Back to school preparation has started. We are spending lots of money, and endless hours, shopping for clothes, back packs and other back to school essentials. We fret over how to prepare healthy lunches and snacks. We update forms and we make appointments for haircuts and check ups.

Yet, we often overlook updating our tweens safety skills.

I wish adults would fret a bit more about their child’s safety health. That we would update and replace old safety skills with the promptness that we replace worn backpacks and outgrown clothing.

The “Tween” years are defined as those years “in between”. They are not little kids anymore but are not teenagers either. The ages of 8-12 represents a huge leap for kids and their parents. Back to school is a critical time to review and replace your tweens growing safety needs. Plan ahead now and your won’t be as likely to be caught off guard later.

Here are some basic tween safety skills that parents should be thinking about, talking about and practicing with their tween:

Checking In:  Tweens start to crave more independence from their parents and most noticeably parents will no longer be hanging out with their Tween at play-dates (oh, I was also informed by my Tween that they no longer refer to them as “play dates” either). Tweens will often start wanting to explore their neighborhood without a grown up tagging along.  This can be nerve wracking for parents but this kind of independence is a normal developmental milestone for tweens. Start practicing having your child “Check in” if the plan changes while they are at a friends house or if they are out and about in the neighborhood. Checking in helps you know and understand what they are doing and with whom.

Role Play:  Your tween will begin to experience more risky peer situations. Even if your child is a “rule follower” or has “good friends” or is “active in school, church or sports” they are going to experience risky peer situations where they may be asked to break the rules or your tween will be with peers who ARE breaking the rules or engaging in risk taking behaviors. Help give your Tween some good scripts on how to get out of these situations, present different scenarios that may happen and help them have tools and an escape plan to get them out of the situation. Also, let your Tween know that they can still come to you after the fact and talk to you about what happened.

Safety to and from School: Your Tween may want to start walking home from school and/or the bus stop. Evaluate your Tweens readiness by making sure they are able to stick to a regular (and populated) path. Will they come straight home or become distracted? What are the specific risks to your child? Traffic, high crime area, busy street to cross? Only YOU can determine if your child is ready to go it alone or with a buddy. If you have decided that they can start walking to and from school on their own, make sure that you practice a preferred route, identify homes and /or businesses they can go to if they need assistance. Take a buddy whenever possible and remind them to NEVER approach or get into a car with anyone, even if they know the person, without checking in first with you.

Asking questions: This is the time for parents to  really step up their game and start asking more thoughtful and engaged questions about what is happening in their Tweens life.  When your child is going to be spending time with other families, be sure to ask “what is the plan?” and “who will be watching the kids?”.  Some Tweens at this age are seasoned at staying home alone. Others are not.  The same goes for movies, games and internet access. Your comfort level about kids being home alone and your family rules about internet access and games may not be the same as someone else. If you have concerns, then talk to the adult in charge about your concerns. Also be thoughtful in asking your child open ended questions about their day, their interests and what their plan is when they are going to a friends house.

As a parent of Tween and a full fledged teenager, I can fully attest to the fact that the more we talked about safety expectations for back to school, the better things went. Tweens will test boundaries, rules will be broken, there will be many opportunities to discuss how things could be handled differently next time. Yet, by the end of the school year, in spite of some uncomfortable moments and deep pits in my stomach, we got through. We learned that the safety net we provided at the beginning of the school year was the most powerful investment we made in our back to school preparations.

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Summer Safety Strategies for All!

Spring is here. The weather can be fickle one moment offering us a promise of summer with a warm sunny day or bringing us rain clouds that seem more like we are in October still. As our days grow longer and the weather eventually gives way to sunny skies, we will be drawn to the outdoors and all the great adventures that summer has to offer. This is a great time to look at how your family’s safety needs have changed since last summer and begin to talk with your children about summer safety.

Ages 2-5

  • Practice learning their phone number in case they get lost or separated from you
  • Practice finding a safe mom (or other grown up) with kids if they need assistance
  • Remind kids to make sure they have their safe grown up with them when talking to new people!

Age 6-9

  • Review healthy boundaries and let them know that is it is OK to say “NO!” if someone is making them uncomfortable.
  • Remind them to check in before taking off around the block on their bike or skateboard.
  • Talk about who the safe grown ups are in their life
  • Never accept a ride from ANYONE (even if you know them!) without checking in first.

Ages 10-13

  • Start looking at their readiness to stay home alone for short periods of time
  • If you are considering a cell phone for your child, summer is a great time to “practice” having this new tool and it will also allow for some of the novelty to wear off before school begins in the fall.
  • Remind them to take a buddy with them when they are out and about in the neighborhood.
  • Never accept a ride from ANYONE (even if you know them!) without checking in first.

