Going outside regularly to get some fresh air, run around, clamber around on a jungle gym, and swing on a swing is an important and natural part of a healthy childhood. However, playing outside comes with a variety of risks, and it’s every parent’s responsibility to help their kids learn to evaluate and manage their own personal safety.
Of course, kids should be closely supervised when playing outside. Even a vigilant guardian won’t be able to see everything, though. Ultimately, no one will be able to keep a better eye on your child, than they can themselves. To help them do this, you’ll need to teach them a few specific safety skills that can help them avoid risky situations, and get to safety if they feel uncomfortable.
1. Evaluating Danger
The first thing any child needs to learn is how to tell if they’re in an unsafe situation. As they get older they’ll be able to make more nuanced decisions, but for young children it’s good to begin with a simple question: “Is this allowed?” If your child’s friend is trying to climb up on top of the frame of a swing set, your little one should immediately be able to judge it as unsafe because it’s obviously not allowed.
As they get a little bit older, coach them on why different thing aren’t allowed. Teach them to identify specific dangers like falling, slipping, and getting lost, and ask them to determine why different situations are dangerous, and why others aren’t.
2. Resisting Peer Pressure
Even kids who understand danger are often pulled into unsafe situations by their friends and peers. Resisting peer pressure is an important skill for any child, and it’s one that can help them enormously later in life as well. Pushing back against social pressures is very difficult, because if often serves as a way to identify with and determine social standing within a group of friends. Telling a child to “just say no” won’t work, because it doesn’t help them to manage the real social pressure that they’re under.
Resisting is less about will, and more about social skills. Teach your kids how to change the subject, how to bring up new ideas, and how to lead a conversation. Show them how they can establish their place in a group of friends without participating in unsafe behavior.
3. Getting out of an Unsafe Situation
If your child is in a situation that makes them uncomfortable and that they don’t feel they can diffuse, they need to be able to remove themselves. Sit down with them, and rehearse a few simple excuses they can use, and coach them on how to deliver one while simply walking away to avoid any argument from potentially pushy friends.
4. Helping Others
It’s statistically far more likely that a child will witness someone get hurt than that they’ll be hurt themselves. Small children don’t generally know what to do in this kind of situation, and might even abandon an injured friend to avoid getting in trouble. Explain, and drill with your child, exactly what they need to do if someone is hurt. Naturally they’ll be too young to administer any kind of first aid, but they need to know that they should stay, shout for help, and then run to find an adult if one isn’t immediately nearby.