Stranger Danger

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The other afternoon my tween daughter walked to the local shops (about 300m from our home) with her cousin. It was just a fun little excursion to spend some pocket money on a chocolate bar after several days of exams! She normally takes her phone, she normally comes straight home and she is normally only gone about half an hour. As it started to rain and was beginning to get dark my panic level rose. She hadn’t taken a phone as she lost it a few weeks ago and her cousin doesn’t own a phone so I wasn’t able to contact either of them. Thinking my daughter may have gone to her cousin’s home I rang their home phone and it rang out, then I contacted my brother in law only to find out he and is wife weren’t at home. At this point real fear started to kick in. I walked to their house to see if there was anyone home. To my relief and simultaneous irritation my daughter and her cousin were home watching TV, totally oblivious to my concern.

As we made our way home I gave my daughter a stern talking to, telling her I was worried, as I didn’t know if she had come to any harm. Not half an hour later I saw a Facebook post about an incident the day before where two young girls had been approached by a stranger to hop in his car at the exact bus stop my kids’ use. Being topical, I thought it best to let my daughters know to be vigilant about keeping away from strangers given what had just occurred. I also thought it gave weight to my concerns that my daughter had felt were just me being over-protective.

Unfortunately the result from our discussion is that my tween daughter is now terrified of where we live. She is worried she will be abducted and wants to move house to a safe part of the world. What was meant to be a precaution has now turned into a real fear. If I had realized she would be so traumatized by the information, I would not have told her, but now the damage is done.

I had to explain that everywhere in the world there is a very small element of society where mentally ill people do things that are morally and legally wrong. We can’t live our life in fear of these people, we just need to be aware and not put ourselves in situations where we may come to harm. I also tried to put her mind at ease by asking how many times she and her friends had been abducted in her life – a grand total of zero! I also tried to appease her by telling her that due to the publicity this incident had received it is extremely unlikely that the perpetrator will attempt to do the same thing in the same place again.

I wish we lived in a world where kids could be free to roam and come home at sunset like we did as kids, but unfortunately that is not the case. I want my kids to grow in responsibility and freedom without having to wrap them in cotton wool, but more than that I want them to be safe. Kids need to know about ‘stranger danger’ without losing their sense of security. It’s a fine balance – one that at the moment in our household is tipped more towards fear than safety. I’m hoping as time passes, my daughter will feel a renewed sense of security and will live the carefree life of a tween, without worrying about being abducted. For my own peace of mind, we’ve replaced my daughter’s phone and stipulated that she is no longer to go for strolls to the shops without being able to contact me or vice versa.

I think the hardest struggle as a parent is walking the fine line between allowing your kids freedom and keeping them safe. If I had my time over again, I would still tell my daughter about the incident, but would be vague on the specifics so she wouldn’t realise it happened out the front of our house. Thankfully the kids who were approached knew the right thing to do and didn’t get in the man’s car to receive lollies. We can only educate our kids on what to do in this situation and then hope that no strange person preys on our innocent kids.

Have you had the ‘stranger danger’ talk with your kids?

(Photo courtesy of stock images, freedigitalphotos.net)

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MUSIC FESTIVAL

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As is often the case these days, I find myself stuck between a rock and a hard place when it comes to balancing the protective side of me wanting to keep my kids safe versus allowing my kids a bit of freedom to grow up and spread their wings a little.

Yesterday I allowed my fifteen-year-old daughter to attend a music festival for teenagers 12 to 17 years of age. The stereotypical image of music festivals being an open slather for drugs and alcohol crossed my mind, but as it was aimed at teenagers who had to show photo ID confirming their age, I was confident there would be no alcohol for sale and also hopeful that screening at the gates would minimize any exposure to drugs.

The ‘Good Life’ festival has previously been run well, with designated buses to take the teenagers from central station to the venue and in reverse for the return trip. The only issue yesterday was that the mother of all storms hit mid afternoon which led to the organisers cancelling the festival mid way through.

No buses were available to ferry the kids back to the train station (5kms away) so the kids were ejected from the venue in a ferocious storm to try to find their way home.

I fully understand the festival organisers decision to cancel the concert due to the storm, however I’m really disappointed that a day that was designed to be a safe, fun day out for teenagers, left them in the precarious situation of being stranded in the middle of town with no transport options in the middle of the storm that was so severe it led to the cancellation of the concert.

