Teaching Kids About Personal Safety


No one really keep a rein on my television watching as a child, and as a result of too many Unsolved Mysteries episodes, I cannot watch scary movies and I am suspicious of all basements. My mom wavered between being paranoid (don’t talk to people, ever) and incredibly trusting (I can’t even recall how many times she and I picked up hitchhikers or panhandlers).

I cringe when I think about my reckless teenage years, but I guess sheer luck outweighed the sheer stupidity (“Oh thanks for the drink, strange lacrosse player with whom I am not well acquainted, what is this? Tequila and grapefruit juice? Um, okay!”).

Now that I am a certified grown-up, my goal is to find neither extreme. I don’t want to be reckless and I don’t want to be paranoid, but as a mom of three, I always want to be safe.

And so the next logical step is for me to send them to their Japanese grandfather’s house for the summer, where they will train in the martial arts and arrive to school in the fall with incredible skills and new names. When my husband’s job as an FBI agent goes awry, they’ll Home Alone their way through a large freight ship, beat up the criminals, and save the day. Roc-ky loves Em-i-ly. If you didn’t recognize that as the plot of the 3 Ninjas, 1992 was likely a rough year for you. Come over and I’ll pop in a VHS tape and we can eat some popcorn or Fruit by the Foot.

Mm. Sorry. Back to now. I think I’ve found a good balance. When I’m traveling alone, I’m aware of my surroundings, but at the same time, I’m nice to strangers, because not all strangers are sociopaths, you know? I love that my mom was always so willing to help people in dire straits, and I want to pass along the desire to help others (if you haven’t read the internet famous “Today, You / Tomorrow, Me” you must), but to also be mindful of personal safety.

As a mom of three girls, personal safety is a difficult topic, and I’d love nothing more than to stick my head in the sand on this one, but the statistics on sexual abuse are too alarming for me to ignore. Talking to them about it can be a little challenging and if there was a class or a webinar on how to make your children aware without scaring them, I’d be the first to sign up.

The girls know that they can say hello to anyone while they’re under my care (“don’t talk to strangers” sort of contradicts “be polite and say hello!”), but that their bodies are their own, and they can also come to Mommy and Daddy and tell them absolutely anything. [Editing to add: I inadvertently left out a really important point that most abusers are people that children know.] One major tactic predators use is to scare children into thinking that they cannot tell their parents when they’ve been abused. Some Secrets Should Never Be Kept, a book for children ages 3 through 12, addresses this. It’s written by a grade school teacher and it’s really – surprisingly – straightforward. Here’s a video of it being read aloud if you’d like to take a listen. It’s sad (I cried listening to it), and I have not yet read this book to my girls, but I think it’s done in a good/powerful/safe way.

Teaching Kids About Personal Safety

More books recommended by a friend of mine who also happens to be the director of a local children’s library (affiliate links ahead):

Your Body Belongs to You
I Said No! A kid-to-kid guide to keeping your private parts private
Berenstain Bears Learn About Strangers
Do You Have a Secret? (Let’s Talk about It)
Stranger Safety (Rookie Read-About Safety)
The Right Touch: A Read-Aloud Story to Help Prevent Sexual Abuse

I’d love any other recommendations or tips on teaching kids about personal safety. (Seasoned parenting vets/teachers/therapists, I’m looking at you.) :)


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  • Reply Bethany July 15, 2014 at 4:00 pm

    Is that the Berenstein Bears book where the mom uses apples to explain how some people look nice on the outside but are weirdos on the inside? Because I think about that scene EVERYTIME I CUT OPEN AN APPLE.

    Does anyone actually understand the plot of 3 Ninjas? Like what exactly is going on on that freight ship? I don’t think I cared when I was little, but I re-watched it as an adult (I have the DVD, don’t hate) and it made no sense to me.

    • Reply Roo July 15, 2014 at 4:40 pm

      YES! It is.

      Wikipedia tells me the ship is where he trains his ninjas. *shrugs* IDK, man. WHY DIDN’T THEY JUST HAVE EMILY CALL 911?

