Friday, March 25, 2011

Scream . Fight . Run

Does anybody else remember the Safety Kids?! We used to listen to it when we were kids. Every once in a while I will still catch myself singing, "Sometimes you just gotta yell and scream/Sometimes it's the only thing to do/Noisy as a firetruck/You just gotta open up/And get the crowd's attention turned to you!"

We began with The Talk (about stranger danger) in earnest when Ben was around 4 or 5. At the time, he was completely enamoured with "teenagers." My brother and sister were both still teenagers, as was my cousin who babysat for us frequently. To Ben, teenagers were totally cool, and they got to do tons of cool things, and he just adored everything "teenager."

Well one day, we had reports of a man trying to lure some kids into his truck just a few blocks from our house. Later that day, he apparently succeeded, grabbing a little girl (I seem to remember she was about 8 or 10) as she was walking home with her brother. But here's the thing: she escaped!

She began an all-out assault on her kidnapper as he drove away. She screamed and screamed and wouldn't stop, while pulling his hair and scratching his face relentlessly from the backseat. Apparently, he decided she wasn't worth all the trouble, and he simply dumped her on the side of the road and drove away! And later that day he was caught and arrested by police.

I remembered I had heard the same thing on Oprah when she talked about women's self defense. They said that an assailant will try to find someone who looks like they will go quietly, who is timid and shy looking, and if you put up a fuss they will generally just walk away because they don't want the attention drawn to them.

So our master plan of making our kids "not worth all the trouble" they're causing was put into action the next day. It started with the mugshot in the paper. The man who had tried to kidnap that little girl was actually fairly young, maybe early twenties, and looked even younger. Almost like a teenager.

So I showed Ben his picture in the newspaper and lead him along with questions like "Doesn't he look like a cool teenager?" "Doesn't he look nice?" And then I gave Ben a simplified account of why he was in the newspaper, and explained to him that even if someone looks cool or nice, they may not be, and continued to explain about bad guys not always looking bad. We also talked about not getting in strangers'cars and running away from those situations.

I told him if he was ever lost while we were out, he should find someone who worked in the store, or a mom with kids, and they would help him. We try to cover many different scenarios by posing questions: "What would you do if this happens?" "What should you do in this situation?"

And then came the "fun" part. I really wanted to make sure that he was not worth the trouble for a predator. So I told him the 3 main things he should do if someone tried to grab him: Scream, Fight, and Run. Now here is the crucial part: the elaboration. I have seen the 20/20 specials where parents leave their kids alone in a park for a few minutes so that they can be secretly filmed to see what they will do when a stranger approaches asking for help to find a lost puppy.

Every time, the parents were adament that their kids knew what to do and would never accompany the stranger, and every time the kid fell for the thought of a poor lost puppy dog and followed the strange adult away. I am sure that one major component that these kids were missing was practice. So we spend time elaborating on the 3 things to do (scream, fight, run), coming up with ideas and practicing.

It seems to me, in the heat and panic of that moment, not many people, child or adult, will have much brain space available for calmly deciding what to do. But if we give our kids ideas in calm times, with repetition, then if the time ever comes when they need those ideas, they will already be there in their minds and will come forth quickly for execution.

Scream: Like the words of the Safety Kids song, the goal here is to be as noisy as a fire truck and get attention turned to you. So I tell my kids the key is to scream and scream and not stop. Scream in his ears, try to deafen him. We give them ideas of what to scream, like "Help!" or "I don't know you!" or just plain "AAAAAAAAAHHHH!!!" That way they don't have to come up with the words on their own in their panic, you have already given them the words when they are calm and ready to learn and remember, and they can practice. Encourage your kids to think of some ideas themselves. Let them demonstrate their loudest scream. This practice and dialogue actually makes it a little less scary, and more empowering.

Fight: This is the part that the kids always like. At least boys do. Throughout this process, give them lots of ideas and repeat things many times in slightly different ways. This helps it to stick in their minds. We help our kids come up with specific ideas, and we are not merciful to this imaginary bad guy. Try to think of things that play on kids' strengths. There's no way they will be stronger than a grown man, but they can still hurt him by playing dirty.

Some we have come up with in the past include biting (tell them to try to draw blood or remove a finger: societal norms and good manners can run deep. This is no time to do something halfway, it will only make the kidnapper angry. We want to make it hurt enough to make him let your kid go, and your kid needs permission from you to hurt someone that bad), scratching (aim for the eyes if they can, or anywhere on the face is good, again trying to draw blood), the groin (anything they can do here, as long as they can do it hard. Kicking is best, but punching, yanking, biting, or twisting will also work). All these things will play on a kid's strengths.

Also help them think of things like laying down on a car seat and kicking repeatedly with the heels of the shoes, pulling hair (trying to yank large chunks completely out), even pinching or scratching wildly like a crazy cat will get them somewhere. Let your kids come up with ideas themselves. This is the part my kids like. They will go on and on about "I would do this and this to him and punch and kick and ... etc."

I know it sounds kind of violent and counter-intuitive to a mother, but I really think that this is part of the process of letting them know that they have permission to truly hurt another person. Without the feeling that they have this permission to do something that they would normally get in trouble for, they may be hesitant and timid about it, and it could cost them their chance to get away. And remind them that, all the while they are fighting, they should still be screaming and screaming. Don't stop screaming OR fighting until you are free! And finally:

Run: Hopefully this can happen before an ill-intended stranger gets their hands on a kid, but if not, it is the 3rd step. