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Teaching our kids how to stay safe in an unsafe world....

Posted Apr 15 2009 12:25am
In a town that is only 20 minutes away from where we live, a little 8-yr old girl ( Sandra Cantu ) was kidnapped and murdered. What's even more shocking is that the person accused of this heinous crime is someone that the little girl knew. In fact, the accused woman (yes, a WOMAN!) was a neighbor of Sandra's family and her little girl and Sandra were playmates! She was also a Sunday school teacher and described by family members as being incapable of committing such a horrific crime. A crime like this just makes no sense....apparently, the motive is unknown. It breaks my heart every time I think of what this little girl's family must be going through...and to make it worse, it was someone that their little girl knew and obviously trusted.

In the past, I've gone over basic safety rules with my kids, such as stay closeby to us when we're out in public, never talk to strangers....that kind of stuff, just very simple basic things. But since hearing about this latest kidnapping, especially since it was SO close to where we live, I felt it was time to get a little more specific with Cole and Bella.

A few days ago, as we were sitting at the table coloring, I asked them, "What would you do if we were at the park and a stranger came up to you and asked you to help him find his dog....would you go with him?". They both said "yes".

So I asked them to pay special attention to what I was about to tell them and then I broke it down for them, as seriously as I could. Even though they are only 4 years old, I felt they'd be able to understand how important this was for them to learn. We talked about the fact that, for the most part, people are good...but there are some people who are just not right in the head and want to hurt little children. We're always talking about treating others with respect and being polite but I told them in the case of someone trying to harm them, that they need to do whatever it takes to get away to safety....don't worry about manners or being polite. This is when Cole asked, "So we could spit on the person and not get in trouble?" (figures, right?) I also stressed the fact that as long as they always stay nearby Tim and/or me, we could keep them safe from potential harm. I said, "if you can't see us, that means we can't see you....so make sure you always stay in sight where you can see us".

Once we were done with that discussion, we talked about safety techniques that they could use if someone approached them or tried to grab them. And we practiced every single one, repeatedly, until they felt comfortable with the technique.

  • If someone approaches them and asks them to go with him/her, they should scream "NO" as loudly as they can, as they run away. As they're running, they should scream "HELP" loudly to draw attention.
  • If someone tries to grab them, they should bite the person as hard as they can....any body part they can get in their mouth, whether it be a hand, arm, nose....whatever is closest to their mouth, just bite down HARD. When the person lets go, RUN and scream "HELP" and/or "THIS PERSON IS NOT MY MOM/DAD". If the person covers their mouth, they should still try to bite the person's hand.
  • If they aren't able to bite the person, they should try to go limp in the person's arms (my kids are famous for the whole limp spaghetti routine...you know, where you pick your kids up and they go limp in your arms, trying to get away from you). If the person loses their grip but still has a hold of them, if they don't feel they can get away safely, they should wrap themselves around the bottom of the person's legs and start screaming "HELP". The abductor won't be able to move and, more than likely, he/she will reach down to try to pry the child off and that's when the child bites the person. At this point, the hope is that the abductor has been slowed down enough by the child and attention is now being drawn to the situation, to where the person just wants to get away from the child as soon as possible.
  • Never go up to a car where a person has asked them to approach with the lure of finding a lost animal, lost child or an offer of candy. If a car does pull up next to them on the sidewalk, they are to move away as quickly as they can.
  • Fight, kick, scream, kick the person in the privates....whatever they need to do to get away, they should do. If the person attempts to put them in their car or the trunk, the kids should stiffen any of their limbs that are not being held and push away from the car. Unfortunately (for our cat), in order to demonstrate to the kids what I meant, I attempted to put our cat in her carrier. If you have a cat, you know what I'm talking about....the arms and legs stretched out, refusing to get in to the carrier, while meowing and hissing the whole time. The kids totally got it.
  • We came up with a special code word that can be used if someone approaches them and says the children are supposed to go with them. What made me think of this is because Sandra Cantu KNEW her abductor and probably felt safe with that person!! With a special code word, if someone my kids know comes up to them and says, "Your mom sent me to come pick you up", the kids can ask for the special code word. If the person doesn't know it, obviously we didn't approve that person to pick the kids up. In most cases, we'll let the kids know ahead of time that someone else will be picking them up, but that they should still ask for the special code word in ALL situations.
  • The kids know their phone number (area code included) but we also taught them their address and how to use the phone to call 911.

A few other things we've always done and will continue to do is when we go out somewhere in public, like to an amusement park or the mall, we always take a picture of the kids with our cell phones right before we leave the house. This way, if they do happen to get lost, we can show the security people/police EXACTLY what the kids look like and what they were wearing. I also write our cell phone numbers in marker on the inside of their arms.

In the case that they get lost in a store, I instructed them to just stay put....do not leave the store, do not go looking for us (because we'll be looking for them and trying to re-trace our steps so this is to avoid running in circles). And if an adult comes up to them and asks if they're lost and needs help finding their parents, DO NOT go with the person but ask that person to go to the information desk/front of store and have us paged. If that person tries to grab them, scream "HELP" as loudly as they can, anything they can do to draw attention.

The kids, even a few days later, are still talking about the safety techniques....practicing it every chance they get. Today, after lunch, Cole came up to me and said, "Mommy, pretend to be a stranger and try to grab me...." so I did....and he reacted exactly the way he should have. Same with Bella...she knew exactly what to do when we re-enacted an unsafe situation.

So while I obviously have no plans to let them out of my sight, I feel better knowing that in an unsafe situation, they will know how to handle it. Gone are the carefree days, like when I was younger....I'd leave the house in the morning and not come home until the street lights came on in the evening. My mother often had no clue where I was or who I was with....but times have changed and that's unfortunate. And it's even more unfortunate that at the young age of 4, my children are already having to learn how to protect themselves from the evil that lurks in our world.

Lastly, please say a prayer for Sandra Cantu's family and keep them in your thoughts.....

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