Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Teaching our kids how to stay safe in an unsafe world....

In a town that is only 20 minutes away from where we live, a little 8-yr old girl (Sandra Cantu) was kidnapped and murdered. What's even more shocking is that the person accused of this heinous crime is someone that the little girl knew. In fact, the accused woman (yes, a WOMAN!) was a neighbor of Sandra's family and her little girl and Sandra were playmates! She was also a Sunday school teacher and described by family members as being incapable of committing such a horrific crime. A crime like this just makes no sense....apparently, the motive is unknown. It breaks my heart every time I think of what this little girl's family must be going through...and to make it worse, it was someone that their little girl knew and obviously trusted.

In the past, I've gone over basic safety rules with my kids, such as stay closeby to us when we're out in public, never talk to strangers....that kind of stuff, just very simple basic things. But since hearing about this latest kidnapping, especially since it was SO close to where we live, I felt it was time to get a little more specific with Cole and Bella.

A few days ago, as we were sitting at the table coloring, I asked them, "What would you do if we were at the park and a stranger came up to you and asked you to help him find his dog....would you go with him?". They both said "yes".

So I asked them to pay special attention to what I was about to tell them and then I broke it down for them, as seriously as I could. Even though they are only 4 years old, I felt they'd be able to understand how important this was for them to learn. We talked about the fact that, for the most part, people are good...but there are some people who are just not right in the head and want to hurt little children. We're always talking about treating others with respect and being polite but I told them in the case of someone trying to harm them, that they need to do whatever it takes to get away to safety....don't worry about manners or being polite. This is when Cole asked, "So we could spit on the person and not get in trouble?" (figures, right?) I also stressed the fact that as long as they always stay nearby Tim and/or me, we could keep them safe from potential harm. I said, "if you can't see us, that means we can't see you....so make sure you always stay in sight where you can see us".

Once we were done with that discussion, we talked about safety techniques that they could use if someone approached them or tried to grab them. And we practiced every single one, repeatedly, until they felt comfortable with the technique.

  • If someone approaches them and asks them to go with him/her, they should scream "NO" as loudly as they can, as they run away. As they're running, they should scream "HELP" loudly to draw attention.
  • If someone tries to grab them, they should bite the person as hard as they can....any body part they can get in their mouth, whether it be a hand, arm, nose....whatever is closest to their mouth, just bite down HARD. When the person lets go, RUN and scream "HELP" and/or "THIS PERSON IS NOT MY MOM/DAD". If the person covers their mouth, they should still try to bite the person's hand.
  • If they aren't able to bite the person, they should try to go limp in the person's arms (my kids are famous for the whole limp spaghetti routine...you know, where you pick your kids up and they go limp in your arms, trying to get away from you). If the person loses their grip but still has a hold of them, if they don't feel they can get away safely, they should wrap themselves around the bottom of the person's legs and start screaming "HELP". The abductor won't be able to move and, more than likely, he/she will reach down to try to pry the child off and that's when the child bites the person. At this point, the hope is that the abductor has been slowed down enough by the child and attention is now being drawn to the situation, to where the person just wants to get away from the child as soon as possible.
  • Never go up to a car where a person has asked them to approach with the lure of finding a lost animal, lost child or an offer of candy. If a car does pull up next to them on the sidewalk, they are to move away as quickly as they can.
  • Fight, kick, scream, kick the person in the privates....whatever they need to do to get away, they should do. If the person attempts to put them in their car or the trunk, the kids should stiffen any of their limbs that are not being held and push away from the car. Unfortunately (for our cat), in order to demonstrate to the kids what I meant, I attempted to put our cat in her carrier. If you have a cat, you know what I'm talking about....the arms and legs stretched out, refusing to get in to the carrier, while meowing and hissing the whole time. The kids totally got it.
  • We came up with a special code word that can be used if someone approaches them and says the children are supposed to go with them. What made me think of this is because Sandra Cantu KNEW her abductor and probably felt safe with that person!! With a special code word, if someone my kids know comes up to them and says, "Your mom sent me to come pick you up", the kids can ask for the special code word. If the person doesn't know it, obviously we didn't approve that person to pick the kids up. In most cases, we'll let the kids know ahead of time that someone else will be picking them up, but that they should still ask for the special code word in ALL situations.
  • The kids know their phone number (area code included) but we also taught them their address and how to use the phone to call 911.

A few other things we've always done and will continue to do is when we go out somewhere in public, like to an amusement park or the mall, we always take a picture of the kids with our cell phones right before we leave the house. This way, if they do happen to get lost, we can show the security people/police EXACTLY what the kids look like and what they were wearing. I also write our cell phone numbers in marker on the inside of their arms.