As always, continue to keep the conversation going with your kids and never use scare tactics when talking about safety. Keeping the conversation simple and short is best

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I try to post a little safety nugget on my Savvy Parents Safe Kids Facebook Page every day. Today’s tip was this:

Let your children know that sometimes, they may have to ask several adults for help before they actually get the help they need. Teach your child that it is OK to move on to another adult if the first (or second or third) adult cannot (or does not) help them when they are asking for help. You would be very surprised at how many parents “blow off”, “dismiss” or don’t even give a child the chance to express their concerns. Adults will often dismiss a child for “tattling” or “making things up” or “being mistaken”.
After I posted the tip, it got me to thinking about how as a society we are continually surprised when adults often ignore red flags, dismiss their gut feelings when something is clearly wrong and are terrified to speak up and SAY SOMETHING. ANYTHING. That is, until something REALLY BAD happens. Then it’s too late.

We should not be surprised, as we have conditioned entire generations with the notion that “tattling” is very bad. So don’t do it. Ever. This kind of thinking is exactly what criminals thrive on to keep committing their crimes. Criminals count on you to not report suspicious activity, to be afraid to follow your gut and to be embarrassed to speak up. Even worse? They count on you to dismiss a child’s concern or fear. We have conditioned people to be afraid to speak up.

What we need to do is help kids (and adults) understand the difference between tattling just to get someone in trouble versus reporting potentially unsafe behavior. We need to teach children and adults to become listeners and not dis-missers. That being empowered is more important than being embarrassed.

I have told both my children that they can go to as many adults as needed to get help. If that fails, they should call me immediately. Once, during a play date, one of my kids was being de-panted by another kid. Repeatedly. My child went to several moms to complain. Every single mom told my child “Now, don’t be a tattler” or to “just go back and tell them to stop”, “go work it out on your own, I don’t want to hear tattling” or the worst…. “Well what do you expect if you get them all riled up by playing rough?”. Seriously.

I got a phone call immediately.

You would think that by all the opinions and sharing that people do on social media that we would not be afraid to speak up but sadly, when it comes to really standing up and speaking up in person, many people just can’t do it.

I know that when we are raising kids it can get old hearing a child continually telling/tattling on other kids. I get it. However, we need to guide and teach kids the difference between tattling on someone to just for the sake of getting that person in trouble versus teaching a child to be a responsible mandatory reporter for safety. Kids who learn to be responsible reporters become adults who will listen to concerns and understand the importance of being a mandatory reporter.

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When Recess Gets Raunchy…

Yep. Everybody loves to share exciting news. Kids especially love to share news that covers off limit topics, like sex. I was officially basking in completing day 1 of the new school year when my young daughter shared with me that an older kid had told her about what a “Blow out” was. Of course what she was describing was not really a “Blow out”. She had the words mixed up. It did not take me long to figure out they were NOT talking about hair do’s or car tires.

Poker face. Poker face. Poker face.

My daughter was grossed out, but not traumatized by this new revelation. We have talked on a regular basis about body safety. She knew that our family safety rule was to come talk to a grown up if ANYONE, even another kid, talks to her about sex (because sex is NOT FOR KIDS, as she reminded me), talks to her about bathing suit areas (hers or theirs) or shows her their bathing suit areas or asks to see her bathing suit area – which are private.  I made sure that she was OK and had not been physically touched. She was mostly curious about this new information and completely grossed out. As she should be at her age.

Thankfully, she did come to talk to me right away and I thanked her for telling me what happened. Her immediate concern? Am I in trouble? Is my friend going to be in trouble?  “Nope!” I assured her. We reviewed our safety rules and I told her that I would talk to the child’s parents so they could help that child learn more about safety rules regarding private and/or “family information”.

Phone calls were made, everybody was calm. Sample scripts were shared on ways to talk to kids about how some topics (like “blow outs”) are not for kids.

Now that your kids are back in school, take time to review your family safety rules and make sure your child knows that their bathing suit areas are private and other peoples bathing suit areas are private and that includes talking about bathing suit areas in a sexual way.

At the end of the evening, my daughter smiled and patted me lightly on the arm and said “I am so glad nobody in our family does blow outs”. Oh boy.

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When we hear news stories about missing kids it is terrifying. There is a part of us that makes us hesitant to ever let our kids outside, ever again! However, we know that is not realistic (or healthy). It is our job to help our kids learn how to navigate their world safely. This means lots of talks about safety over and over again.

