Ahhh, the carefree days of summer … the word summer still conjures up a great number of positive associations for me, as I hope it does for you. As a child summer meant barbeques, long days at the beach or pool, and nights spent biking around with friends (after dinner!) because it was still light out.

But, if you’re a parent, it is unlikely that your summer days are carefree. Summer has become a crazy balancing act of keeping your kids entertained and safe 24/7, all while trying to keep up with the regular demands of your work and home life. This means most children will spend far more time unsupervised, watched over by new or unfamiliar adults, or being allowed greater independence in activities in general. All of these scenarios can pose an unanticipated risk.

Children need to be taught how to manage this increased independence and what to do if they find themselves in an uncomfortable or scary situation. Below are some tips to help you keep your children safe from predators. Please keep in mind that you want to educate and empower your child! Use of fear or scare tactics will not be helpful in the long run.

  1. You must let your children know that they can come to you with any worry or issue without being criticized or dismissed. This means truly listening and being “present” (e.g., using good eye contact, tuning into the feelings underlying what your child is sharing, and summarizing what has been said for clarification).
  1. Teach your children to trust their gut instinct and identify their emotions. If their inner voice is telling them that something feels unsafe or uncomfortable, they should remove themselves from the situation as quickly as possible and tell you or another trusted adult what happened. You may want to help them develop a list of “safe” adults and places to go to. Explicitly teach them how to tell if someone is “safe” or not, perhaps role-playing a few scenarios. They should be taught that, even if they know someone fairly well, they should trust their gut if something feels uncomfortable.
  1. Teach your children to be assertive and recognize that it is okay to say no to an adult, and even run away, if something feels wrong or strange. The National Crime Prevention Council recommends teaching kids the phrase “No, Go, Yell, Tell” in order to help them remember what to do in such situations.
  1. Make it a goal to regularly teach your children problem-solving skills. You can help them develop these skills over time by doing the following:
    • Consider daily challenges and identify problems together.
    • Model calmly thinking through these problems and encourage your child to do the same.
    • Brainstorm solutions together and then encourage your child to try them out.
    • Check-in about how well the solution worked or what he or she might do differently next time.

With practice, these skills will help them make good choices in both dangerous and more routine situations.

Robyn Matlon, M.Ed., M.A., Psy.D., is a licensed psychologist with specialized training in play therapy, child development, attachment, depression, anxiety, complex trauma, and post-traumatic stress disorder. She can be reached at Parents Place in Marin County: 415-419-3625 or [email protected].