Kids First-A complete Parental Guide to Child Safety by W. Jon McCormick Copyright 2001
Jennifer was eight years old. With hundreds of others, she was a spectator at a baseball tournament. When Jennifer’s parents realized she was missing they immediately began a search. Her beaten and sexually assaulted body was found 100 feet from the field shortly after the search began. Police have no leads and no suspects. How could this have happened? Was no one watching her?
A year before this incident I held a seminar for parents on child personal security. Few people attended. The skills taught at the seminar and in Kids First could have saved Jennifer.
Were parents in this community oblivious to their children’s personal security? Many parents have the attitude: “It can’t happen in my community.” It can happen –education is prevention.
A parent’s worse nightmare is the kidnapping, molestation, or assault of their child. Parents need skills to teach their children to reduce the chances of being a victim. Parents must impart playground security without creating paranoia, secure a school route before classes begin in the fall, keep track of a child in a mall and make the home a secure environment.
Kids First is a curriculum for parents to impart knowledge and skills to their children. The problem of children’s security is addressed by discussing the process of avoidance and heightening of awareness techniques. Kids First can help you examine every aspect of your child’s life with personal security in mind Learn how prevention techniques are blended with physical skills.
Knowing what to do in a given situation will release you and your child from stressful anxiety.
Kids First will guide you in this direction.
Chapter One: The Problem
Preparing your child for school is no longer as simple as deciding between tuna or peanut butter. Today’s child is at risk from a variety of dangers. Your participation in action committees, pressuring legislators to change laws and rallying neighbors to assist in Block Parenting are necessary, but what do you teach your child to make him/her safe?
Avoidance and prevention will negate any physical encounter regardless of age. When you taught your child not to run into the street you instructed her to look both ways before entering a crosswalk and to get off her bicycle and walk it across the street. You practiced numerous times until you were satisfied that even under stressful situations, she would not succumb to darting into traffic. The same technique is used in teaching her personal security skills. You must set the tone, offer direction and provide practice time. With a positive attitude and solutions in hand, your child will follow your lead.
You must set the advice/instructions and rules. If your child sees you violate the security skills he has learned, he will do as you do, not as you have taught him. So, check your car’s back seat for a hidden assailant before entering, do not jaywalk, and lock the house door after entering.
Awareness, prevention and skills are the cornerstones of a Personal Security Mind-set. Teach your child that she needs to accept nothing less than a free and safe environment. Knowing that she is permitted to do whatever is necessary to maintain her safety will reduce her anxiety. Personal security skills she learns as a child will stay with her into her teen and adult years.
A personal security mind-set is based on the belief that no one is entitled to touch another person without permission. That is the bottom line. No further explanation is necessary. This attitude is extrapolated to verbal and physical threats or intimidation. No human being, regardless of age, should accept put-downs or threats to their personal security. A child needs to know that allowing someone to do things to him in order to gain acceptance is wrong, as are personal threats. This is often a hard concept for children to grasp, particularly if he has seen this treatment among adults in his family. You as the parent/guardian must persevere. If you are the one in an intimidating relationship, teaching your child a personal security mind-set may be the impetus for you to gather the strength to accept the mind-set for yourself.
Parents need to make the decision that they will do whatever is necessary to guarantee the security of their most precious treasure. Children need to make a similar decision –with parental direction. This decision enables a child to utilize personal protection skills and techniques without hesitation. Being aware of his surroundings and developing alternatives should things go wrong becomes a way of life that permeates every aspect of daily living from walking to school, playing sports or seeking employment.
The objective is to heighten awareness and develop prevention skills, not create paranoia. The distinction and direction must come from parents.
Color Code of Awareness
Awareness is the first step in acquiring a personal security mind-set. Heightening your child’s knowledge of the world around her will improve her safety and bring closer the world she took for granted. White, Yellow, Orange and Red comprise the universal color code of awareness used by law enforcement and military personnel. The color code of awareness is taking a mind-set and breaking it into workable sections and applying easy to recall color.
White is the state when a child is prone on the couch watching reruns of Gilligan’s Island. He knows that the doors and windows are locked and his parent is in the house. His world is secure. He is secure and free from harm. If a child is in an abusive environment at home, the state of white could be what he feels in the security of his classroom or at a relative’s home. The point is that a child must have a place where he feels totally secure from the threats of society. This place is the domain of white.
Yellow is everywhere else. You do not drive your car in the state of white, although we all do it from time to time. Your child is not in the state of white at the lake or the community swimming pool. She must apply the state of yellow to her everyday life. Yellow is in her neighborhood, at school, traveling to and from school, shopping with adults or other children –any place but the security of her white domain.
When she leaves home in the morning, teach her to glance around and notice the beauty of the day: the cat that left its paw prints on the hood of your car, the neighbor’s dog coming to wish her a fun day at school, or the neighbor waving a good morning greeting, or the stranger sitting in the parked car across the street. Her perspective is not paranoia. It is being familiar with her surroundings. You taught her to look both ways before crossing the street. That act is an example of the state of yellow. The same awareness is applied as she plays on the school-grounds and otherwise engages in her life away from the security of her home.
