ITSADELUSION: How to teach children to avoid dangerous situations
Here are my ideas about how to teach children to deal with
potentially dangerous situations, such as how to deal with strangers,
how to say no to riding in a car with a drunk driver, and so on.
Talk about the issues: This has been discussed in many other forums.
Demonstrate the proper responses in each situation that may arise.
- Talk about the issues with your child.
- Demonstrate the proper responses.
Have the child practice the proper responses with you.
Have the child practice the proper responses with other people, including people your child doesn't know.
Verbal responses: Regardless of the child's age, say to your child exactly what you want him or her to say in a situation.
Behavioral responses: Demonstrate to your child exactly how you want him or her to react in any given situation.
Have the child practice the proper responses with you:
First, have the child repeat the proper verbal responses to you until they can say them naturally and spontaneously.
Then, repeat the examples as in step 2, but with the child in the situation and responding.
Have the child practice the proper responses
with other people, including people your child doesn't know. Do this
exactly like in step 3, but with some of your friends, including some
that your child doesn't know, as the "villain." If you practice with
other children and their parents (see "Tips" below), have the other
adults bring a friend so the children can practice with a complete
- Example with strangers: Pretend that your spouse (or a
friend) is actually a stranger. Have the "stranger" approach you and
talk to you. Respond to the "stranger" exactly how you want your child
to respond, including both physical behavior and language.
- Example with texting: Have your spouse or a friend sit in
the car's drivers seat and take out a phone to text. Respond the way you
want your child to respond.
- Example with getting into a car with a chemically altered driver:
Pretend that your spouse is drunk or high and going to drive
somewhere, and he or she is asking you to get into the car as a
passenger. Respond the way you want your child to respond.
- Don't wait until your children reach puberty to begin this teaching
them these lessons. The younger your children are when you start
teaching them these lessons, the more likely they will do what they are
taught when they become adolescents and adults. I recommend starting
this process when children are 3 or 4 years old, even for issues that
won't likely arise until adolescence, such as refusing to ride with a
driver who is chemically altered or learning to never text or talk on a
phone while driving.
Practice in groups with other children and their parents. Children are
often together when potentially dangerous situations arise. If children
practice the proper responses to these situations together, they are
much more likely to support each other and act appropriately when a
dangerous situation arises.
- The strangers in practice situations should be both men and women. Children may respond differently to each gender.
- Try to practice in a realistic environment. For example,
practice stranger avoidance in a store or outside their school. Practice
anything to do with driving in or around the car.
- For peer pressure issues, such as responding to a driver who
decides to text or talk on the phone while driving, it is important for
children to practice with other children who are both the same age and
also older. Children who are older than your child are likely to be
more persuasive than same age peers. Also, children should practice with
both boys and girls because some children will respond differently to
each gender. Find the most charismatic, charming, persuasive adolescents
you can find to play the "villain."
- Be sure that the person who is role playing the "villain" tries
very hard to be convincing. Use every persuasion tactic that you know.
- Teach your child to never engage a stranger. Regardless of
how much you have told your child, or how much he or she has practiced,
the more your child talks to a stranger, the more likely your child will
do what the stranger wants your child to do. This is true at any age.
- Language: Children should use simple language that is not engaging or provocative.
For instance, say "No thanks, I'm not going to talk to you. Please go
away." If the stranger persists, the child should repeat a phrase such
as "No thanks" over and over in response to whatever the stranger says.
Children should never give reasons for their behavior, such as "my mom
said I shouldn't talk to strangers," because a stranger can use this
phrase to engage the child. For instance, the stranger might say, "Your
mother's really smart. What else has your mother taught you?" or "I'm
not a stranger, I work with your mother."
- Behavior: Children should physically disengage the situation
by walking away, if possible, or turning away and engaging some other
task such as talking to a friend. If a child stands idle after being
approached by a stranger, the child is more likely to eventually engage
the stranger. If the child carries a cell phone, teach him or her call
you immediately if the stranger persists. It is important that the child
has something else to do if approached by a stranger.
- Regarding texting and talking on the phone while driving:
- If your child sees or hears about you talking on the phone or
texting while driving, chances are very high that your child will also
talk on the phone and/or text while driving, regardless of anything else
you say, do, or practice together.
- Install an app on your cell phone that blocks calls while you
are driving. Every time you get into the car with your child, activate
the app and tell the child exactly what you are doing. Say something
like,"This app will stop anyone from texting or calling me while we're
driving. I always use it because it's very dangerous to talk on the
phone or text while driving," or, "There, incoming calls are blocked so
we can drive safely."
Teach your child how to activate those apps and have him or her activate
the app every time you drive together.
- Repeat the process at least once a year until your child is 16 or 17 years old.
- If you want your child to act a certain way, then you act that
way. Children mimic their parent's behavior, often even if told to
behave differently. Even if a child only hears about a parent's
behavior, but doesn't see that behavior directly, he or she is likely to