Thankfully my daughter’s friend’s father rang a friend who lived locally to collect them from the venue and drop them at the train station, but thousands of other kids were left to their own devices.

When I collected my daughter from the train station, she said that the day was far from living the ‘good life’ and that it had been the worst day of her life. I tried to console my daughter by saying that sometimes the worst events become the most memorable stories.

If I’d known there was the possibility that my daughter would be stranded in town, I would never have agreed to let her attend, but then again, I guess a part of growing up is finding yourself in unexpected situations and then working out a solution. I’m just grateful that she arrived home safely, albeit cold, wet and tired from her ‘Good Life’ experience. If nothing else, at least she gained some good life experience!

(Picture courtesy of Stuart Miles, freedigitalphotos.net)

PUBLIC TOILETS  

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Is there an age when it is no longer appropriate to take a child of the opposite sex to a public toilet? I was lucky my first three children were girls so it wasn’t an issue for many years but over the past year or two my son (age 8) has refused to go to the ladies toilets and quite frankly, I think he is at an age where he should use the men’s toilets. Having said that, it doesn’t ease my fear that he will be molested or abducted the moment he steps foot inside the door of the gents bathroom.

I stand guard outside the men’s room watching every man enter and exit, imagining the worst of each and every one of them until my son nonchalantly returns, usually with his hands dripping and shirt half tucked into his pants. 

I am particularly suspicious of public toilets after I once escorted my daughters to the bathroom where there were two stalls. I noticed a shadow on the floor of the second stall of a man pleasuring himself whilst my daughter was going to the toilet. Ever since then I am on high alert for any sickos that might be loitering.

I know some people use the disabled toilet (which creates issues for people who actually are disabled) and others use the parent’s room if they are fitted with a toilet. Most places don’t have parent’s rooms and I think my son would be embarrassed to use one in any case, so maybe the problem lies with my acceptance that he will have to enter situations where I can’t monitor that he is safe. 

Obviously Dad’s have the same issues with their daughters. I once escorted a little girl of about 3 years of age into the toilet as her father (a man I had never met before) hovered outside. As she went to the toilet she told me that I was a stranger and that she is not allowed to talk to strangers but then asked me to wipe her ‘foofy’ for her. I felt extremely awkward at this point and gave her directions on how she could do it herself so that there was no chance I was accused of touching the girl inappropriately.

I guess to answer my first question of whether there is there an age when kids can go unescorted into the toilets – the answer in a nutshell is no! It comes down to recognising when your child can independently go to the toilet; when your child has the confidence to go into the bathroom by themselves; it relies on your discretion to work out when it may make other patrons feel awkward and finally it relies on the facilities available.

As parents we have to allow our kids to grow and get some independence, but at the same time we need to ensure we are vigilant about their safety.

 

I’d love to hear from other parents. What age did your kids start using public toilets by themselves?

 

(Picture courtesy of David Castillo Dominici, freedigitalphotos.net)

OH CHRISTMAS TREE

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Have you ever looked at a Christmas tree through the eyes of a toddler? All those twinkling lights, glittery tinsel and sparkling ornaments all look so enticing – you just want to eat them all up, or stick them up your nose – whatever your preference! So the question remains, how do you keep your tree safe from those marauding tikes whose soul purpose is to pull off every decoration within arms reach?

Anyone who read my post yesterday ‘Baby Jail and Other Safety Ideas’ will know that I used a playpen to keep my kids contained when they were young. The first few Christmases our toddlers were out of harms way when they were playing in their ‘baby jail’.  Then as they got older and were wandering around the house I was left with a dilemma – how do I stop them from pulling the tree down onto themselves, electrocuting themselves with fairy lights and choking on ornaments? That’s when I came up with my brilliant plan – I put the Christmas tree in the playpen. I raised it up on a small side table so the munchkins couldn’t reach the bottom branches, then put it at the back of the playpen, so that I created an exclusion zone the kids couldn’t enter. As a bonus, they couldn’t touch and feel the presents underneath either!

I was reminiscing about this the other day as we put up our Christmas tree for this festive season. As my kids have grown up, the tree is no longer only decorated on the bottom branches. This year the kids decided to have a colour scheme on the tree, so all hand made ornaments made from paddlepop sticks and cardboard were left in the box.