  • Reply Nicole Kathryn July 15, 2014 at 4:00 pm

    Safety is important and all… but so is this… Rocky + Emily foreva.

    • Reply Roo July 15, 2014 at 4:40 pm

      I need more 3 Ninjas GIFs in my life.

  • Reply Lindsay @ fueled by diet coke July 15, 2014 at 4:00 pm

    While we’re on the subject of safety and the 90s, be certain to eat your Fruit by the Foot one bite at a time instead of balling the whole 3 feet up and chewing on it. #protip #safesnacktime

    Thanks for the book recommendations, I’ll check them out! :)

    • Reply Roo July 17, 2014 at 6:41 am

      Fruit Roll-Up > Fruit by the Foot #isaidit

  • Reply Christy July 15, 2014 at 4:00 pm

    Excuse me for the totally ignoring of the actual topic of the post and allow me to comment on the 3 Ninga’s – totally cracked me up!! I would watch that movie on repeat and my sister and I would totally fight over Colt. Amazeballs.

  • Reply Sarah July 15, 2014 at 5:16 pm

    Thank you so much for this! My daughter who is almost 6 was just sexually molested by the two children (both 6) who I babysat (I say babysat because they will never be back and because of more information I had to call CPS). I would have never suspected this of happening because they attend church with us and I am friends with the parents and their aunt. Maybe if I had talked to my daughter about this more it would have never happened. I would be much more happy to have had more uncomfortable talks than to now be a mom of a survivor of this.

    • Reply Roo July 17, 2014 at 6:45 am

      Sarah, that is heartbreaking. I’m so sorry to hear that. Of course I don’t know about your situation specifically, but I’ve read that often children who molest/abuse other children have experienced some form themselves. So terrible.

      “I would be much more happy to have had more uncomfortable talks than to now be a mom of a survivor of this.” :( I’m so sorry. Your words definitely motivate me to have these talks with my girls regularly… and soon.

      Hope your daughter is well soon and that you’re doing okay, too.

  • Reply Catherine July 15, 2014 at 5:22 pm

    My daughter is still too young for these books but this is a great resource for future reading. Thanks for compiling them.

    • Reply Roo July 17, 2014 at 6:45 am

      You’re welcome, Catherine! As more recommendations come in and as I read more, I’m happy to keep this post updated.

  • Reply Tracey. July 15, 2014 at 5:41 pm

    This is so hard to talk about, let alone wrap your brain around enough to explain to kids. So I heard/read another angle to take to open the dialogue with kids. As we all know, Unfortunately, abuse or molestations happen with a person the victim (can’t think of a better word)knows…..neighbor , uncle, sitter. Rather than emphasize STRANGER DANGER we need to talk to them about “Tricky People”. Tricky adults are adults who would ask kids how to get somewhere or they may ask for help finding a puppy. Adults are capable of these things on their own with out the assistance of a child. Tricky adults will tell you to keep secrets from parents or grown ups who love you. Tricky adults will touch you or make you feel uncomfortable with how/where they touch you. Does this make sense? I think constant dialog is good. They need to feel ok coming to you & talking but I do feel like I just want to lock my 12 y/o twins in the house till they are 30. It’s scary.

  • Reply Valerie July 15, 2014 at 5:55 pm

    I don’t have kiddos…but I already dread this talk (along with others) that I’ll have to have with a future mini-me or two. I remember as a kid my mom telling me that I shouldn’t let anyone touch me in certain places, and I remember thinking (I was probably 6-7 at the time), “whyyyyy are you telling me this??” My mom also never had a sex talk with me or my sisters. Looking back, I totes wish she would have. I’m sure I would’ve hated it at the time (i.e. forever), but the fact that she didn’t seems to stick out to me more. I’m a normal functioning human, btw, in case you were worried.

    • Reply Roo July 17, 2014 at 6:53 am

      Yeah I think a lot of our (yours, mine, anyone’s) parenting tactics stem from wanting to do some things differently than our parents had done with us. (I hope that sentence makes sense.) This sort of talk is definitely one of them.

