In radKIDS we discourage the use of lists of expectations for children to follow when learning safety education skills. "The traditional 10 Tips approach is not only restrictive but contradictory and confusing for children when facing a potentially dangerous situation... especially when quick decision-making is critical and can mean the difference in the outcome of the encounter." says Stephen Daley, Executive Director, radKIDS, Inc. "Rather, we encourage an approach based on creating ownership and plans that the child can feel confident with and rely on when faced with a dangerous scenarios whether they be potential for abuse or abduction."
10 Tips... Giving the Advantage to the Predator
The 10 Tips approach to children's safety is essentially a list of "DO's and DON'T's" (Can do's, can't do's. Should do's, shouldn't do's). They are lists designed to deliver quick easy -to-remember safety rules. They are so succinct that the child can even recite them back to you on demand.
Ask your child this:
So what do you DO in case of a fire? 99% of the time the answer will be STOP-DROP-AND ROLL. 99% of the the time parents will be very pleased with this answer and reinforce the child with an approving look. But is that REALLY what you want your child to do in a fire? I don't. I want my child to GET OUT of the fire, as I am sure you do too. (I want them to stop, drop and roll when they are ON fire - a very different situation.
Often we THINK we are communicating effectively and both parent and child are on the same page, when in reality the real time application ends up having a very different result. Take a look at this video when radKIDS instructors THINK they have good quality communication with their student and the student does too.
This adorable student did his very best and wanted nothing more than to please his instructors. He listened and did exactly what he was directed to do. So whose fault was it? It was the instructors (grown-ups) who in their attempt to teach, instead told him exactly what to say and he did exactly that. They did not anticipate that the student would take them so literally. When everyone began to laugh, the child was confused until the Instructor (grown up) said, "It's my fault, not yours. You're doing great" (empowering the child). Then the child repeats the drill with his own answer, empowered with success rather than trying to imitate the instructors words. Now both instructor and student are happy but more importantly the child has his own answer, skill and plan.
In training this is easy to fix with clarification and do-overs (activity based training)...but in real life there just isn't time or the opportunity for a do-over. Taking it one step further...
Stranger Danger is a Problem not a Solution
Surely you remember being told as a child "Don't talk to strangers!" Perhaps you have even shared this with your own children. In the minds of many adults, Stranger Danger is the cornerstone of safety education. It is succinct and to the point, the words are simple and direct and it even rhymes so it's easy to remember and lends itself very well to the tip sheet concept.
Very often in the course of everyday life, we will introduce our children to somebody new, perhaps the nice man at the grocery store, and we engage in conversation with him including the child in the conversation when we can. We encourage our children to respond to the gentleman in a polite way ("Be Polite"-another rule). We encourage our children to engage in conversation with the "stranger" even though the child has never met the man breaking our own rule.How confusing is that? Isn't the rule "Don't Talk to Strangers?" Does "Be Polite" trump Stranger Danger?
So, do we really mean don't ever talk to strangers? If so, should we then be creating confusion by our actions which are in fact the opposite of our rules? Or rather, should the child have the choice based on their instinct, our input and the actions of the person they decide to talk with? Empowerment and Safety coming together rather then a rule?
So, as you can see, when we TELL children what to do, like Don't Talk to Strangers, we are in fact creating a problem for our children. They think they know what a stranger is. We think they know what a stranger is, but in a real life situation where a stranger befriends (grooms) a child, at what point does the stranger become a non-stranger? When friendly conversation begins? Or is it when the person this is befriending them asks them for help or offers them anything without your permission?
If YOU are feeling confused or finding it difficult to find the answers to these questions, imagine being 5 years old and having precious seconds to make the right decision and react. This confusion, this mixed message causes the brain to stop (FREEZE) and look for the context -more information to make a determination of how to react. That FREEZE moment hands the advantage of the encounter over to the predator. He can then make his next move and the child has to process even more information and search for the next "Tip."
So How Do We Fix It
How do we prepare our children so that they can successfully navigate against the predator, or anyone that wants or tries to hurt them? Read on...
Resources for Parents
Teaching radKIDS Plans.
Instead of rehearsing safety tips with your child, start your child thinking about what his/ her plan would be IF... We have created two tools for you to assist you in beginning these important safety conversations with your child:
Origami Game Folding Directions
by our very own Tino...