By Vivian Blevins
Even as we are aware that harm to our children and grandchildren sometimes comes from persons they know, we want to be informed about our responsibilities as caregivers to do what we can to thwart dangers our children might face. First is to acknowledge that some out there are not good people.
Our children know to fasten their seat belts, to look both ways before crossing the street, to not get in a car with strangers, and a few other cautions which are widely accepted. What about child abductions, sexual assaults, school shootings that strike terror in many of us. Ten fatalities at Columbine in 1999, and 26 at Sandy Hook in 2012.
We can’t always be there for them, and neither will their teachers or a responsible adult. At times, our children will need to make decisions for themselves on how to respond when they sense danger or when danger confronts them square in the face as they are walking to school, playing in a park, roaming a mall, or using the public library.
Professor Beth Bengough, who teaches psychology at Edison State Community College, indicates, “My advice to parents would be to use common sense and encourage frequent and open communication. Absolutely, a child should be warned about the common dangers of life. When a child hears about life-threatening events, parents should use this as an opportunity to share some advice about how to stay safe and encourage the child to discuss his/her thoughts and feelings about the event.”
The question is about balance with concern for our young ones. What should we teach them? How much is too much? How much is too little? My column is for those entrusted with the well-being of children from kindergarten through sixth grade.
We teach our children to be kind, to be polite, to monitor the volume of their voices. All of those teachings need to go out the window when our children are faced with physical danger. On two occasions I faced such danger as a child decades ago in a community that by any standard was safe, so I understand first-hand the importance of this topic.
Training for public school educators and children is important, and in the small city of 20,000-plus where I live, such training is provided via the police department’s school resource officer, Chris Walters. Walters graduated from the Edison State Police Academy 15 years ago, and after working in law enforcement in Covington for eight years came to the Piqua Police Department where he oversees a host of programs in seven public and two parochial schools.
A certified ALICE instructor (instruction for intruders in school settings that includes the following topics: Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate) and other ALICE-certified law enforcement officers at the Piqua Police Department comply with the state of Ohio mandate that all schools, K-12, conduct a total of six safety drills each year regarding school intruders. A subsection of the DARE program, these safety drills include theoretical scenarios in which participants use what they are taught to address issues they might one day face.
Walters believes that it is critical for parents to educate themselves.
He says, “When we talk about ALICE and threats to our children, one of the most important things to remember is it’s not if it will happen, it’s when it will happen, and preparation is key. It is critical for parents to educate themselves and educate their children.”
Walters teaches the ALICE program to teachers, and they then explain the concepts of the program and what they have learned in language-appropriate terms to their students (You can research the program at a variety of locations on the internet).
Joseph Mahan, commander of the Edison State Criminal Justice Academy, believes that we need to teach our young children to be aware of their surroundings and that “even young children have an intuitive sense when something is not right. And we need to encourage them to pay attention to those feelings.”
He has some specific suggestions that parents and caregivers might consider teaching their young children:
1. There’s safety in numbers. Stay with other children. If alone, taking your dog with you is a good strategy. If alone and you sense danger, always run to where people are.
2. Make noise. Yell. Scream, “Why are you following me?” or “Get away from me!” Don’t ever fall for the trick that your mother is in the hospital or that someone wants you to help find a lost dog.
3. Run. Get away if you can and scream while you’re running.
4. If you’re hiding and have your phone, turn off the ringer. Dial 911.
5. If there is a risk to you of physical harm, fight like there’s no tomorrow. Bite, scratch, hit, kick, and scream all the while.
6. To keep yourself from being captured, fall to the floor or ground, keep yourself limp, and scream. If captured, look for an opportunity to get away.
In summary, Mahan says, “The strongest human instinct is for survival: RUN, HIDE, FIGHT. Forget any defeatist attitude and know that there are no rules. The mantra is ‘I will get through this. I will win. I will live to see tomorrow.’”
PS: Edison State librarian Nicole Dunn has researched SearchOhio and OhioLINK and has identified 16 books that you might want to consider to learn more. Just send me your email, and I will forward the list to you.