Even before the horrifying news of the Dros rapist hit our screens, parents were receiving warnings of increased activity from human trafficking and kidnapping rings. At the same time, moms are constantly reminded of the importance of letting their children play in outdoor spaces, which often means a visit to the park or other public place.
Here’s how to make sure they remain safe, no matter where they are.
Evaluate the danger upfront
This is more about common sense than anything else: some venues are simply more child-friendly than others. So, while a trip to your local family restaurant still requires that you keep your hold within sight, this is going to be easier to do than at a festival teeming with strangers – especially if alcohol is involved.
Educating your child about stranger danger is one of the most important chats you can have – although, obviously, this conversation has to be age appropriate. The critical outcome is that your child understands that a stranger is any person who is unknown to the family, and because it is impossible to tell whether someone is “good” or “bad” by looking at them, they should err on the side of scepticism. On the other hand, there are some people who they should be able to view as trusted figures, and whom they can turn to if they feel threatened or if they get lost in a crowd: the police or a security guard, for instance.
Practise a safety strategy before you leave the house
Reminding your child of the basics regularly is a must: don’t talk to strangers, don’t accept any lifts, don’t accept sweets from strangers, and don’t wander off by yourself (even if it’s just to the toilet).
But, that’s just the start. It’s a good idea to run through a safety strategy before you head anywhere as a family, whether that’s an event or your nearest mall. If you’re going shopping, point out the information kiosk where your child can ask for help if you become separated, and remind them to shout out if they are made to feel uncomfortable by anyone who approaches them. With this in mind, it’s a good idea to give them a whistle they can blow if they feel threatened. Of course, they should also know your phone number by heart (if they’re old enough). If you’re going somewhere where they will be in crowds, be sure to write your number on their arms in permanent marker, or make a paper bangle with your details. As soon as you reach the destination, find a feature that stands out (a statue or gate, for instance), and agree to meet there if you get separated. Be sure to have recent pics of your child on your phone. It may seem a little drastic, but you may want to consider a child’s safety harness for younger kids.
Run through the safety rules before you leave the house, teaching them how to react in different situations by role playing various scenarios, and remember that, even if there is a child minder present, you need to be able to keep your child in sight at all times.
In her 16 years as journalist, Lisa Witepski’s work has appeared in most of South Africa’s leading publications, including the Mail & Guardian, Sunday Times, Entrepreneur and Financial Mail. She has written for a number of women’s magazines, including Living & Loving, Essentials and many others, across topics from lifestyle to travel, wellness, business and finance. She is a former acting Johannesburg Bureau Chief for Cosmopolitan, and former Features Editor at Travel News Weekly, but, above all, a besotted mom to Leya and Jessica. Lisa blogs at whydoialwayscravecake.blogspot.com and lisa.witepski.blogspot.com, and tweets at @LisaWitepski.