In the case that they get lost in a store, I instructed them to just stay put....do not leave the store, do not go looking for us (because we'll be looking for them and trying to re-trace our steps so this is to avoid running in circles). And if an adult comes up to them and asks if they're lost and needs help finding their parents, DO NOT go with the person but ask that person to go to the information desk/front of store and have us paged. If that person tries to grab them, scream "HELP" as loudly as they can, anything they can do to draw attention.

The kids, even a few days later, are still talking about the safety techniques....practicing it every chance they get. Today, after lunch, Cole came up to me and said, "Mommy, pretend to be a stranger and try to grab me...." so I did....and he reacted exactly the way he should have. Same with Bella...she knew exactly what to do when we re-enacted an unsafe situation.

So while I obviously have no plans to let them out of my sight, I feel better knowing that in an unsafe situation, they will know how to handle it. Gone are the carefree days, like when I was younger....I'd leave the house in the morning and not come home until the street lights came on in the evening. My mother often had no clue where I was or who I was with....but times have changed and that's unfortunate. And it's even more unfortunate that at the young age of 4, my children are already having to learn how to protect themselves from the evil that lurks in our world.

Lastly, please say a prayer for Sandra Cantu's family and keep them in your thoughts.....

31 comments:

Karyn said...

Helene - that is AWESOME!!! I've heard the BEST way to teach kids is to do exactly what you did - ACT it out...

HarryJack's Mom said...

Those are all great tips - and it is a sad fact of life these days. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but please don't forget the 'privates' talk. Our godchildren were sexually abused by their UNCLE for years - their mom found out when the daughter tried to french kiss her - they had never stayed with anyone but family, and then only the grandparents. It has broken all our hearts and made us view everyone with more suspicion. Thanx for the other tips, and GL to all of us in keeping our kids safe and smart! Bless those parents.

Tami said...

This is wonderful!

Great tips, and very, very helpful!

MamaHen Em said...

I love all of these tips. We've talked about alot of them, but I'll be using a few others in more talks with my chickies. (Love usisng the kitty for a demo!) I can totally see how that poor little child would have trusted her neighbor and friends mom. Just yesterday I picked up one of O.'s friends from school without a blink from him or the teacher and it wasn't pre arranged. His mom called last minute and asked me and so I did. But that's how quick it could happen. It is really, really scary. My prayers go out to her family.

The High Family said...

Great tips, Helene! Thanks!!

Ryan will talk to anyone (not shy at all) so I am constantly reminding him about strangers and how he should always stay in our view. We also started teaching him his phone number/911...I don't think it's all clicked in that little mind of his yet, but I know it will eventually.

You are a great mama!

I am praying for Sandra Cantu's family...such a sad story!

The Mother said...

Yes, what happened to Sandra Cantu was awful, terrible.

And yes, it is VERY important to have that safety talk with your kids.

But they can't hang around you and hubby forever. Eventually, you have to let them go and trust them to be careful.

The reality isn't anywhere near as bad as the media make it sound. It's just that chronicling the seventy million kids who made it home just fine, thank you, isn't good copy.

And NO amount of stranger-anxiety would have protected this little girl from her a friend, a playmate's mom. We teach our kids that the adults in their life are on their side. Good God.

I'm a firm believer in Free Range Parenting. Yes, it hurts to send your kid out on his own for the first time, or to hand the kid the car keys for that first solo drive. But the alternative is to stunt their growth, both physically and mentally.

If you don't read Free Range Parenting, I highly recommend it. Lenore Skenazy keeps the statistics and the perspective, for the rest of us.

Debbie said...

The whole thing is so terrifying. Every mother's nightmare.
I think you are so wise to teach them these measures. And the cell phone photo is a brilliant idea.

kel said...

Just thinking of this stuff gives me chills.

The Daily Dean Chronicals said...

Wow..what a cruel world we live in! The fear and dismay we have to teach our children to be safe it crazy! Your idea's are great! I will pray for the family!

Kristina P. said...

It's so scary, especially since this woman was someone the girl knew.

That's the scary part. Abductions are usually committed by someone known to the child, so it makes stranger danger moot.

Kristina P. said...

It's so scary, especially since this woman was someone the girl knew.

That's the scary part. Abductions are usually committed by someone known to the child, so it makes stranger danger moot.

Karen said...

It's really sad that we have to teach kids this stuff, but it definitely helps.

I remember my parents having us watch these videos like "Strong Kids, Safe Kids" to teach us how to stay safe. But those lessons are even more essential today.

Musings of the Mrs. said...