Taking a long bike ride with your friends is a normal thing for kids to do in the summer. It should be a normal part of being a kid regardless of the time of year! Yet, summertime beckons us to explore and have fun. On Friday afternoon Lyric Cook (10 years old) and her cousin Elizabeth Collins (8 years old) asked their grandmother if they could go for a short bike ride together. The Grandmother said yes, and off they went. Sadly, in this case, Lyric andElizabethnever returned and now their names and faces are all over the national news.

Authorities say there is no indication of a struggle or foul play. The girls’ bikes were found in a bushy area near the shoreline ofMeyersLake, along with their backpacks. Authorities are now wondering if the girls had run into trouble when they decided to take a swim in the lake.

As a Child Safety Expert, I talk about safety all the time with my family (to the point that they are sick of it.. trust me). Yet, these chilling news stories continue to be a reminder that the responsibility of talking about safety to our kids is never done.

When we talk about safety with our children it is so important that we talk about many types of “What If” situations with our kids. Teaching our children about “stranger smarts” is only one aspect. Water safety, practicing the buddy system, staying on the designated route, street/car safety and using the check in system should all be included in your safety talks.

If your children are going to be spending time out and about in the neighborhood, be sure to discuss your safety expectations with them. Review safety rules with your child on a regular basis and also as they are heading out on an adventure.

Here are some sample safety tips to talk about with your child as they head out the door:

  • Set boundaries! Be specific on how far your child can travel by bike or foot.
  • Be very clear about water safety (e.g. “I know it is hot outside but I do not want you to go swimming in the lake/pond/pool without an adult”)
  • Remind them: do not get into a car with ANYONE, even if they know them.
  • Call and check in if the plan changes. (Having a designated “safety cell phone” that kids can use just when they are out exploring, etc).
  • Have your child list out the homes and/or businesses they can go to if they need help.

Do your child (and yourself) a favor, give your child some new safety tools TODAY By sitting down and talking about your family safety rules. Keep talking about safety. Don’t wait until the next tragic news story before you talk about safety again.

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Your Kids and Camp. Is Everyone Ready?

As summer rolls closer… here are questions to consider before you sign up for that camp, before you hire that nanny, before you take that vacation.

  • What is the camp’s policy on training and screening volunteers and staff?
  • Are the counselors and staff trained in CPR?
  • Does the camp have a nurse or doctor on staff for emergencies?
  • What is the reporting system for employees if something happens (abuse, suspicion or injury)
  • What is their policy on how children are picked up and dropped off each day (ensuring the correct person is picking them up)?
  • Do they have a policy on prohibiting alone (or closed door) one on one time between adult and child?
  • Who will be caring for your child? Take time to meet the counselors and staff who will be watching your child.
  • Ask to tour the facility.
  • Check camp references.
  • If transportation is provided, make sure the vehicle is properly outfitted with safety belts and up to date car seats.
  • Check to see if there have been any complaints or write ups about the facility, from parents or the state agencies.
  • How can your child contact you if they need to?

Want to know about Red Flags to watch out for? How about YOUR child’s readiness? Download the full safety Camp Safety Sheet Summer Camp Safety

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Don’t Rely on Luck to Keep Your Kids Safe

By Kim Estes

 At Savvy Parents Safe Kids, we don’t use scary tactics in our workshops but the truth is there are scary statistics on the number of kids who are being sexually abused right now in your community. It makes me so sad to hear a parent come up after a workshop and say “I wish my mom had taken a workshop like this. She could have protected me”. I am however glad those same parents are being proactive in learning about safety for their kids and not relying on luck to keep their children safe. It only takes a few minutes a day to let you child know that their safety is important. It could be playing the “what if” game in the car or just reminding them that they have the right to say no to anyone who is trying to bully them into breaking a family safety rule. Openness about safety leads to open conversations when things are bothering them.

 At Savvy Parents Safe kids, we know that prevention education is the key to keeping the children in our communities’ safe. Here are some easy beginning tips to help you start talking about safety with your loved ones!

  •  Start  early and often! Kids as young as one, can learn to point out a “Safe mom      with kids”. Make a game of it! Be silly! Have fun finding “safe moms”. Get them familiar with the concept that a “safe mom” will help them if they      ever get separated from you.
  •  Teach young kids to “sing” your cell number
  •  Teach children to never, EVER leave with someone they don’t know (this could be an adult or another child).
  • Remind children to “Check first” before accepting gifts or rides from anyone!
  • Model “Safe Grown Up” behavior. Set an example of safety for children. If your  child (or a child you know) is not checking first before accepting  something from you, be the “Safe Grown –Up” who will remind them to “Check  First” with their safe grown up.

