We’ve been following the news about Sierra LaMar, a 15-year-old who disappeared near her home in Morgan Hill, CA sometime between a text message sent to a friend and nine minutes later when she didn’t show up to her school bus on March 16. Reports Thursday say that police no longer think she may have run away and believe that she was most likely kidnapped, potentially by someone she knows.
We don’t know what happened to Sierra but it’s hard not to fear the worst and to wish that she had known whatever it was she needed to know to stay safe: not to let someone she wasn’t expecting into her house, to be cautious even if it is someone you know, to keep out of reach of someone on the sidewalk, not to take a ride even from an acquaintance without checking first – and as soon as she knew she had trouble; to yell, run, make a scene, and to fight to protect herself.
Even after hundreds of people have searched for her – finding only her purse, backpack and cellphone – it’s still difficult to know yet what has happened. Our hearts go out to her family and friends who are all waiting to hear from her.
Today we are posting a one-page Kidpower Safety For Kids On Their Way To School Checklist download the pdf) that we’ve compiled for parents about how to prepare their kids to be ready to make safe choices and get help while on their way to and from school, or anywhere else that they are allowed to go on their own.
TALK together to make a Safety Plan so your kids will know:
- They are safest staying in groups and, if they are younger, with an adult you select.
- To always get permission from you or another adult in charge before they change their plan about going anywhere with anyone, whether it is a stranger or someone they know.
- To always get your permission about where they go, who will be with them, and what they will be doing.
- That a stranger is someone they do not know well, can look like anybody, and might know their name.
- That most people are good and most strangers are good, but they do not know what someone is like just by how that person looks or acts.
- To NOT get close to a stranger, talk to a stranger, take anything from a stranger, or go with a stranger – unless they have their adult’s permission.
- If they are old enough to talk to a stranger, to stay out of reach and not give personal information.
- To move away toward safety and get help if someone makes them feel uncomfortable or tries to approach them.
- How to get help in an emergency from people you’ve designated along their route.
- To tell a trusted adult every time someone makes them feel uncomfortable or scared.
WALK together to determine:
- The safest route to follow on the way to and from school on foot, by bus, or by bike that will avoid isolated places, difficult streets to cross, and other hazards.
- Where to go and who to ask for help if kids have a safety problem on route — preferably adults you have introduced them to — in a church, store, neighbor’s house, bus, etc.
- What to do if kids get lost, if they cannot stay on their route, or if someone bothers them.
- Each child’s safety readiness for going on her or his own without adult supervision.
PRACTICE together until you are SURE your kids are prepared to:
- Use their awareness to notice and avoid safety problems from people, traffic, or other possible trouble.
- Act aware, calm, and confident in every situation.
- Move quickly out of reach from a stranger or anyone who makes them feel uncomfortable.
- Follow their safety plan even if a friend tries to persuade them to do otherwise.
- Find a place with people to help them if they get lost or have to change their route.
- Yell “NO! I NEED HELP!” and run to a safe place to get help if they feel scared.
- Yell, pull away, hit and kick to escape from an attack.
- Be persistent in getting help, even if adults are busy or impatient.
- Find and use a telephone so they can call a trusted adult for help or 911 in an emergency
As parents well know, the holiday season is both incredibly exciting and potentially overwhelming for kids, sometimes all rolled together into one. At gatherings with families and friends, expectations about affection, attention, and teasing can create unnecessary stress and discomfort. By accepting our children’s different personalities and thinking through our boundaries ahead of time, we can teach our kids important life skills and make holiday parties and reunions more fun.
Most of us can remember being pressured to just “suffer through it” from our own childhoods. Who doesn’t recall being forced to kiss “Great Aunt Edna” as a kid, or getting scratched by Uncle Bob’s beard as he leaned in for a squeeze? Or, being told to just ignore the teasing and roughhousing of our cousins?
As a mother, I can relate to the embarrassment that a parent might feel when a child doesn’t want to give a big hug to Grandma when she walks in the door—especially if Grandma has been eagerly anticipating the visit for weeks and months. But through my work teaching personal safety as a Kidpower instructor, I have learned that supporting our children when they set boundaries is a very important practice.
Backing up a child who doesn’t want to be kissed or hugged does not mean that Grandma, or Great Aunt Edna, or Uncle Bob or Cousin Sara are doing anything wrong, but it does demonstrate that touch and play for affection or fun is your child’s choice in all situations. The holidays are a perfect time to work on “boundary setting” with our kids, so they feel confident and empowered as they move through different ages and stages of life.
