4 Year Old Goes to Park Alone

Hi Dr. Rene,

Early this morning, I was awakened by knocking at my front door.  There stood my neighbor with my 4 year old that she had found playing by himself at the park down the street.  We have rules that he can’t go downstairs in the morning without telling us, he can’t go outside alone as such but he obviously ignored them.  He scales babygates like a pro and knows how to open the locks on our doors.  I am looking for ways to drive home the seriousness of what he did.  I showed him how scared I was and am but he just countered with “but we know her and she was nice and look, I’m fine.” I called his dad and together we told him there are some very bad people who like to take children away from their parents and hurt them.  Any advice on how to drive this home?  Is talking enough?

Thank you,

Ellyn, scared mom

Hi Ellyn,

There are several answers here.  I think in the moment you were absolutely right to show him how scared you were.  Most parents, when they feel scared show anger which doesn’t tend to stick.  Your children see you angry often, they rarely see you scared so if you can keep it that true emotion, on your face and in your voice will likely have a biger impact.

I would then review the rules of telling before going downstairs in the morning and getting permission before going outside.  Since this was in place and ignored, I would have followed up with a related consequence something along the lines of being inside for two days.  I get this may seem a big response but it is a big and depending on where you live (busy streets) potentially dangerous one.  As a parent of a 4 year old boy who has already bypassed the system, I would go ahead and install an alarm system.  I don’t mean to be dramatic here but for sanity’s sake, on the doors and to be used overnight or at least new key-only locks.

In a whole other area, I would get and watch The Safe Side: Stranger Safety by John Walsh (America’s Most Wanted) and Julie Clark (Baby Einstein) with him http://www.thesafeside.com/.  It is a DVD that teaches children the difference between safe side adults, kind of know adults and don’t know adults with rules for each.  It is informative without being scary and well done to keep the children’s attention.  For yourself, I would also read Protecting the Gift by Gavin DeBecker https://www.gavindebecker.com/index.php/resources/book/protecting_the_gift/.  It is a book written to guide you through teaching your child about personal safety.

I hope this helps.

Sincerely,

Dr. Rene

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