Parents often entrust their children to their immediate family or close-knit community, assuming that their safety is guaranteed within these familiar circles. However, this approach can inadvertently expose children to potential dangers, leaving them ill-equipped to handle risky situations. Vonny Permanasari Simon M. Psi, a psychologist, emphasizes the importance of introducing and teaching self-security techniques to children from a young age. “Parents should understand that teaching safety techniques can help children feel calm, confident, and prepared to face risky or potentially hazardous situations around them,” she says.
The no-go-tell strategy has become a common and necessary lesson for children before they start school. This strategy is believed to be easy to comprehend, remember, and effective in ensuring a child’s safety. It involves teaching children to say “no” when someone invites them somewhere, as they have the right to decline. They should shout “go” and move toward a trusted person like a security guard or police officer if they feel threatened. Lastly, “tell” encourages children to immediately share any incident with their parents.
Introducing a family safety code or a secret unity code is another approach that parents can adopt. This code is exclusively designed for the core family members and is used to communicate about unsafe situations. For instance, a child might use a code during a phone conversation, like saying, “Mom, I want to play with the kitty bunny later.” Here, “kitty bunny” serves as an agreed-upon safety code that signals to the parent that the child feels unsafe and needs help.
From a psychological perspective, the family safety code is a suitable strategy for parents to teach children about personal safety. It helps children learn to identify and establish a secure support system for themselves. They become more adept at communication, planning, expressing emotions, self-rescue, and problem-solving.
Aligning with Jean Piaget’s cognitive development theory, it’s evident that introducing the family safety code can start at an early age. Vonny advises parents to use age-appropriate and friendly language when teaching these concepts. In the sensorimotor stage (from birth to around 2 years), children lack a strong conceptual understanding of safety, so parental supervision is crucial. In the preoperative stage (ages 2–7), children begin developing language skills and imagination. This is when the family safety code can be introduced in a simple and concrete form.
As children enter the concrete operational stage (ages 7 to 11), they understand cause-and-effect relationships better, allowing for more detailed safety instruction. They become actively engaged in planning and implementing safety rules, including co-creating safety codes with their parents. In the formal operational stage (around 11 years and older), abstract thinking abilities develop, enabling deeper comprehension of safety concepts in complex real-world scenarios.
Creating an effective secret code involves making it easy to remember during emergencies, easy to pronounce, and incorporating enjoyable words to prevent it from becoming frightening for children. Importantly, only the parents and the child should know the secret code. In specific situations, such as family issues, the child can use the code with a trusted individual.
In the event that a child accidentally reveals the secret code, preventive measures should be in place. Teach the child not to share personal information like full names, addresses, or phone numbers with strangers, encouraging them to keep secrets. Changing the safety code every 6 months to a year is also recommended, even if it hasn’t been used or compromised. Using the same code for too long might attract unwanted attention.
Real-life cases support the effectiveness of safety codes. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in the United States, a 10-year-old child in Ajax, Ontario, was approached by a stranger outside of school. The stranger claimed to be sent by the parents but couldn’t provide the correct safety code, prompting the perpetrator to leave.
Parents like Ayu and Yuli have embraced safety codes to protect their children. Ayu even equipped her child with a GPS-enabled device for added security. Yuli introduced safety codes to her children for situations that made them uncomfortable or fearful.
While each family’s approach may vary, the consistent message is that teaching children about safety codes empowers them to protect themselves from potential harm. By customizing these strategies to a child’s age and developmental stage, parents can equip their children with valuable tools for staying safe in an ever-changing world.