One of the big selling points for families considering moving here is the relative safety the UAE offers, especially for those bringing-up children. And yet even here- bad things can and do occasionally happen.
This week, parents were shocked to discover an attempted abduction outside a popular Dubai school, and the news brought with it discussions on how to best protect our children from potential 'stranger danger.'
In reality, statistics show, only a tiny percentage of children, will ever experience any sort of abduction attempt during their childhood.
However, as its always best to be prepared, whichschooladvisor.com decided to take a look at just how we can best protect our kids, should they ever be face with what is surely, 'every parents worst nightmare.'
What or 'who' is a Stranger?
A stranger is basically anyone the child doesn’t know. When discussing the issue with your child, remember to remain calm and age appropriate, and avoid the ‘villainous’ stereotyping as there is absolutely no ‘identikit’ child-abductor, they can be young and old, attractive or plain and both male and female.
Kidpower.org, recommends that parents avoid using any ‘scary-stories’ and instead focus on the idea that most strangers are actually ‘good’ people, they’re just people we don’t know yet.
HOWEVER, some strangers do want to hurt children and therefore, they MUST follow the rules when alone and interacting with any stranger.
Practice: Remind children most people are good. This means most strangers are good.
They need to think:
"A stranger is just someone I don’t know and can look like anybody."
"The rules are different when I am with an adult who is taking care of me and when I am on my own. When I am on my own, my job is to check first with the adult in charge before I let a stranger get close to me, talk to me, or give me anything."
"If I am old enough to be out on my own without an adult to ask, it is safer to be where there are other people close by to get help if I need it."
"I do not give personal information to a stranger or to someone who makes me feel uncomfortable."
"It is OK to get help from strangers if an emergency is happening to me, and there is no one close by that I know."
"My job is to check first with the adult in charge before I go anywhere with anyone (a stranger or someone I know). I will tell the adult in charge where I am going, who will be with me, and what I will be doing."
"I will have a safety plan for how to get help anywhere I go."
"I will know what my family’s safety rules are for children answering the door, being on the phone, and being on the internet."
Source: Kidpower.org’s Safety Rules for Children
Not all Strangers are Bad
Suzanne Sultan, author of ‘Bug Bear Books' a series of children's stories which address a range of issues including 'stranger danger,' says, “What do we tell our little ones to do if they get lost? Well ironically it’s likely to be a stranger whom they will have to approach. We need them to understand who ‘safe’ strangers are…. people children can ask for help when they need it,” she says.
“Police officers and firefighters are two examples of very recognisable safe strangers. Teachers, principals, and librarians are adults children can trust too, and they are easy to recognise when they’re at work. But make sure that you emphasise that whenever possible, children should go to a public place to ask for help.”
Practice: You can help your child learn to identify who are ‘safe strangers’ while you are out and about, by pointing these people out and discussing the concept.
While some experts recommend teaching young children their address and contact details should they get lost etc, remember young children don’t always know when it is appropriate to use. Why not teach your child your phone number instead?
While we can’t eliminate all dangerous situations from our children’s lives, we can teach them how to recognise a potentially dangerous situation and therefore how to minimise it or remove themselves from it.
Susanne says, “Help children recognise the warning signs of suspicious behavior, such as when an adult asks them to disobey their parents or do something without permission, asks them to keep a secret, asks children for help, or makes them feel uncomfortable in any way. Also tell your children that an adult should never ask a child for help, and if one does ask for their help, teach them to find a trusted adult right away to tell what happened.”
Trusting Their Instincts
Familyshare.com says, “One of the most important things you can teach your child is to be aware of their feelings about situations and strangers. Teach them to watch out for adults who ask them for help, invite them to come into their home or car, ask them to keep a secret or exhibit other suspicious behavior. By teaching them to follow their gut feelings, you are empowering them to make good decisions. Remind them to tell you if an adult ever makes them feel uncomfortable.”
Practice: Teach your child: NO-GO-YELL-TELL (shout ‘no’ run away, shout and find a ‘safe-stranger’ to tell.)
Create and Teach YOUR Family Rules:
These should include:
Set boundaries of where your children can and can’t go
NEVER accept a lift from a stranger
ALWAYS tell a parent or guardian where you are going/will be
NEVER give personal information to strangers
ALWAYS keep your door/gate locked and don’t let children open it alone
Teach children to NEVER trust someone offering treats, flouting authority or faking friendship with a parent
Create a SAFE WORD one which only your family knows, reiterate that this word MUST be used if the child is to go with any adult
Practice: It’s really important to teach these basic rules to kids from an early age and don’t forget to review and practice them, let them become a ‘family-mantra.’
Start from a young age, ideally between 3 and 5. In addition to the above remember to also each your child about appropriate touch, and from this age onwards, review, discuss and reiterate your family’s rules on 'stranger danger.'
Many parents instill a sense of respect in their children toward other adults. While this is admirable, it can also put the child in considerable danger. Children need to be able to say; “no” to adults in a strong and assertive manner should they find themselves in danger.
Children need to know that it’s OK to potentially hurt an adults feelings, they need to be able to maintain strong eye-contact and have the vocabulary and confidence to stand up to any adult who makes them feel uncomfortable, even to the point of violence should they be physically lifted-up.
Dr Michele Borba says, “Kids need our permission to defend themselves, and they then need to know how to do so.”
She recommends that parents teach children should they be grabbed how to kick in the groin and then drop to the floor replicating a tantrum (even if they are significantly older than the age at which this is appropriate behaviour). This not only makes the child exceedingly hard to pick up, but draws attention to the situation.
She also advocated teaching children to shout the word, ‘stranger’ rather than any other word or phrase as this has been shown in studies to draw the most attention.
And, above all remember to remind your child continually that you love them no matter what situation they are in, that they can talk to you about anything.
According to psychologytoday.com, children are highly unlikely during their childhood to ever encounter a ‘dangerous’ stranger and are in fact significantly more likely to be endangered by someone they (and their family) trust.
The website quotes statistics from the US (2011), “203,900 children were the victims of family abductions, 58,200 children were the victims of non-family abductions, and only 115 children were the victims of "stereotypical kidnapping" where the kidnapper is a stranger to the child.”
Helpful Links and Information
Suzanne Sultan is author of the ‘Bug Buddy’ a book series which tackles various potentially tricky situations that children may encounter. The books cost Dhs 50 each or Dhs 200 for the set of 5.
Suzanne also teaches ‘stranger danger’ via class visits. Aimed at children between the ages of 4 to 7 years old, she uses her books, canvases and puppets to teach children the concept.
For more information on class visits or to order books email: [email protected]