10 Tips for Keeping Our Kids Safe…All Summer Long by Debbie Fox LCSW
1. Have open discussions with your children about personal safety.
As early as age three, children should understand that parts of their body are private (those covered by a swimsuit), and that it’s not okay for others to touch these private areas, look at them, or talk about them. Children must also understand that they may not touch, look at, or talk about other’s private parts. By opening this discussion, you’ll be empowering your kids to keep safe, while demonstrating that you—as parents—are a safe address for discussing issues of touch.
2. Establish and respect physical boundaries.
All family members should have the right to privacy in dressing, bathing, sleeping, and other personal activities. As parents, model appropriate boundaries at home and create an environment that makes everyone feel secure, with concrete rules about physical boundaries. Before camp, discuss with your child how he plans on maintaining boundaries and privacy during changing times. Stay alert to situations where those agreed-upon boundaries may be compromised, both at home and in other settings.
3. Teach children to be persistent and clear in setting boundaries and asking for help.
Children who set strong boundaries—and know how to get help—are less likely to be targeted and more likely to cut short inappropriate behavior. Help children practice saying “NO” or “STOP” in situations that make them uncomfortable (e.g they don’t want to be hugged, tickled or kissed, or they simply feel uncomfortable around a particular person). Validate and praise their actions when you notice that they’ve set boundaries with siblings, friends, or relatives. Reinforce that they must tell you immediately if inappropriate touch took place, so that you can help.
4. Tell your children never to keep secrets from parents.
Predators almost always manipulate children through secrets. They’ll tell kids: “This is our secret. You can’t tell your mom because she’ll be very mad at you.” Let your children know that no one may ever tell them to keep a secret from Abba or Ima. “If anyone—an adult, friend, relative or even a sibling—ever says ‘Don’t tell your parents,’ it means ‘Do tell us!’ immediately!” Assure your child that you will never be upset with him for sharing a secret.
5. Don’t take sleepovers lightly.
With lots more free time, summer offers many opportunities for fun activities like barbecues, playdates, and sleepovers. But before allowing your child to participate in a sleepover, do your homework! Make sure you are personally comfortable with the hosting family. Will the parents be home? Will they be supervising? What are the plans for the sleepover? Who will be there and what will they be doing? Trust your instincts and only say yes if you feel comfortable. If you do agree, review the rules of personal safety with your child before she leaves. If you are the one hosting a sleepover, keep it structured, set clear rules, and SUPERVISE!
6. Before sending your child to camp, evaluate the program for safety.
Before registering your child for a camp, make sure the administration prioritizes the safety of all campers. Ask questions about camp policies related to camper safety. Find out how staff is selected and trained. Make it clear that you are an educated parent, and that training and policies are an integral part of your decision in choosing a camp.
7. Think beyond “stranger danger.”
Instructing your child never to talk to strangers is good advice. But the truth is that 80-90 percent of abuse is committed by someone actively known, loved, and respected by the child. Parents must be aware of red flags. Seek intervention if an individual…
• develops a special, one-on-one relationship with a child, isolating him from others in his life
• prefers to spend time with younger children rather than peers
• insists on physical contact with a child even when that child resists
• offers extra privileges to a child, like fun activities or special treats
• creates a “secret” relationship with “secret” games not to be shared with adults
• is unable to control touching or inappropriate behaviors with children even after being told to stop
8. Believe your child.
Establish a trusting relationship with your children. If you constantly question what they say, they may be reluctant to tell you if something has happened to them. When you talk about inappropriate touch, let them know that you will believe them and that they will never be in trouble for sharing issues related to boundaries or touch.
9. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate.
a. Communication is key. Talk to your child about his day. Show interest in his successes, disappointments, and anxieties. Let him know you care about his day-to-day activities.
b. Your child is always safest when you know where he is, what he is doing, who he is with, and when he will return. Make sure your child knows he must contact you before making a change to any agreed-upon plans.
10. Recognize signs and symptoms that your child may need help.
The sooner adults recognize potentially concerning situations and behaviors, the better protected children will be. Parents should intervene if they observe one of the following behaviors:
• Nightmares, sleep problems, or extreme or new fears
• Sudden or unexplained personality changes
• Resistance to routine bathing, toileting, or changing times
• Refusal to talk about a “secret” the child has with an adult
• Usage of new words for body parts or demonstration of adult-like body knowledge
• Special relationships with an older friend that may include gifts or privileges, and isolation from others
Awareness, education, and open communication with children are the cornerstones of effective efforts in protecting our children.
Wishing you and your children a fun-filled, relaxing, and safe summer!
DEBBIE FOX, LCSW, has been involved in the treatment and prevention of child abuse for close to three decades. In 2006, she developed and launched the Safety Kid educational series, a nationally-acclaimed program of training and educational materials presented in a culturally sensitive manner. In 2013, she launched Project SafeCamp, a comprehensive training program that empowers camp administrators and counselors to ensure every camper’s physical and emotional wellbeing.
For more information about summer safety or counselor trainings, visit www.projectsafecamp.org, contact email@example.com, or call (866) 762-0101.