Street smart kids are more aware of their surroundings. Even when they're with friends, they should still be cautious.
It's easy for kids to get involved in play and not realize someone's been sitting in a car watching them for the past hour. But your kids are the best nosy neighbors you can have.
They're outside more. They know who's supposed to be in their neighborhood and who isn't. They can easily spot something that's out of the ordinary.
You couldn't ask for a better person to observe what's going on. And it's good for their own personal safety to take a look around them too.
Teach Them Car Makes and Models
There's a difference between spotting a dark-colored car and a blue Ford Fusion. Learning the makes and models of cars is a good starting point for raising street smart kids.
These little details can give the police much-needed clues. This information can also be helpful when you need to alert your neighbors that someone in a blue Ford Fusion was acting strangely. Everyone can be watching out for that car.
To teach your child about cars, start with the basics. Help him learn his colors.
He's then ready to learn his car brands, from Acura to Volvo. Drive through parking lots and show him the logos. Buy a car magazine and flip through the pages with him.
Work with him on car body types so he can tell you if that Chevrolet is a sedan or an SUV. Move on to the car makes by talking about the various cars you see as you drive.
Talk about the cars around you at red lights. Tell him to describe the cars he sees.
Identify a Suspect's Details
This can be hard for a child because the scary man just looked bigger to him. He's not thinking in terms of a 6-foot tall white man with blue eyes, dirty blond hair, a green Polo shirt and blue jeans.
Take your child on a walk and help him target details of the people around him. To identify height, kids can compare a person to an object. The woman pushing the stroller may come up halfway to the height of the stop sign.
Details can be a game of observation. Play "spot the difference" games you can find in kids' activity workbooks at the toy store.
Go outside and put your kids to the test. Is the man jogging wearing anything special, like a headband? What distinguishing feature did the cashier have on her nose?
Every detail counts. Your child will know how to hone in on those details should he ever need to describe someone to you or the police.
Increase Their Memorization Skills
If your child ever needed to describe a suspicious person to you or the police, could they remember much? The same memorization skills children use to learn their school subjects can help them log specific details when they're in a situation where they need to take mental notes.
Work with your kids in everyday situations. For younger kids, this can be as simple as asking what kinds of animals were at the park. As they learn to count, ask how many kids were on the playground.
The questions can get harder as they get older. In the grocery store, ask your child what color shirt the lady who dropped the flour on aisle four was wearing. Ask him to describe the man who was selling cotton candy at the ballgame. Pick a license plate in the parking lot and see how many numbers and letters he can remember.
Don't test your kids to the point that it becomes a frustrating chore instead of a game. You want them to pay attention to the details without thinking that they can tune out their surroundings when Mommy's not around to play quizmaster.
Talk to Them
Giving your kids on a lesson on who to talk to and who to avoid shouldn't be a one-time discussion. Take time to talk to them about this very important issue.
Sit down and make sure you have your child's full attention. Bring it up again a few days later and ask if they remember what you said. If not, go over it again.
Also ask if they have any questions. If they don't, ask them to think of some questions. About a week later, ask them what questions they have for you.
This first lesson is crucial to getting them to understand the importance without frightening them or cramming it down their throats to the point they begin to ignore you. After you've had your initial talk, don't drop the subject for good and consider your work done. Revisit the subject periodically to keep the lines of communication open.
You also want to reinforce that you are always there if they need to talk to you about anything. Whether someone makes him uncomfortable or he noticed a strange car sitting at his bus stop every day this week, he needs to know he can report anything to you without feeling his concerns and observations won't be taken seriously.
Show Them How to Get Help
No one wants to think of their kids ever being in a situation where they need to get help. But we still have to prepare them just in case.
Knowing how to call 911 is just the first step. Sometimes a phone isn't available or kids need to get out of the situation as quickly as possible.
Let them know it's okay to say no to an adult. It's okay if they run to get away from someone who poses a threat. It's okay to scream as loud as he can if he's grabbed. It's okay to interrupt mom's phone conversation if he feels he's in danger.
It's impossible to cover all of the scenarios and horrific to think about when all any parent should have to worry about are boo boos and hurt feelings. Unfortunately, it's a realistic part of parenting you have to deal with to keep your children safe.
Showing your kids how to get help will give you peace of mind and will prepare them if they're ever in danger.
Teach Stranger Safety
There's a problem with blanketing all strangers with a don't talk to them/don't go with them label, though. What happens when a stranger is actually there to help your kids?
You and your child get separated at a busy mall. A mom and her kids want to take him to the mall's information desk to have you paged. Does your child go with them or continue to walk through the mall alone in hopes of finding you?
Your child is home alone when the house catches on fire. A passerby notices the flames shooting out of the back of your home and stops his car. He runs to the door screaming for help but your child won't come out because he knows he's not supposed to open the door for anyone.
Stranger danger is a very real threat to children. The stranger danger talks need to be balanced with stranger safety talks. Unfortunately, strangers who do want to harm kids usually use scenarios that mommy is hurt, you look lost or your house is on fire to lure children away.
Teach your children about the danger of strangers but also prepare them for what to do should they need a stranger's help. This can be as simple as giving your child a cell phone for emergency use only. If they're lost, they have the cell phone to call you. If someone claims the house is on fire, they can turn to a neighbor you trust to help them.
Go Beyond Stranger Danger
Have your kids take the stranger danger quiz to see if they can truly identify who a stranger is to them. After all, they see you carrying on a conversation with a complete stranger in the grocery store line, so is this person now a friend or still a stranger to them?
Teach your kids about stranger danger so they understand the difference between you having a casual conversation with someone about the price of grapes in the grocery store and having a real friendship with that person.
They need to know there's still a wall between stranger and someone you trust. It's hard for kids to grasp the concept that it's okay for you to talk to a stranger but they can't. Most kids are chatty by nature. But it's crucial they comprehend the difference.
One way to tackle this problem is to let your kids know you are there to protect them. It's okay if you talk to someone but they shouldn't engage in conversation with just anyone. Set up a list of approved people so they can see who exactly they can talk to.
When the Danger is from No Stranger at All
We teach our kids not to talk to strangers and get away from them fast if they are trying to hurt our children. Sometimes, the danger hits closer to home.
Friends, neighbors, even family members -- we've all heard the horrific stories in the news of people hurting a child they know. Protecting your kids from child predators is hard enough without having to worry about the people you trust.
Once kids know the stranger danger rules, establish a set of rules for other people in your life. If the neighbor invites your child inside for lemonade, is that okay or does your child need to ask permission first, regardless? If his uncle makes him feel uncomfortable, what should he do?
Setup a line of communication between you and your child so they know they can always come to you. It's very easy for a child to be threatened with words like, "I'm going to hurt your mommy if you tell" or "You'll never see your parents again."
Kids need to know that you are there to take care of them no matter what someone says. They should never be afraid to come to you.
There's no reason a child should ever feel like he needs to keep a secret. Make sure he knows that too.