Tips for Teaching Personal Safety

Paper chain family protected in cupped hands

Teaching personal safety is a broad topic. There’s teaching how to interact with strangers and other people in the world, to trust your own emotions, to be aware of your surroundings, what to do if you are lost or separated from others, toys safety, internet safety, water safety, fire safety, choking hazards, guidelines for being home alone and more. The list is long and detailed.

Here are a few related tips and links to related resources:

  • Always aim for a balance between teaching that the world is basically a safe place and people are generally good, but also that there are dangers in the world and it’s good to be prepared. The goal is to make children aware and prepared, NOT scared.
  • It is best to identify and discuss dangerous and concerning situations as you go through life together. Safety isn’t taught in a conversation or two, it is taught over time and with examples. In teaching most things to young children, it is best to avoid lectures. Rather have real conversations, role plays, puppets shows, stories and hypotheticals.
  • A central task in teaching safety is teaching children to trust their emotional responses. A child should be aware and learn to listen to and communicate their own fears and concerns. This comes from teaching them emotion language, giving empathy and validation to their emotions and allowing for follow-up conversations.  Here is a link to a previous blog post on teaching emotion lanaguage:
  • Another important piece is teaching children to have an assertive voice in social exchanges. This is not teaching them to be aggressive, but rather to feel comfortable standing up for themselves. Here is a link to a previous blog post on teaching assertive voice:
  • Good parenting books: Protecting the Gift: Keeping Children and Teenagers Safe and Parents Sane by DeBecker and Safe Kids, Smart Parents by Bailey
  • A good children’s DVD: The Safe Side: Stranger Safety

Join me for a valuable workshop that covers the basics of each area and how to best address these topics with children. My workshop on Teaching Personal safety is available 7:00-9:00 p.m. June 17th in Falls Church, Va. For more information and to register, please visit


Four-Year-Old Goes to the Park Alone

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?

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, 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 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 It is a book written to guide you through teaching your child about personal safety.

I hope this helps.


Dr. Rene

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