10 Scary Things You Should Tell Your Kid

We live in an increasingly complicated world and we all want our kids to grow up happy and carefree, but it’s important to remember to teach our kids common sense too, even if you end up scaring them a little bit. Preparing them with these facts and real knowledge even if it’s scary knowledge, is a must for every parent in order for them to ensure their safety.    

Here are a few tough conversations every parent should have with their kids, frequently:

1. Except for a doctor, no one should ever touch a child’s private areas (the parts of the body covered by a bathing suit). And the doctor can only do so when a parent is present.  Additionally, no one should ever ask a child to touch them in their private areas.

2. If a child goes with an abductor into a car they will probably never see their families again.  Make sure your kids know to run and scream, kick and fight, do anything they possibly can to stop

3. It’s OK to sometimes break the rules to stay safe. If you are a teenager at a red light in the middle of the night and a suspicious person approaches your car or bumps you from behind, if you feel scared you can run that red light. Head to the police station or call for help on a cell phone.

4. Talk specifically about home emergencies. What’s the plan if there is a fire?  What if Mom or Dad passes out and you can’t wake them up?  Even very young children should know how a phone works or how to go get a neighbor.  Act it out, make sure they really know. 

5. Never give your address, phone number or any other personal info to anyone over the computer.  Sometimes people pretend to be people they are not to talk or chat to kids.  A 10 year old email buddy you meet in a chat room might be a middle-aged man. 

6. Grown-ups don't need help from kids. No adult is going to ask a kid for directions or to help find their dog, or to read a map or for help with their own kid. If someone you don't know asks for help, give them permission to yell, "NO" and kick and scream and run. Even if the person seems really nice. 

7. Talk about safety plans. These are unique to each family and are based on your lifestyle and situation. City kids should talk about what to do if the subway, bus or elevator doors close and you are alone. Have a plan and stick to it. Go to next stop and wait, or whatever you feel comfortable with, but you should have a plan. What if you are in a store or mall? Have a plan that is based on your daily life and what you are comfortable with. 

8. Review your list of safe people often. This is the list of people you would send if you or your spouse or partner couldn't pick a child up at a designated time. Don't assume your children know who is on the list. Think about it, talk about it, and review it frequently. If you have a list of 10 people, then even if the music teacher or soccer coach or nice person from the flower store came and said you sent them, they know there is no way that is true. 

9. Talk about what to do if someone comes to the door and your child is home alone. Have a plan for how you want your child to handle that and review all their options, from ignoring, to calling someone for helo, to calling 911. 

10. Most importantly, give them PERMISSION TO ACT. So often, parents assume that permission is implied in dangerous or scary situations. Kids need to be told it explicitly and often. Remind them it's okay to use their own judgement, even if that means they might offend someone, be rude or be wrong. And then, if and when they DO use their judgement, even if it's not exactly how you would handle it, praise them. Acknowledge the instinct for self-advocacy and speaking up for their own safety. That is a muscle that will serve them throughout their entire lives. 

Cop Lesson #1: Awareness is Key

As a member of the law enforcement community - first a beat cop, and later as a Sergeant in the Sex Offender's Monitoring Unit, I was trained to be aware. That seems kind of obvious for anyone with a basic working knowledge of the police. So, I guess, anyone in America. But this awareness factor has become a guiding principle in my life as a parent and I want to share it with other parents. 

After over 20 years in the NYPD, I know how critical basic awareness is to everyone, and especially children, in staying safe. As a parent myself, I know our instinct is to want to shield kids and not upset them. By making conversations that raise awareness a part of your daily life, you don't frighten kids, you empower them. You also help them work their "awareness muscle" or Spidey sense, which is critical in making decisions to keep yourself safe. 

I have tons of tips and techniques - and here is one of them:

Play "Around Me" whenever you are out and about with your kids. Teach them to start trying to remember details of cars and people they see. 

For instance, if you are walking on your block, and a car drives by, you say:

"Who can tell me the color of the car that just drove by." 

"How many doors did it have?"

Then: "Anyone get any letters in the license plate?" 

Learning to quickly remember details can be linked to common mnemonic tools and can definitely add in school work, so there are great academic benefits to training yourself to remember information. 

You can teach them: Apple, Banana, I could eat 3 Yogurts - you just got 4 digits in a license plate along with color and make. This is critical information. 

Turn it into knowing who is around you on the street or in the store. 

"Who can tell me how many people are behind us?" Can they tell you the gender, or hair color? 

Being aware of who is around you is critical for personal safety, for adults and children. Too often, we are gazing down at a device or lost in the storm inside our heads. Being out and about in the world is a responsibility. Building this type of awareness-vocabulary into your lives sends a critical message about the role we play as individuals in knowing and adapting, or exiting, our environment. Early action on instincts can truly save lives. 

Teaching your kids to be aware is the single most important tool you can give them.

Street Smart

They say every parent has a recurring fear.  Not just the running-out-of-wine type of fear, but one about a particular way their child can get hurt.  For me, it’s getting hit by a car.

I’m constantly convinced every car might suddenly fly through the air Dukes of Hazzard style.

Many times while walking on sidewalks or crossing streets with my children I often feel like they are tiny prisoners in my death grip as I throw them about, switch sides with them and yank them back off curbs abruptly, risking shoulder dislocation.

Turns out, my insane fantasy fears are not so far fetched.  Last year alone in New York City there were tk pedestrian deaths, of which police estimate were not the fault of the pedestrian and were attributed to driver error.  Distracted drivers are increasing with every app, sattelite radio station and iPad mini.  

So here are a few ways you can use common sense to teach your kids the very important lifelong lesson of walking down the street.

Head on a Swivel

I say this repeatedly as I cross the street with my children.  I sound like Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man.  “Right, left, right again, our head is on a swivel, our head is on a swivel”.  Cars go the wrong way down streets or make turns without looking all the time and cyclist blow red lights.  You can’t ever assume you will make it across the street safely because you have the right of way.  Sometimes drivers are idiots.  Or drunk.  Drunk idiot drivers is the best assumption at all times.

Be Aware.

Don’t look at your phone as you are walking with or without your kids.  You are leaving yourself vulnerable to muggers, for one, but also you aren’t paying attention to where you are going and what’s happening around you.  Remember always that your behavior is what kids will one day emulate.  Point out people doing dumb things to your kids, “Look at that person, we would never play Candy Crush as we walk down Columbus Avenue”.

Think about Placement.

When walking down the street, make sure your kids are on the inside of you and you are closest to the cars.  And always look for barriers to stand behind as you are waiting for a light to change.  Trash cans, mailboxes, etc.  Try and put levels of protection between you and the drunk idiot crazy Dukes of Hazzard drivers.  

Keep Up an Ongoing Dialogue.

Things you say seep into your child’s brain.  (Just ask my 4 year old who told her little brother to “eat his Goddamned eggs”).  Constantly narrating  helpful hints and plans gives them that inner-dialogue they need..  If you see a crazy person on the street, discretely tell your kids the reason you are crossing the street to get away from them.  It’s OK to say you don’t like certain situations and show your kids how to change what’s happening to stay safe.  Additionally it’s always good to point out safe spots for them, shopkeepers you might know, the fire dept.