Dear Dr. Rene,
We are going to the beach this Friday with two other families. 11 kids, ranging in age from 14 to two-and-a-half. Megan, my youngest is two-and-a-half years old. The next youngest is six, and all of the older kids can already swim well. The house has a pool, and I’m scared to death about it. Megan is a bit fearless, and my fear is that she will wonder down there, and no one will notice. We obviously plan to watch her closely, but I know that my eyes can’t be on her 24-7. I know of two people that lost kids right around this age to drowning. How do I talk to her and emphasize that she is never to go near the pool without one of the adults without scaring her? I want to scare her a little, but not too much.
Part of the difficulty here is at two-and-a-half years old you can teach them about safety, talk, warn them and review, but you can’t rely on them to be good at it at all. I would find a few key phrases, stated in the positive and start saying them now with lots of repetition. My sentence might be along the lines of, “you go to the pool with mommy,” “mommy must go to the pool with you,” and, “you must have mommy at the pool.” When you get to the beach house, go down to the pool together and talk about how she has to have mommy to go to the pool. You might ask, “do you go alone?” “no” (in a light tone). “Do you go to the pool with a friend?” “no.” “Who do you go to the pool with?” “Mommy! You only go to the pool with mommy.” I would review this with her, in a light tone throughout the vacation time. This does put pressure on you to be available for the pool often, but better to narrow it to you rather than say an adult in general which relies more on her for safety. She may think if there are adults or the 14 year old around the pool that’s enough.
The next thing I would do is lock the gates and doors in and out to the pool. If a door leads straight from the house into the pool area, I might block it with a dresser. I would also let all the children know, Megan is ONLY allowed to be at or in the pool with you. If any of them see her at or in the pool, they should lead her out and come get you. If you still feel worried, you might ask if they provide or provide your own pool alarm. Gate alarms starts at $30, pool-wave alarms at $70. All that said, watch her like a hawk.
I hope this helps!
Sincerely, Dr. Rene
Hi Dr. Rene,
Early this morning, I was awakened by knocking at my front door. There stood my neighbor with my four-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 and 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?
Ellyn, scared mom
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, but they rarely see you scared, so if you can keep it that true emotion, on your face and in your voice, it 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 like a big response, but it is a big and depending on where you live (busy streets) potentially dangerous one. As a parent of a four-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 put one on the doors 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.