What a fantastic post. The Sandra Cantu thing is just abominable, and seems like something that would be very hard to protect against. It makes me so sad that you have to teach children these things, when it would be so nice to allow them to trust as long as they can. But its essential. I hope many moms read and learn from this post. I am sending it to my sister in law right now!

Nikki B. said...

we go over this with our kids a lot!! since they ride their bikes to school and run around the neighborhood with friends...we practice often.

my theory...i can't be there all the time...nor, should i be. so, the best way for me to protect my kids is to teach them to protect themselves!!

i tell them, if you are approached by a stranger asking you for help, or offering a ride or candy...the rules are, "there are NO rules!"

you can punch, kick, hit, scream, yell, bite, throw things and run. if we're in a store, knock things off the shelves, break stuff...whatever!

they get way excited, and i'm waiting for the day when we're in wal-mart and the kids go buck wild saying that, "that guy looked at me."

LaVonne said...

I have been following the Cantu case on the Sacramento news as well. I can't imagine how difficult it must be for that family. I like these tips for child safety. Good list. I will be using them as my Princess gets older. I think we live in a different world than when we were children. I could run around and play with neighbors. My little girl is most likely not going to be able to do that. You never know these days who is capable of heinous crimes.

Tracy said...

GREAT list...I am going to flag this post so one day I can refer to it when my kiddos are old enough to understand.

Curious about what your take is on leashes?

Deb said...

I am so upset about Sandra. This world is such an unpredictable place, and I just can't believe anyone could be evil enough to commit such an act--but I guess, sadly, I'm wrong.

This is a great post about safety. I think you are right on with your approach and this is crucial info for all parents discussing safety with their children. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

newlyweds said...

I absolutely hate to hear stories like this, the poor little girl and her family, its tragic. And worse that she knew the women, and from what I hear that is usually how it happens, family, friends etc.

Great tips, I especially like the code word, for family and friends.

"...The Obnoxious SAHM...." said...

you mention MOPS groups on one of the comments on our blog - I used to be on the leadership board for our MOPS group years ago. I was the Discussion Group Writer (shocker there!)
The Group switched leadership hands and eventually it was ran into the ground and not handled properly. Sad huh?

(no tears from me ... LOL)

"...The Obnoxious SAHM...." said...

oh and.. the blog post. kudos. we are all about teaching safety to our kids. I stress also men and women both could be potential problems.

Hajar Zamzam Ismail said...

I decided years ago that my kids will not attend any type of Sunday school, and I'm heavily contemplating home-schooling, just because of maniacs like this one. You never know. I would not even leave my kids with my own family, how could I turn around,then, and leave them with anyone I just met in any random scenario? Nope, not gonna happen.

Jen said...

Helene, there is some really good stuff in here. Thank you for posting this. I need to have this talk with Hayden and soon.

Amy W said...

Ugh! I hate that the world has come to this! You have some really great tips though - I especially like the one about taking the kids' pictures with your cell phone. I never would have thought of that!

heather@it'stwinsanity said...

You have got to check out the Safe Side DVD. My oldest boys watched it a few months ago and I thought it was great. It's so hard to explain these things without scaring them...

Stesha said...

Excellent post! We have to remind our children daily of the "rules." This is the world that we live in now, and we must be careful.

Hugs and Mocha,
Stesha

Elizabeth Channel said...

Grand advice! Especially the cell phone idea! I hadn't heard of that one!

Juls said...

My husband and I saw the Sandra Cantu tragedy on the news..and I was so appalled that the lady was a woman. I am not sure why... I just think women, moms, grandmothers are safe people. What is this crazee world coming to?! Good for you teaching your kids about being safe!

Creative Junkie said...

It's so scary awful.

I've had these same talks with my kids as well. I'm worried that my youngest (8) wouldn't put up a fight because she'd be too scared to hurt an adult and get in trouble. UGH.

Semi-Slacker Mom said...

Great tips! I printed out a copy for me & one for everyone in my mommy's lunch group. except for the 2 year old, my kids know most of this stuff.

Last year at our school carnival, Bo was went over to the jumpers w/o me & one of my friends saw him. She tried to pick him up & find me, but he screamed & hit at her saying "You're not my Mommy!" And this was a person he was familiar with!

I can't believe all that happened so close to ya'll! Really hits home, huh?

The courts could never give that woman the punishment she deserves.

Cynthia said...

Great post! Acting it out is SUCH a great tip

DysFUNctional Mom said...

The Sandra Cantu case is breaking my heart. I didn't realize you were a Florida girl too...I live near Gainesville.

I figure that if the children are alive when my husband gets home at the end of the day, I've done my job.

----Roseanne Barr



 
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