I think back to Christmases past and how I couldn’t wait to have a beautifully decorated tree the kids wouldn’t touch. Now that those days are here, I feel nostalgic for mangy handmade decorations and the tree stuck in solitary confinement!

BABY JAIL AND OTHER SAFETY IDEAS

I really love that age when your child starts to interact with you, but they are still immobile. Then they find their legs and wander aimlessly around (and sometimes into) things! My kids always seemed to be covered in bumps and bruises and I was worried that it looked like they were being physically abused. Once toddlers build up the confidence to start exploring, life can become difficult. Things like showering and doing chores become times when your little cherub can, and often will, find ways to harm themself!

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I have some advice of how to keep your toddlers safe. I know there will be differing opinions over these ideas, but they worked for me and at the end of the day, the safety of your child is paramount.

  1. Playpen – This provides a safe environment where your child can play without risking injury. Make it a fun experience by sitting in there with your child whilst playing with toys and books. When the time comes that you need to leave your child unattended for a few minutes, you know that they can’t hurt themselves by climbing on furniture or getting into cupboards of chemicals. I know some adults see this as equivalent to baby jail, but kids don’t have any concept of prison. To them it is a new environment, which if introduced in a positive way (not just drop and run) they will be safe and happy. The younger you introduce them to this area, the more they will just accept it.
  2. Harness Restraints – Whether in a car seat, high chair or pram, kids must be made to wear the harness. All too often the child rebels against the idea of being strapped in, but for their own safety you have to make sure they can’t fall and suffer a serious injury. My daughter used to manage to slip her arms out of the straps, so that the harness was rendered practically useless. I purchased a contraption that covered the straps and brought them together so she couldn’t wiggle them over her shoulders. All kids get to an age where they don’t want to be strapped into the car seat and arch their backs like they are a possessed demon. That’s when you need to master the forearm across the body push down whilst buckling them in. I know a lot of you reading this are reminiscing over having to use this technique. In fact, I think they should teach it in pre-natal classes!
  3. Child Harness – I always said I wouldn’t walk around with my child on a lead, but one day when my daughter was three, she wiggled her hand out of mine whilst I was talking with someone. She ran straight onto the road to go to our parked car. I was screaming at her and she turned around to look at me just as an unsuspecting car slammed on its brakes. The side mirror of the car brushed against my daughter’s shoulder. How she didn’t suffer serious injuries that day I don’t know. The next day I bought a little monkey backpack to strap onto her that she could put her ‘special things’ in. More importantly, it had a tail handle I could hold onto to stop her running away at will. When she was in a safe environment I would tuck the tail in the backpack so she didn’t realise the purpose of the bag was to act as a restraining harness.
  4. Micro-fibers for Cleaning – I used to clean with bleach and antibacterial solutions. One day as I was mopping, one of my daughters decided to play with the frothy water. I was nearby and stopped her, but I was terrified of her scalding herself or ingesting chemicals. I made the move to Enjo cleaning cloths that do a good, if not better, job of cleaning without the use of chemicals. It is better for our household and better for the environment. It takes a little while to get your head around not needing chemicals (as the house doesn’t have that pine/lemon scent after cleaning), but once you do, you won’t look back. Then there is no need to have cupboards full of poisonous chemicals that your child can get into.
  5. Gates – As much as they are pain for the rest of the family, baby gates are a great way to section off safe areas of the house for your toddler to explore. They are particularly important if you have stairs. Even if the area is downstairs and your child can crawl up the stairs safely, what goes up must come down!
  6. Cupboard Child Locks – As much as we all wish kids would keep out of cupboards, the fact is that they want to explore. Even if the contents of the cupboard are safe, you need to worry about your child getting their fingers slammed in the door. There will come a time when they realise they can’t enter these cupboards so there is no point in trying. That’s when you can go back to free and easy use of your cupboards. 

When you child-proof your home, you need to understand that many adults will also be fooled by the safety gadgets you use. It’s fun to watch friends trying to work out how to open your cupboards! 

The period in your life when you feel like you are constantly on high alert for injuries seems like it will last an eternity. Before you know it, your child will understand the boundaries and can be trusted to safely explore their environment without too much concern. Although, as a mother, you never stop worrying about your kids no matter how old they are!

 

 

 

(Photo courtesy of freedigitlaphoto.net)