When possible, try to bring relatives into this conversation ahead of time, letting them know that you are practicing with the kids to help them learn to set boundaries—and who better to practice with than people who know and care about the kids. That way, when a child sets a boundary with Grandma, she can feel that she’s part of a positive practice rather than left out. Some parents report that this is a difficult conversation to have, but I maintain that is an important one, and an opportunity for meaningful dialogue and exploration. Many parents feel that their culture has expectations the children show adults respect through affection.
At Kidpower, we have found that this is truly a cross-cultural phenomena across a wide variety of backgrounds, and an issue that is worth addressing: how can we come up with ways for children to show respect to their elders in ways that feel nurturing and respectful to the child as well? One point I like to emphasize about child safety is to ask “How can we expect our children to set clear boundaries about touch when they are on their own, if we do not support them in doing so when we are together with our families, standing right there in a position to advocate for our kids and back them up?”In practice, this may be as simple (yet powerful) as saying, “Do you want to give Grandma a hug, a high-five, a kiss, or a wave? ….Not right now? Okay… Maybe you’ll want to blow a kiss or do a high-five later.”
Some kids are social butterflies and will thrive on the opportunities to be the center of attention. Be prepared to help them to notice the boundaries of others and to remember to follow your safety rules about Checking First before changing the plan, even in a family gathering. Other children are more reserved and are best off being allowed to warm up at their own pace. They might need your involved advocacy to redirect unwanted attention away from them and your help in setting boundaries when well-meaning adults try to pressure them.
Even if a relative is offended when a child does not want to kiss or hug them, this is an important time to keep in mind the bottom line—kids need to learn from an early age that touch or play for affection or fun should be the choice of BOTH people, safe, allowed by the adults in charge, and not a secret. This core safety rule should be respected in all situations.
Touch or play for affection or fun should be the choice of BOTH people, safe, allowed by the adults in charge, and not a secret.
It’s confusing for kids to try to set aside their feelings of discomfort for certain kinds of affection or teasing in the name of good manners, since it gives young people a contradictory message about their boundaries. Keep in mind Kidpower’s founding principle: A child’s safety and healthy self-esteem are more important than ANYONE’s embarrassment, inconvenience, or offense. Or, more simply stated: Put Safety First.
Here are additional Kidpower resources about how to use boundaries to make our holiday gatherings truly joyful:
- Holiday Boundaries: Protecting Children’s Boundaries and Helping Others Do the Same
- Why Affection and Teasing Should be a Child’s Choice
- Holiday Power – Take Charge of Emotional Safety During the Holidays
Black Friday has come and gone this year but it is only the beginning of the busiest shopping season of the year. Everywhere you go, stores are packed, parking lots are full, and people are scurrying about trying to get the very best deals on all the latest, hottest gift items. If you are an avid shopper, this might be your favorite time to shop and score big bargains on the items on your gift list, but this time of year can also put shoppers at risk for theft, accidents, and other safety threats.
Here are a few safety tips to keep in mind while you are out doing your holiday shopping this year:
Shop with a friend
There is safety in numbers and not only will it make you less of a target, you’ll probably have more fun than shopping alone.
Take only the bare necessities
Before you head out to the mall or stores, clean out your purse or wallet and take only what you really must have. If possible, skip the purse and carry a small wallet in your front pocket. If you must carry a purse, carry it over your shoulder, across your body, or carry a wristlet purse. These make it harder for a purse-snatcher to access your purse. Plus, if you do have your purse or wallet stolen or if you lose it, you will not have to replace as many cards and can quickly report the ones that were stolen/lost.
Shop during the daylight hours
If possible, shop during the daytime. Once it gets dark, thieves have an advantage of being able to hide in the dark and then attack unsuspecting shoppers when they are walking back to their vehicles with their purchases. If you must shop after sundown, park as close to the store as you can and in a well-lit area. If you feel uncomfortable walking to your car, ask if there is a security guard who can escort you through the parking lot. Have your key out and check around your vehicle before getting in it. Once you are inside, lock your doors and don’t delay in leaving.
If you are approached by anyone in the parking lot or if someone’s behavior seems suspicious, return to the store instead of trying to get to your car. Your car cannot protect you as well as being in the store with other people can. Alert store security or a manager if there is any suspicious activity or if someone did approach you and seemed to be a threat.
