shops on their own.
Having two primary-age daughters, I have always emphasized personal safety rules to them before and after school. When a hypermarket opened next to my daughter's primary school, I immediately went to the principal and volunteered to conduct personal safety sessions for the girls in this primary school. I presented workshops on building self-esteem, learning to be assertive, learning how to stay safe and the good and bad touches.
Even the campaign on personal safety has its limitations if parents do not take the responsibility to help their children. Parents need to take an active role in protecting their children from abduction and exploitation. You need to constantly supervise your children and be alert to their needs. You can reduce their risk of becoming victims of heinous crimes by listening to them and teaching them about personal safety.
Listen to your children tell you about their interests and dislikes. Know who their friends are and the games they like to play together. Take note of their daily activities and habits. Your children need to be told repeatedly that you place great importance on their safety.
Some children are worried that their parents will be angry with them when they lose things or done something they should not have. Always remind your children that you will always listen to them no matter what has happened.
You must also set limits about the places they can go to, the people they meet and the things they do. Let children know which neighbour's house is allowed and which one is not. No matter how old your child is, it is always best that he or she goes everywhere with a friend.
Using a buddy system has helped many to be safe when going out. A flasher was hiding in a girls' toilet in a primary school. Two girls went in together. When this man approached them, one of them froze and could not move. Her friend grabbed her by the arm and they ran out together. Only one of them reported to the school authorities.
Remind your children daily of the importance of trusting their own instincts. If someone approaches your child and this makes her uncomfortable, she should run away and tell someone about this. Every child has a right to say "NO" to unwanted attention. Children who are confident and know their own feelings will not fall prey easily to crimes targeted at them.
Here are some tips to keep your child safe in school:
- When your child wears her name tag on the school uniform, she should be alert that the perpetrator may use this to trick her. Remind your child that a well-meaning adult will never ask children for help. She should never oblige to help anyone on her own but seek help from other adults.
- Make sure your child knows the routes to and from school. In case of emergency, your child should know the safe places to turn to. She should never hide in secluded places but among many people. She must shout loudly for help when she needs it.
- If anything should happen to her, your child must always tell someone until one person actually listens to her. She must never keep secrets of things that happened to her.
- If there is any change in plans, your child must always check in with you first before going ahead with the new plans. She must never follow anyone without informing her parents or schoolteachers.
- If you pick up your child regularly from school, create a password so that she knows how to confirm that you have sent someone to pick her up. Children must always remember that parents will never send anyone whom they do not trust to pick up their children. Using a password can be handy but your child must always try to contact you before leaving with the person.
Every parent must ensure his or her child's personal safety at home and at school. Take up neighbourhood watch. It is every family's responsibility to keep the community safe from dangers and harms.
Constantly remind children of all the safety rules until they are part of their everyday living. Keep an open communication with your children. Be alert to the changes of behaviour in your children.
Ruth Liew is an expert in early childhood education, child development, parenting, and child care. She is also an author and a columnist.