  • Reply Carly July 15, 2014 at 8:32 pm

    I’m not a parent, teacher, or therapist, but I think it is important for parents to stress that just because you are dating someone doesn’t mean they can’t hurt. I have always known this but I still managed to be in a verbally and emotionally abusive relationship that ended when I woke up to my boyfriend attacking me. I somehow didn’t believe that those things happened when you loved and trusted a person but I really wish I hadn’t been so trusting and naive (my friends had warned me but I refused to listen). This is a lesson that should be taught before your kids start dating although I’m not sure how to teach that lesson without terrifying your kids.

    • Reply Roo July 17, 2014 at 6:55 am

      That’s an important lesson to learn, Carly, thank you for sharing. I’m so sorry you went through that. So scary.

  • Reply Rebecca July 15, 2014 at 8:32 pm

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for bringing up such a difficult topic. I don’t have any resources to give, but I agree with what Tracey said. It’s important to talk to kids about stranger danger, but also that it’s unacceptable for anyone to touch any parts that should be covered up by their swimsuit. It’s so important to keep that dialogue open and remember that we have to accept what they tell us and not overreact. For example, if they confess something they did, don’t flip out! They’ll remember that and think they can’t come to you for worse things, such as molestation.

    • Reply Roo July 17, 2014 at 7:00 am

      Covered up by their swimsuit, that’s great. Thanks for that language. And those last two lines are really important; definitely taking them to heart. Thanks so much, Rebecca.

  • Reply Amy July 15, 2014 at 10:50 pm

    This is such a great topic! Its difficult talk about but so important. I used to work for a rape crisis center as the prevention educator and teaching kids about personal safety was a part of my job. In fact, at one of the schools I taught at I became the “good touch, bad touch” lady…not something you really want to be known as in your 20’s (or EVER) but whatev’s. Talking about strangers is good, but its even more important to remember that about 75% of sexual abuse is perpetrated by someone the child knows. I used to read The Right Touch…it’s a great book! We also would talk about what privacy means, who might have permission to touch their private parts (parents and doctors…explaining when/why this might be ok) and defining threats, bribes, and secrets. Remember that this shouldn’t be a one-shot deal, nor should it be scary, and that this conversation should be ongoing. The story is a great way to get the convo happening, but you can continue with creating body positivity (how special their bodies are and how important it is to keep them safe) and by using anatomically correct names for private parts (that way its never confusing). I could go on forever, but those are the first things that come to mind. You’ll do great! Go Roo!

    • Reply Roo July 17, 2014 at 7:12 am

      Great advice, Amy! I’ll add your recommendation to the list. Thanks so much for your input! If you’d ever be interested in doing a guest post (here or on another site to which I have access), I’d love to chat —> roo.ciambriello@gmail.com

  • Reply Alicia July 15, 2014 at 11:48 pm

    Love this post. My oldest starts school next month and it will be the first time he has spent anytime alone from me. As a kid I was taken advantage of by an older friend of the family and I never told/did anything about it. I didn’t even realize I could say not. Now I worry about how to teach my son without being paranoid. I want to pretend that my son doesn’t have genitals and the world is caring and trustworthy. Excited to look these up.

    • Reply Roo July 17, 2014 at 6:58 am

      Oh Alicia, that story is so awful and scary. “I didn’t even realize I could say no.” :( I want to pretend all of those things, too. I’m grateful (sounds weird) for the internet because it allows me to learn so much from other people. (If you find anything amazing in your research, I’d love an email.) :)

  • Reply Katie July 16, 2014 at 7:43 am

    I worked at the YMCA for years when I was in college getting my elementary education degree. We took two trips a week during the summers and I was always amazed at how trusting the kids were with strangers. My mom’s mission in life when I was little was to make sure my sister and I were not abducted, and we were very aware of stranger danger. I bought this video to show the kids:
    It’s a little cheesy, but the kids loved it and it brings up some great points. I highly recommend it!

    • Reply Roo July 17, 2014 at 6:59 am

      Thanks so much for the link and recommendation, Katie!

  • Reply Mary July 16, 2014 at 9:04 am

    I think Unsolved Mysteries and Rescue 911 definitely skewed my little brain.