Protect your purchases
Thieves know that holiday shopping time is prime time to find lots to steal in the parking lots of malls and other shopping centers. If you have to leave any purchases in your car, be sure to hide or cover them well. Lock them in the trunk of a car or if you are driving an SUV or minivan, cover them with a blanket. Don’t leave anything visible. If you plan to drop off purchases and then go back into the same mall/shopping center, get in your car and drive to another part of the parking lot to re-park. Or take a break, leave the area to get lunch or a snack and come back later. Thieves may be lurking in the parking lot and if one sees you put packages in your car and go back into the mall, your vehicle will be a prime target.
Don’t overload yourself
Leaving a store with arms full of several bags, boxes, and other goodies may look fun and exciting in commercials, but in real life it makes you a target for attackers. An attacker knows it will be harder for you to fight with your arms full and it will be easier to catch you off-guard because you’ll be distracted by trying to carry and balance all your purchases. And remember, thieves often work in pairs. If someone approaches you, be wary of not only them, but anyone else who might be around because they may be planning to pick-pocket or snatch your bags or purse while you are distracted by the one who approached you.
Be alert at all times
Be aware of your surroundings when out in public, not only for possible thieves or attackers, but for potential safety hazards as well. If you are walking through a parking lot, watch out for cars, as crowded and busy parking lots may make it hard for drivers to see you, especially if they are backing out of a parking space. If you are driving, watch closely for pedestrians, especially those who might be paying attention or may be overloaded with packages and bags. Look carefully behind you before backing out of a parking space.
If the weather is rainy, snowy or icy, be extra cautious walking in the parking lot and even when you step into the store, as slick floors may cause falls.
Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, and stay safe!
Halloween is a fun time of costumes, candy, and carving of pumpkins. Unfortunately, one little slip and that fun could be over and you might be rushing to the emergency room.
Accidental lacerations and puncture wounds to the hands and fingers are common injuries seen in emergency rooms around the country during this time of year due to Halloween pumpkin carving. Some of these injuries require surgery and months of rehabilitation, such as the injury Brad Gruner, starting quarterback for the University of New Mexico, suffered last Halloween when he sliced a tendon in the pinkie of his throwing hand and was out for the rest of the season.
If you’ve ever carved a pumpkin before, you know from experience how slippery and tough they can be. It is all too easy for a knife to slip or for it to go through the skin and out the other side where your other hand might be holding it steady. Do yourself (and your family) a favor and follow a couple of safety tips this year to prevent an accident.
Leave the carving to the adults. Kids under the age of 14 should not do the actual carving or cutting. They can draw on the pumpkin the design they want it to have but let an adult carve it.
Use special pumpkin carving tools instead of kitchen knives. Pumpkin carving kits are easy to find in most stores in the weeks before Halloween. These tools are usually smaller, less sharp, and easier to control than a kitchen knife and less likely to cause a laceration or puncture wound. Make sure to use a well-lit, stable, dry surface to work on. Keep hands and tools clean and dry to minimize slips. While carving, leave the top on so you don’t stick your hand inside the pumpkin and risk cutting it.
Decorate your pumpkins without carving them. There are many ways to decorate a pumpkin that do not require risking an injury. Kids can use markers, paint, and even glue on embellishments to create a fun or scary pumpkin design.
Have a safe and Happy Halloween!
If you are someone who takes care of kids in any way, shape or form (which I’m assuming you are if you’re reading this) one phrase has probably dominated your world for the past couple of weeks: “back-to-school”. It is likely that you have not spent a day, opened a newspaper or a journal or gone to the sites you typically visit online without seeing these words staring back at you in an article offering you advice on: “How can you best prepare your kids”, “The 101 things you should know about your child’s health and/or safety before you send them back to school…” etc.
Unfortunately, too much of a good thing is not always a good thing… With so many articles and so much information it can be a bit overwhelming at times. With that in mind, I’ve done a little searching and pulled together a “best of” health and safety tips across all the expert information I’ve found. While last week’s back-to-school health and safety tips focused on everything to consider before they head off to school, today’s tips focus on what you need to know to send them off and make sure they return safely. Hopefully it will save everyone a little time that they could be otherwise be using to get 5 more minutes (or 1 extra hug) with their kids. (*Please note: as with my last post, I am sourcing other author’s tips and will cite all references below – all copyrights, credit and thanks belong to them)
Heading to School:
Getting on the Bus Safely:
- When the bus arrives, stand at least three giant steps (6 feet) away from the curb.