Orange is an alertness, being aware of imminent danger and preparing to meet that danger with skills to avoid personal injury. When your child detects the possibility of danger, he shifts automatically from Yellow to Orange. This may happen when he notices an unknown vehicle approaching in his neighborhood. He takes note of the physical description of the driver and the car. It could be that he notices a groups of older kids approaching from the other end of the street. He changes direction and leaves the area.
If your daughter is walking to school and notices an adult walking towards her, she is aware of his presence (she is in the state of Yellow now). She notices that he is paying undo attention to her and she mentally moves from Yellow –to Orange –the man noticing her. She crosses the street, proceeds on her route and continues to monitor his presence.
d. Red is full-blown alert, action. It simply means some aggressive movement, such as someone reaching to grab your son–has occurred and your son is moving to prevent bodily harm to himself.
It means: Attack your Attacker. The threat of violence against him is imminent and he must physically prevent himself from being the victim of an assault. If, as your son is walking home from school, he is confronted by someone who is obviously intending him bodily injury, your son does not wait until he is punched in the face before he moves to defend himself.
“So fat face, who gave you permission to walk on this street? I’m going to break your face and maybe you won’t come here any more,” is your child’s clue to defend himself. The intending assailant reaches for your son, your child delivers a front kick to the perpetrator’s leg and follows up with a couple of open hand techniques (as taught in subsequent chapters), drops his assailant and quickly escapes to secure territory.
Your son did not wait until he was grabbed or held down, he knew danger was imminent, evaluated the situation and knew there was no escape and acted to save himself from bodily injury. He attacked his attacker and succeeded in escaping.
A junior high school girl complained to her parents that male students were grabbing the chests of female students as a “joke.” It made her fearful. Her folks consulted me and their daughter began self-defense lessons. During one particular session, the student doubled me over with a knee attack. The look of pleasure on her father’s face was what I had been seeking since I was the intimidated fat kid in school. He knew that if she could drop me and be in a position to escape, she could use the same skill at school. After the first two weeks of lessons, I received a telephone call from my student’s dad. His daughter had been approached by one of the “grabbers.” She turned on the student with, “Don’t even think about it.” The guy backed off and left her alone. She hasn’t been bothered since. My student had the mind-set that no one was going to touch her without her permission and she had the skills to back the attitude.
Chapter Two: The Basics
What was your child wearing when he left for school this morning? In today’s hectic society, with every member of the family scurrying off in all directions, chatting over bagels at the breakfast table is not the norm. Often children join parents in the rush of dressing, grabbing something to eat and dashing out the door.
Law enforcement personnel need ways to identify a missing child. Knowledge of the color/type of clothing and a physical description are paramount. Many parents not only do not know what their child left home wearing, but they do not know the length and color of their child’s hair, color of eyes, weight or height. Knowing what she is wearing does not mean you have to conduct a daily inspection, but rather simply communicate with her in the morning. Tell her how great she looks and that you wish her a happy day at school. This gives you a lift first thing in the morning: it focuses you on your family, gives you a warm glow, a mental picture of your child and sends her happily on her way.
Keep a current photograph of your child with you. Be the proud parent who flips out the photos of the kids at the office party. You benefit with the pride of parenthood and have the added bonus of being active in your child’s security.
Identifying your child’s clothing with name tags to prevent theft is commendable but the practice can be used by a would-be molester to identify a name on a lunch kit, hockey jacket, backpack and other belongings. Identification is better carried in a jacket pocket, or inside a backpack or lunch kit. However, this method has problems since children often leave these items heaped on the playground or similar area while they hang out at school or the local recreation facility. A passer-by can easily obtain any of these items, spot the name, then use that information to speak with your child. It is often acknowledged by children that, “A stranger is not a stranger if he knows my name.” Teach him to keep his belongings in the classroom until he is ready to go home –then go straight home. It is often a child who has stopped to play on the way home from school who is picked as a victim.
Child Identification programs are often available through local law enforcement personnel in conjunction with a service organization. Program specifics range from fingerprinting preschoolers to picture identification cards for older children. Information is available through your local police department, city hall or county administration.
Safe Arrival/Safe Schools
Many working parents have taught their children to call the parent at work when the child gets home from school and to call from school if she wishes to deviate from the normal after-school routine. This is an excellent system that can be adopted by your child’s school Safe Arrival/Safe School program.
If your child’s school does not have a Safe Arrival program they are relatively simple to adopt. A Safe Arrival program in an elementary school is often operated by volunteer parents who, with a list of those students present on a particular morning, place telephone calls to the homes of children who have yet to arrive. This is done within the first 10 minutes of school, which is why staff ask parents to notify the school if a child will not be in attendance. If there is no answer at a child’s home when the volunteer calls, then the school has phone numbers of designated adults to contact. This last process can be very traumatic if no answer is received at any of the phone numbers listed then, “Where is the child?” It is paramount that you keep the school informed as to your child’s whereabouts.
The emergency numbers given to your child’s school must be functional. Often schools place calls to the numbers listed on a child’s personal form only to find no one home. The school can not make decisions for your child and it is here that a child’s security program disintegrates. If you work and are apt to be unavailable, have an option such as a neighbor or co-worker whom your child trusts, who could go to the school. Or, defer the call to your partner, relative or other designated adult. Many parents have chosen to carry a cellular phone with them at all times. The school has the number and the parent is never unavailable.
Preschoolers to Age Seven
Children under seven should not be out of a parent’s sight or that of your designate. A child under seven is too young to comprehend and adhere to adult kidnap prevention techniques and the responsibility for her security must be entirely yours. School transportation should be either you taking your child to the bus stop and waiting until you see her board or give her over to your designate to do the same. Ensure that there is an adult supervisor at the front of the school to greet children (not inside having a cup of coffee or chatting with another adult on duty). Reverse the procedure in the afternoon. If you drive your child to school, wait until you see her enter the building or engage with friends. Do not just drop her off. You lose the input into her security that way and too many unknowns enter the picture when you do not complete the task of seeing her to her destination.
Do not leave your child to play alone in your yard, regardless of the height of the fence or the security of the gate lock.
If your child is visiting a neighborhood friend, walk or drive her there. Walk her to the door and see that you deliver her into the responsibility of the adult with whom she will be interacting. Do not merely drop her off at the door. Pick her up when she is ready to come home. A child should not be left in a playground while you sit on a park bench visiting with a friend. One turn of your head and your child could be missing.
Please remember, what I am advocating is not overreaction. Daily incidents noted in the media across the country point to the dangers contemporary society pose for our children.
A Seattle television station conducted an experiment with preschoolers at a playground. Parents allowed the children to play on the equipment, then retired to surrounding benches. The station’s producer posed as a man looking for his lost puppy. The producer had a photograph of the dog and the dog’s leash as he wandered among the children asking if anyone had seen his dog. The children were very willing to accompany the stranger to look for the puppy. Of course someone looking for a cute lost puppy couldn’t be bad, could he? The parents were aghast that even after instructing their child not to speak with strangers, the child did anyway –and this was a simulated incident. The parents were frightened at the thought of the result of a real incident. A real life incident occurred when the abductor asked for help in finding a kitten.
Leaving a child in a car
Too often a parent will pull into a convenience store parking lot, park the car, leave a child or children in the vehicle while the parent goes into the store. The intention is to be, “Just a minute.” But it takes just a minute for a child to be abducted. I have observed the scene numerous times and have called the police on my cellular on each occasion. The police arrive to supervise the child until the parent returns, then inform the adult of the dangers of leaving a child alone. Charges could be made against the parent. Leaving a ten-year-old child to supervise younger children is unwise since the older child will not be able to thwart a kidnapper. The ultimate in dangerous actions is leaving the vehicle running while the parent darts into the store. Not only can a child take the car out of gear and place the vehicle in motion but leaving the engine running makes it just that much easier for an abductor. I have had parents say that they locked the vehicle before they left the child so, “No one could get in anyway.” Wow, the dangers get compounded. If there were an emergency such as the vehicle being put into gear by the child and a passer-by trying to enter the car to stop it, entry to the vehicle would be slowed due to the locked door. Entry to a locked vehicle by an experienced car thief, aka abductor, with the proper equipment is very quick —-so much so that it is difficult to tell by the thief’s body movement that they have broken stride to introduce a door-opening device. They walk up to the car and with one motion they are inside. Teenagers have been abducted from similarly parked vehicles. In a recent incident in Vancouver, British Columbia, two teens were kidnapped by an assailant with a firearm while the father was inside an auto supply store. The youngsters were defenseless.
My friend Les Wiseman, related the story of a child left in a car across from his former house in Los Angeles. The father had left the child there while the car warmed up. Wiseman felt a violent shake as his house was struck by the car. The vehicle, having been activated by the child placing it in gear, catapulted across the street, smashed through the garage to come to rest against Wiseman’s house foundation. Wiseman said he was lucky he was home. After racing down to the garage, he found the father observing the damage and denying the obvious. Wiseman solved the potential financial and legal unpleasantness with a camera and multiple photographs of the incident. So, yes, it can happen.
Hospitals and Doctor’s Offices
Most parents accompany their child into the doctor’s office. It is only natural for the parent to be there. But when the child reaches adolescence and wants to go in alone and you agree, make sure you are there in the waiting room when he comes out. Do not perform errands and pick him up later. Too often parents ignore their instincts and give in to teen pressures for independence when the adolescent is lacking personal security skills.
Mothers have told me of their concern for their baby’s welfare when it is taken from them right after birth or when it must be returned to the nursery. One mother told me she even took the baby into the bathroom with her. Good move, Mom. There was no reason to leave the baby unattended in the hospital room. Newborns have been stolen from hospitals. Having your partner or a friend accompany the hospital employee who takes your child back to the nursery should be totally acceptable. Or, better yet, insist your baby remain with you until you are discharged. It’s your baby and you should make the rules.
Complete guide with photographs available.