Top 5 Back to School Safety Lessons
It’s still hot as the hinges of H-E-double hockey sticks outside, but summer vacation is officially winding down. It’s that time again – Back to School! This annual transition is a perfect opportunity to check in with your child about his or her personal safety skills. Here are my top 5 Back to School Safety Lessons:
1) Don’t Talk to Strangers
Most kids have heard this phrase from their parents and their teachers over and over again throughout their childhood. However, chances are that their experiences with adults thus far in their lives have reinforced the notion that most adults are kind and safe and helpful. Ask yourself – What would your child do if he or she was approached by a stranger asking if s/he wanted some ice cream out of his van? Check out this social experiment that tests what kids actually do when approached by a stranger. The results will shock you.
Children are naturally trusting, so simply reminding them not to talk to strangers is not going to stick in a meaningful way. Children need to practice correct responses through role playing and scenario-based training in addition to having meaninful conversations about how to keep themselves safe.
2) Adult Strangers Don’t Need Help From Children
Despite being warned about “stranger danger,” children have also usually been taught that they should be polite and helpful to adults, and they will often repeat the behavior that they see their parents modeling. For instance, if your child sees you helping a young tourist by giving him directions, or helping somone with their heavy suitcase up the steps at the metro station, your child will be getting the message that helping people in need is appropriate behavior, regardless of if they are strangers are not. Therefore, it is important to discuss with your child that there is an important difference between an adult stranger asking help from another adult and an adult stranger asking help from a child. Ask your child why the adult stranger would be asking him or her for help when they could get help from another adult instead, and then discuss what an appropriate response would be.
3) The 5 W’s of Responsible Reporting
If your child is attacked or bullied at or to or from school, would s/he know what to do afterwards? Have a conversation with your child about WHAT sort of incidents need to be reported, to WHOM s/he should report these incidents, WHERE s/he can run to for help in case of an incident, WHEN to report, and WHY reporting helps everyone involved.
Furthermore, talk with and listen to your child every day. Ask questions about his or her school day, including experiences on the way to and from school, at lunch, and during recess or in between classes. Ask about their peers, not only their friends. Children who feel comfortable talking to their parents about these matters before they are involved in bullying are more likely to report to their parents after an incident occurs.
4) Yell Loud and Yell Often
We all expect that if someone is attacked, he or she will scream or yell for help, but research on how adrenaline affects our system proves that we do the opposite. If we do not practice yelling things like “Help!” “No!” “Stop!” “Get away from me!” or “I don’t know you!” we won’t do so in an adrenalized situation such as an attack. We have an instinctual Fight, Flight, or Freeze response, but none of those involve yelling “leave me alone” at the top of your lungs. But a child yelling something like “You’re not my mom!” while an assailant is trying to pull him or her into their creepy van will attract the attention of surrounding adults who can come to his or her aid. Practice is the only way to build this response. You can practice by shouting phrases like “stop” or “leave me alone” at the top of your lungs together, or practice by shouting into a pillow if you don’t want to attract attention.
5) Self Defense Against Bullies
In Texas, there is a legal mandate that school districts’ codes of conduct must take self defense into consideration when determining disciplinary action for children involved in a fight at school. Even if your child was physically attacked, s/he may still be punished by the school district for fighting back to defend him or herself. Therefore, in addition to bullying prevention skills, your child needs to know how to defend him or herself in such a way that the child-attacker does not get hurt. Most martial arts will teach your child how to hit and kick effectively, which is important knowledge for defending against adult attackers, but Krav Junior will teach your child the difference between a “hard solution” and a “soft solution” and when it is appropriate to use either one.
In the Krav Junior program at Lions Krav Maga, I teach these lessons, among many others, to kids ages 4 and up. We have four divisions in Krav Junior:
- K-Division for children age 4-6
- Y-Division for children age 7-10
- J-Division for children age 11-13
- T-Division for teenagers age 14-17
I believe that personal safety instruction is one of the most important and priceless gifts anyone could give to a child growing up in the modern world. But never forget – your child’s first and most important teacher will always you. So talk to your children early and often about how to keep themselves safe, and keep the conversation going throughout the school year and throughout their lives.