The killing of 8-year-old Leiby Kletzky in New York City is a stark reminder of how important it is to talk with our children about staying safe when we’re not around.
While we may want to watch over our children 24/7, it’s just not realistic or healthy. Children need the freedom to grow and handle more responsibility, but you must be sure they are ready and the appropriate age. A staggering 98 percent of children are abducted by someone they know. So it’s not about not talking to strangers; it’s about teaching kids the truth and the realities of the world.
Here are questions you should ask yourself to determine whether your child is ready to walk home alone.
- Do you have open, honest communication with your child? Have you taught her about the realities of life — the good, the bad and the ugly?
- Does your child know how to stand up for himself, especially in stressful situations? Is he confident and aware?
- Does your child know that just because someone is an adult it doesn’t mean they can tell her to do things she knows is wrong? While children should respect adults, you should also teach them that doing what is right is more important.
- Does your child know how and who to ask for help, such as a police officer?
- Does your child understand how to pay attention to trust his instincts?
- Does your child know that it’s okay to fight back to get away or out of a dangerous situation?
- Does your child know what to do if something does happen? What to scream? What to do? Where to go?
- Does your child understand that if anyone says to them, “Don’t yell” or “Don’t tell” that she needs to yell and tell.
- Does your child know that she should never get into a car or go anywhere with someone she doesn’t know?
- Does he know your neighborhood inside out and have a good sense of direction?
- Does she know how to operate a cell phone to contact 911 or you?
- You know your child best and whether he is ready to walk to a friend’s house alone or even home from school. Trust your instincts and don’t be pressured into letting your child take on a responsibility she is not ready to handle. While tragedies like the Leiby Kletzky case are rare, it’s important that parents continually talk to their children about safety. As they age, the conversations will change but should continue.
We all know our children, but when faced with the stress of a missing child, details can slip your mind. That’s why it’s important to take safety precautions in case the unthinkable happens. Here are some suggestions.
- Document your child’s height, weight and eye color and keep a recent photo with the information.
- Make sure custody documents are in order.
- Have ID-like photos taken of your kids every six months and have them fingerprinted. Many local police departments sponsor fingerprinting programs.
- Keep your kids’ medical and dental records up to date.
- Make online safety a priority. The Internet is a great tool, but it’s also a place for predators to stalk kids. Be aware of your kids’ Internet activities and chat room “friends.” Remind them never to give out personal information. Avoid posting identifying information or photos of your kids online.
- Set boundaries about the places your kids go. Supervise them in malls, movie theaters, parks, public bathrooms and while fundraising door-to-door.
- Never leave kids alone in a car or stroller, even for a minute.
- Choose caregivers — babysitters, child care providers and nannies — carefully and check references. If you’ve arranged for someone to pick up your kids from school or day care, discuss the arrangements beforehand with your kids and with the school or child care center.
- Avoid dressing your kids in clothing with their names on it; children tend to trust adults who know their names.
For help on how to talk to your kids about strangers and other important topics, visit www.kidshealth.org.