In the third of six articles in a series on child safety, we look at how parents can teach their children to protect themselves.
WHEN homemaker Ummi Maryam’s eldest son was eight, he missed his school bus but no one realised he was in trouble for another four hours.
Luckily, Ummi’s son stayed put and waited for his mother in school.
“He stayed at the school compound from 2pm till 6pm not knowing that he needed to give me a call. He was hungry and tired and when a teacher approached him, he said that he was waiting for his mum.
“I was working then so I only found out about it when I went to pick him up at the daycare and he wasn’t there. I was so shocked and upset that the daycare did not even call me to check up on him – they figured he was sick and was just absent from school. From then on, I made sure that all my children knew that they need to inform a trustworthy adult whenever they are in trouble.”
That scary episode was also a wake up call for Ummi to not take her children’s safety for granted. She realised it’s all too easy to lose track of her five children’s whereabouts “especially when we do not have the luxury to watch over them 24/7”.
Since then, she has been actively teaching her five children – aged between three and 16 – about safety, taking the time to sit down and talk to them about the things they need to watch out for as well as on how to protect themselves.
“I find that the most effective time to get the children serious about safety is when there is a case of missing or kidnapped children in the news. I’ll read the stories to them and take the opportunity to stress on the importance of staying safe in case the same thing happened to them – it’s more effective than telling them what not to do because they may not be able to identify with the situation,” says Ummi, 46.
She is well aware of the challenges of watching over her brood of five, and takes precautions, such as avoiding crowded areas.
“We don’t have a maid so we usually have to bring everybody along whenever there’s an outing. We prefer smaller shopping malls as opposed to the big ones – there are less chances of getting lost in the crowd. Even so, we hold onto the kids at all times. We also like making shopping lists so we don’t waste time going from one shop to another and risk overlooking the children when we’re busy looking for things.”
As a safety precaution, her older children are always equipped with a cellphone so that they can be contacted whenever there are changes in plans.
“We don’t usually let the children go out alone. My second son used to cycle to tuition class when he was 12 but it’s always with a group of friends whose parents I’m in contact with. When it comes to picking the children up from school, we’ve been carpooling with two other families for the past three years. The children know the designated waiting area and that no matter what, they are only supposed to be picked up by these three sets of parents.
“Remember, you are responsible for your child’s safety – not the teachers or neighbours and definitely not the police. Don’t take things for granted, even with the older kids.
“Start early and repeat, repeat, repeat. You may sound like a broken record but it’s better to be safe than sorry,” says Ummi.
Not many parents take teaching their children about safety as seriously as Ummi’s family.
Equipping children with basic safety precautions is of the utmost importance and yet many parents glaze over the topic, says Vijaya Baskar, programme co-ordinator of Protect and Save the Children, a non-profit association that carries out child safety programmes and focuses on the prevention, intervention and treatment of child sexual abuse.
“A lot of parents do not teach their children basic safety measures in their homes as well as in the public. It can be something as basic as knowing their parents’ details like full names, contact numbers and address. Such details are important during emergencies, like when a child is lost,” he adds.
According to Parents.com, the preschooling age is the best time to introduce these facts. In an article entitled Before Starting Preschool: What Your Kids Should Know, it highlights that children can be taught to memorise phone numbers once they are of schooling age, and that parents can try teaching this by demonstrating how to dial the number on a toy phone and saying the numbers out loud. Pinning an information note card to their clothing or bag will also help.
Mother-of-four Huang Paik Ling made sure her children memorised her and her husband’s full names and telephone numbers when they turned four.
“When a child is separated from his parents, there is nothing worse than not knowing how to locate them.
“When we are out, we also pair the children using a ‘buddy system’ and remind them they are to look after one another,” says the general manager of a bank.
Her children, aged two to eight, have also been taught to be wary of strangers.
“If they are ever approached by a stranger when either parent is not around, they know not to make any eye contact nor respond or accept anything that is being offered. We even told them that if someone tries to grab or hold onto them in public, they should scream or shout ‘Fire’ simply to attract the attention of passers-by.”
When it comes to young children, parents have to be specific in giving clear and simple instructions in various scenarios, Huang advises.
“For instance, it can be about being lost in a shopping mall. Show examples of how a situation can go terribly wrong so that they are aware of the consequences and don’t think that you are nagging just for the sake of it.”
While it is important to make sure safety precautions are ingrained in children, parents also have to keep a watchful eye over their young.
“It’s not advisable for parents to leave their children unattended anytime, anywhere – even at home. Being the children that they are, they have short attention spans and memories, and may just forget the safety rules. All it takes is a few seconds for your child to be taken away,” says Huang.
“We strongly suggest that parents spend time with their children every day, even just to talk and chit chat, and listen to their experiences at school or with their friends and teachers. This would help build the confidence the child has in his parents and enhance his self-esteem. It would also reinforce to the child that he can share anything he finds uncomfortable or disturbing with their parents,” adds Vijaya.
This Child Safety Awareness campaign is brought to you by RHB Banking Group in collaboration with The Star.