About the Author:  Kim Estes is the owner of Savvy Parents Safe Kids and has worked with parents for over 15 years, educating them on various parenting topics. Kim is a certified prevention educator through the National Security Alliance, the Kid Safe Network and is a Darkness 2 Light facilitator. As a Child Safety Expert, Kim has appeared on local and national TV and Radio shows, helping to raise awareness on the importance of prevention education. For more information about her work or to schedule a workshops go to:

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Ready or not, here they come: The holidays. Along with the holiday season come the relatives and the insane schedules.

Even though the holidays are stressful, safety conversations with your child shouldn’t be. However, with recent news reports, parents are concerned and safety is on everyone’s mind. Now is the time to take a moment BEFORE things get too crazy hectic and time becomes too short, to talk to your family and create some common sense safety tips.

Safety while shopping

•Have a designated spot (e.g., a sales counter) to meet older kids if you get separated.
•Younger children should know to look for a “mom with kids” if they get lost and need to ask someone for help.
•Have younger kids practice your name and cell phone number.
•Remind kids never to leave the store, no matter what!
•Older kids should always take a friend when going to the mall and not leave the mall with anyone.
•Kids need to check first with you before going anywhere or accepting gifts.
•Never leave children unattended in a vehicle, stores, arcades, or playgrounds.

Safety during holiday parties

•Let your child chose who they wish to show affection to. Do not force them to kiss, hug or sit on someone’s lap (Santa alert!). Kids need to know they have power over their own bodies.
•Check in on kids during large gatherings. Have each adult take 20 minute “shifts” to do a quick walk through the house/yard and check on the kids to make sure that they are doing OK
•Kids should check first with a parent before going off with someone (e.g. to play video games in a bedroom or leaving the house to go play)
•If someone is making your child uncomfortable, such as with excessive tickling, hugging or wrestling, intervene on your child’s behalf to end the behavior. Your child needs to know that you will protect them.
Safety conversations with your child will be better received when you keep them short and simple. Never use scare tactics. There will be lots of interaction with family and friends, new experiences and new places. Take time to practice “what if” scenarios with your kids Taking time to talk safety with your kids will take some of the anxiety out of your holidays.

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Child Grooming: What every adult should know.

The past week has been a firestorm surrounding the Penn State Child Sexual Abuse scandal. We have by now figured out what when wrong. We know horrible mistakes were made. We know horrific crimes were committed. Many of us are left reeling. How could this happen? Is this happening in our community?

Walking in on a child being raped is obviously Child Sexual Abuse in progress. However, it didn’t start “just like that”. Sandusky had a process that he followed to gain access to that child. So how exactly do predators get to the point where they have complete access to a child and complete immunity within a community?

The answer is simple. It is called grooming.

We hear about grooming of children, but before that can happen, a predator must groom the adults. Grooming adults clears the way to victimizing children. If we want to stop children from becoming victims, we need to be able to identify when adults are being tricked and groomed and what the predators grooming steps are.

Steps and Signs of Grooming:

Identifies opportunities, organizations and communities with children
Builds trust through friendships and/or leadership (with the adults and children)
Begins to identify potential victims
Gains access to children
Begins testing boundaries (with children and adults)
Provides presents, praise and privileges (to both the adults and the children)
Creates secrecy
Abuse begins
Uses threats (towards children and sometimes adults) to keep their crimes secret

Adults are responsible for keeping the children in our lives safe. If you observe what you believe is grooming in progress it is your duty to intervene. Talk to a supervisor, talk to your partner, talk to the police, talk to a specialist in Child Sexual Abuse prevention. Limit that person’s access to children immediately. Predators like to fly under the radar. If you start making noise and asking questions you will make it harder for them to be stealth in committing their crimes against children.

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What every adult should watch out for

Predators rely on secrets and flying under the radar to get away with their crimes. On average a predator will commit 200 sex crimes before he is caught. They rarely ever have one victim. Adults need to be on the lookout for red flags and warning signs such as these… and REPORT them.  Then follow up with the authorities and be persistent until you know the child is SAFE.  This insanity against our children MUST stop. America should not be ranked #1 in child abuse in the industrialized nations.

  • Insists upon spending uninterrupted time alone with a child
  • Appears “too good to be true”
  • Frequently walks in on children/teens in the bathroom or changing
  • Continually invites children to spend time alone at their home enticing them with the toys or gadgets
  • Seems overly preoccupied with a particular child
  • Lavishes them with inappropriate attention
  • Shares information with a child that is intended for adults
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