- If you have to cross the street in front of the bus, walk on the sidewalk or along the side of the road until you are five giant steps (10 feet) ahead of the bus. Then you can cross the street.
- Be sure the bus driver can see you and you can see the bus driver.
- Never walk behind the bus.
- If you drop something near the bus, tell the bus driver. Never try to pick it up first because the driver may not be able to see you.
While on the bus:
- When on the bus, find a seat and sit down. Loud talking or other noise can distract the bus driver.
- Never put head, arms or hands out of the window.
- Keep aisles clear—books or bags are tripping hazards and can block the way in an emergency.
- At your stop, wait for the bus to stop completely before getting up from your seat, then walk to the front door and exit, using the handrail.
Getting off the Bus:
- If you have to cross the street in front of the bus, walk at least ten feet ahead of the bus along the side of the road until you can turn around and see the driver. Make sure the driver can see you.
- Wait for a signal from the driver that it’s safe before beginning to cross…then, walk across the road keeping an eye out for sudden traffic changes.
- Stay away from the wheels of the bus at all times.
Walking to school:
- Walk to school with a group of kids and always have a responsible adult with you.
- Always walk on the sidewalk if one is available. If no sidewalk is available, walk facing the traffic.
- The safest place to cross is at a street corner or intersection.
- If you are 10-years-old or younger, you need to cross the street with an adult. Before you step off the curb, stop and look all ways to see if cars are coming. When no cars are coming, it is safe for you to cross, but look left-right-left as you do and hold the adult’s hand.
- Walk, don’t run. This gives time for drivers to see you before you enter the roadway.
- Don’t dart out in front of a parked car. The driver of the car coming down the street will not be able to see you.
- In neighborhoods with higher levels of traffic, consider starting a “walking school bus,” in which an adult accompanies a group of neighborhood children walking to school.
Riding a bike to school:
- Always wear your helmet and make sure it fits correctly. The helmet should fit low on your forehead so that two fingers fit between it and your eyebrows.
- To ride safely, you need to know the “rules of the road”. Ride on the right side of the road in a single file line in the same direction as other vehicles and come to a complete stop before crossing streets. Wait for a driver’s signal before crossing the street.
- Wear bright colors during the day and right before the sun rises or sets.
- Riding at night can be dangerous. You should have a white light on the front of your bicycle and a red reflector on the back. You also can get lights and reflective materials to put on your shoes, helmet and clothing.
By the Way – Here’s a great brochure by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) that uses graphics and humor to teach little kids how to be safe on their way to school.
- Graduated Driver Licensing allows teens to practice driving skills in low risk situations, moving through driver license stages with gradually increasing responsibility. GDL reduces teen driver crashes and deaths by up to 40%. You can implement life-saving GDL practices in your home by following these tips:
- Extend the learner’s permit period until at least 6 months of practice has passed.
- Set a nighttime driving restriction – no unsupervised driving after 10pm.
- Set a passenger restriction – no one younger than 18 allowed during a teen’s first 12 months of driving.
- Ban cell phone use and make safety belts mandatory while driving. Prohibit alcohol – zero tolerance for underage drivers.
During the School Day:
Eating during the day:
- Most schools regularly send schedules of cafeteria menus home. With advance information, you can plan on packing lunch on the days when the main course is one your child prefers not to eat.
- Try to get your child’s school to stock healthy choices such as fresh fruit, low-fat dairy products, water and 100 percent fruit juice in the vending machines.
- Each 12-ounce soft drink contains approximately 10 teaspoons of sugar. Drinking just one can of soda a day increases a child’s risk of obesity by 60%. Restrict your child’s soft drink consumption.
- “Bullying is when one child picks on another child repeatedly. Bullying can be physical, verbal, or social. It can happen at school, on the playground, on the school bus, in the neighborhood, or over the Internet”. The American Academy of Pediatrics has detailed guidelines on managing bullying from the perspective of the child being bullied, the child who is the bully and the bystander. Across all 3 categories, what is consistent is involving a parent or another adult to develop a proactive solution. Rather than try and abbreviate this section, if this is an issue for your child, well documented and excellent guidelines can be sourced here.
