Teaching your child about safety

Teaching your child about the world means telling your little one about history, and nature, and being kind to others, but it also means letting them know how to stay safe.

Home safety

As you might have learned when you started baby-proofing, there’s a surprising amount of danger in the average home. Outside of the usual drawers, toilet lids, and cabinets that might be fastened shut with those plastic latches, there are also electrical outlets, kitchen knives, ovens, and heavy objects and furniture to worry about.

Show Baby the things around your home that could pose a danger, and explain how you’d like them to act around these things. “Never touch this,” “Only touch this with me,” “Ask me to get that for you,” etc. If you have guns in your home, you should have a separate conversation with Baby about how to stay safe around them.

Outdoor safety

When Baby steps outside, there are some things to avoid to help them stay safe. Even on the calmest street, it’s important that Baby knows to look both ways before crossing, watching out for cars and bikes, even in a crosswalk.

If Baby doesn’t know how to swim, they should know to avoid bodies of water. Other things to look out for might include poison ivy or oak, certain plants or bugs that could aggravate allergies, and strangers.

Stranger safety

Many parents grew up with the rule of “Don’t talk to strangers,” but being safe around strangers is a little more nuanced than that. You’ll want to make sure Baby understands what a stranger is, that they can be nice, and that they can look just like any other trusted adult. There are some strangers it’s okay to talk to and some who should be avoided.

Help Baby understand who they can find and trust in an emergency. Many people in uniforms, like police officers, firefighters, and security officers, will be able to help Baby if they get lost. People like store managers, librarians, and teachers are also typically on the approved list.

Tell Baby that even if someone seems nice, they shouldn&;t talk to them unless they look like the people mentioned above, they know them, or they know you. You can give Baby a safety word to remember, like “pickle,” and tell them that if someone knows the safety word, they’re okay to trust. Let Baby know they should never go somewhere with someone they doesn&;t know, even if they say they need help, and that they should yell for help if anyone ever tries to take them somewhere.  

Food safety

If Baby has food allergies, even somewhere as safe as a classroom or playground could be dangerous. You and Baby need to work together to avoid allergens. Baby might not totally understand what foods could be dangerous, and you might not be with them 100% of the time.

When you’re with Baby while they are eating, consider explaining what they are eating and why it’s safe. “You’re allergic to peanuts, so I looked at the label to make extra sure there are no peanuts.” Explain that if a caretaker gives them food, they should first explain their allergies and ask if the food is still safe. If it’s complicated, you might leave a note explaining their allergies with anyone who might be watching them, especially now when they are probably a bit too young to let somebody know themself .

The bottom line

“Safety” and “danger” are two sides of the same coin, but there’s a way to communicate issues around food, stranger, outdoors, and home safety without scaring Baby . As you’re talking about things you don’t want Baby doing, it can be helpful to mention the potential dangers of not following those instructions, like “If you eat this food, you could get sick,” or “If you touch this, you could get hurt.” As you’re having those conversations, make sure to also include the positive side of things. “If you make sure the food is okay to eat, you get to enjoy it without worrying,” or “If we stay safe in the kitchen, we can cook together!” are two examples.

Because talking to strangers could lead to more serious situations, keeping this balance in those conversations is a little more difficult. You want Baby to understand the importance without feeling afraid. Be honest, and tell them that you love them, you never want anything bad to happen to them, and that’s why your family has rules about strangers. You want to do everything you can to keep them safe, happy, and loved, and they will be able to feel that.

  • “What to teach kids about strangers.” National Crime Prevention Council. Bureau of Justice Assistance. 2016. Web.
  • “Teaching children to avoid ‘stranger danger.'” Illinois Early Learning Project. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign College of Education Early Childhood and Parenting Collaborative. 2016. Web.

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