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Teaching General Safety Rules to Children

At school, children learn the infamous “Stop, Drop and Roll” and the basics of stranger danger, but as parents, it’s important to teach general safety rules to children at home, too. “My advice to parents is to work hard on your communication with your child,” says Kim Estes, certified prevention educator and founder of Savvy Parents, Safe Kids, in Redmond, Washington. “Keep a consistent conversation going about your values around safety.” Make learning about safety a family affair with games, lists and open communication, so your children are prepared.

Create a Safety List

Teach your children about a variety of different dangers with a list of five or 10 safety rules for the family, says Estes. Print them and put them on the fridge as a daily reminder. The rules could include “Get out! Don’t try to put it out!” in case of fire. Estes also recommends creating a space every day to talk about safety. “A round of the best and worst part of your days can shed light on what's happening with your child,” she says. The list could also include rules about how to deal with bullying, answering the phone when home alone, and cooking safety guidelines.

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Play the 'What If' Game

Many children need visual examples and scenarios to understand the importance of dangerous situations. Estes recommends the ‘What If’ game to teach your children about fire safety. Parents should ask “What if you saw flames?” or “What if you smelled smoke?” to elicit responses from their children. “A great majority of kids under the age of 12 will respond with ‘I will get the fire extinguisher and put it out,’” says Estes. “Parents need to evaluate their child’s responses to these questions and decide if the answers are the safest ones.”

The 'What If' game also works well for teaching safety rules associated with peer pressure. Ask your child, "What if your friend is drinking alcohol or taking drugs?" and "How would you respond if someone offered you drugs or alcohol?" Asking these questions will open up the lines of communication between you and your child and give you the opportunity to teach her strategies to protect herself in uncomfortable, and potentially dangerous, situations.

Give Fundamental Strategies

When teaching general safety rules, it’s important that you don’t use scare tactics, says Robert Siciliano, personal security expert at McAfee and author of “99 Things You Wish You Knew Before Your Identity Was Stolen.” Teach them to be in control of their lives early on, he says.

“Give children fundamental strategies that make them aware of life’s hazards and how to effectively avoid and remove themselves from dangerous situations,” says Siciliano. From teaching your toddler to speak up when he's scared to preparing your children to walk away from cars that stop near them when walking home from school, the more strategies you can offer, the more prepared they'll be if danger occurs.

It's also important to constantly teach your children about Internet safety. Pose strategies and scenarios that your children may face. Ask "What if someone you don't know instant messages you?" and "How would you respond if a classmate posts something negative about you on a social media site?" Discuss the importance of protecting your identity and privacy online.

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Keep Lessons Light

Learning about general safety rules shouldn’t scare or bore your children. Instead, get them engaged by keeping the lessons light and interesting, suggests Siciliano. Start slowly with questions such as “What if you couldn’t find mommy in the supermarket? What would you do?” and gradually work into “What if someone you know asked you to take a walk and mommy didn’t know about it?” According to Siciliano, this line of questioning helps children think for themselves and allows you to feed them the appropriate responses.

Give them the tools they need to help themselves as well. Teach your children their addresses and telephone number as soon as they can talk and make sure they know their parents’ first and last names. Ultimately, your children are responsible for their own safety, says Siciliano. “If you allow them to grow on their own without smothering them, they can make more effective decisions,” he says.

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