- Acclimate children to hot weather workouts by gradually increasing time outdoors about ten days to two weeks before official practice begins to help prevent heat injuries.
- Make sure children drinking plenty of fluids and take frequent breaks: every 10-15 minutes while playing outdoor sports. Also make sure they wear light clothing and limit their exposure to the sun in the hottest part of the day. Apply towels soaked in ice cubes and water to the head and neck to stay cool.
- When heat illness is suspected, move the athlete into the shade or coolest area nearby. Try to cool them as quickly as possible by exposing the skin to ice/cold water and cool circulating air.
- Young athletes with asthma should use preventative inhalers 20-30 minutes before exercise, do a gradual warm-up and should have a rescue inhaler available to them during practices and during competition.
- Make sure children wear a well-fitted helmet if they play football, softball or baseball to prevent severe injuries such as concussions.
- Remind children to immediately tell the coach or trainer if they feel dizzy or have a lapse in memory after taking a blow to the head. They should not return to the same practice, game or contest and should be evaluated by a physician prior to return to play.
Keeping them safe at school:
- Ask your child about safety in his or her school. Where do they feel most safe? Least safe? Why?
- Identify comfort levels and methods for reporting safety concerns. Do students have at least one adult and/or method through which they would feel comfortable reporting safety concerns at school?
- Examine access to your school. Are there a reduced number of doors that can be accessed from the outside (while still allowing children to exit from the inside in an emergency)? Does faculty know who is in their school?
- 5 excellent questions that your school’s crisis management team should know the answer to – if not, get involved:
- How do you dial 9-1-1 from the school phones? Do you need to get an outside line first?
- What is the actual street address of the school if asked by a 9-1-1 dispatcher?
- If your school’s nearby walking evacuation site is a community church, does someone have the keys to get in if no one from the church is there when you arrive?
- How long does it really take to mobilize your school bus drivers in the middle of the day if you need to evacuate multiple buildings?
- Have you ever trained students NOT to open doors to people on the outside trying to get into the school?
Getting home from school safely and staying that way:
- Make sure your child walks home with a group of friends or a responsible adult.
- Make sure to have an adult at the bus stop after school to ensure the kids get home safely.
- Make a code word that will be used when someone else they do not know will pick them up. Every time you have someone pick your child up from school they have to know your secret code word or your child will not get in the vehicle.
- Let them know that if an adult makes them feel uncomfortable or is following them they should call 911 and find a safe place – go back to school, to the police, or to a friend’s home as quick as possible.
- Along those lines – teach your children “No, Go, Yell, Tell”: Say No! loudly if they feel they’re in danger; Go! run fast and far to the nearest safe place; Yell! as loudly as they can while they run; Tell! a trusted adult exactly what happened as soon as they reach safety.
- If they are going to be alone in the afternoons, teach them to go straight home, lock the door and only open it for people with permission to enter the house. Never open the door to delivery people.
- They should never tell someone on the telephone or on the internet that they are home alone. If asked about mom/dad say something like “He or she is busy right now. Can I take a message?”
So folks, I know it was a long list, but I hope it’s one you’ll find useful. Until next time, keep them healthy and keep them safe…
As we did with “Best of” Back to School Health and Safety Tips 2011: Part I, we’d like to send out our thanks and recognition to some very smart folks for some really terrific advice:
- Waiting for the Bus, While on the bus, Getting off the Bus, Walking to school and Riding a bike to school: (Traveling to School: Safety tips to share with your children: National Safety Council)
- Teen Driving: (Teen Driving Safety: Graduated Driver Licensing saves lives: National Safety Council)
- Eating during the day and Bullying: (Back to School Tips: American Academy of Pediatrics 2011)
- School Sports (Children Should Rely on Safety Equipment to Prevent School Sports Injuries: Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center)
- Keeping them safe at school: (Parents & School Safety – Can you Prevent Another Tragedy? How Safe is Your Child’s School: Ken Trump, president of National School Safety & Security Services)
- Getting home safe and staying that way bullets #1,2,3,4: (Children’s safety tips to remember for back to school: Melina Ann Collison, St Louis Crime Examiner, July 27, 2009)
- Getting home safe and staying that way bullets #5: (Living Safe – Teach your children “No, Go, Yell, Tell”: Katherine Cabaniss Crime Stoppers)
- Getting home safe and staying that way bullets #6,7: (After-school safety tips from the American Red Cross)