    • Reply Roo July 17, 2014 at 6:56 am

      The music alone was like O___O

  • Reply Megan July 16, 2014 at 3:12 pm

    I am an assistant prosecutor in the special victim’s unit at my office. The sexual abuse of children is what I deal with all day, every day. As you’ve noted, the overwhelming majority of long-term sexual abuse occurs at the hands of someone that the child knows and trusts. But more importantly, the perpetrator is someone the PARENT or primary caregiver knows and trusts. Think about it–why does the child trust this person? Because YOU do! Sexual abuse crosses all racial, ethnic and socio-economic boundries, but one thing I’ve noticed in my years of experience is that most of the time the child has a primary caregiver that is in some way extremely stressed or overburdened or for whatever reason unable to be truly present and accessible to their child (and I don’t simply mean a parent who works or isn’t physically next to their child 24//7–it’s more subtle than that). This is not to blame anyone other than the perpetrator of the abuse, but somehow these abusers can sense the “right” victim and prey upon this weakness. People always think of an abuser as someone who is mean to kids–but the opposite is true–they are nice. They are nice to the parent or caregiver and even nicer to the child. I really think the best thing parents can do is to keep lines of communication open with children, check-in on them, let them know that you are there and paying attention to what they are doing and who they are spending time with. Be healthily aware of who wants to spend time with your child–even if it’s a friend or family member. If there is some burden in your life (financial pressure, an abusive relationship, mental health issues, substance abuse, whatever) do anything you can to avoid letting it prevent you from being an aware and awake parent. And again, I don’t want my comments interpreted to mean that anyone but the sick **** of an abuser is at fault, but people always want to know what they can do to prevent their child from being a victim. And this is by no means scientific advice–just what I’ve noticed in handling hundreds of these kinds of cases. ok–I could go on forever on this topic, but I read your blog, Roo, to escape from work for a few minutes ;)

    • Reply Roo July 17, 2014 at 7:17 am

      WOW! This is an incredible comment, Megan. Thank you so much for going into work mode and writing this. I really appreciate it.

  • Reply Lesley July 17, 2014 at 12:17 pm

    Up until a month ago, we lived in a very large city and covered a lot of discussions on street safety and self awareness with our children. We covered that a “stranger” isn’t someone you haven’t met yet, it’s someone who makes you feel ‘strange’… and what that feeling is; this covered that it could easily be a person who would otherwise, or previously, was considered a friend. We also taught them that light and sound are your friend if you are in distress; in the city they would sometimes walk places with friends and we would rather them take 3x as long by staying on the well lit streets with lots of foot traffic than to take a short cut. Also if you are concerned about a situation, move TOWARD other people and speak up (this also counts if you are in physical distress… you’d know this one, for kids having allergic reactions too – many instances of choking go bad when the person gets embarrassed and steps away from people). We’ve since moved to the country, I think the teachings will largely remain the same, but I’ll keep my eyes peeled for new opportunities to help them keep safe.

    I watched the video of the book being read, loved it! We have a rule that at least one parent must be told all secrets; we have a girl and a boy so if the secret seems like it should be shared with a same sex or opposite sex parent, they have an option.

  • Reply Erin July 18, 2014 at 5:51 pm

    So I recently read an ADULT FICTION book (I was not intending to) that underscores what Megan was saying. It is called The Kindness of Strangers by Katrina Kittle. It was a hard book to read because of the plot/content. However, it was well-written and hard to put down. If you want your eyes opened you might check it out. I am warning you though: the content will unsettle you and make you paranoid. This is definitely an ADULT book.

    • Reply Roo July 19, 2014 at 3:14 pm

      Wow. I don’t know if I’m emotionally capable of reading a book that will unsettle me and make me paranoid. Maybe I’ll… find a summary online.

      • Reply Erin July 19, 2014 at 4:28 pm

        I totally don’t really recommend reading this book at all. It definitely screwed with my head.

  • Reply MK August 6, 2014 at 3:44 pm

    Another blogger (Rebecca Woolf) recommended this awhile back about “staying safe without fear,” and I think it’s a fantastic resource.


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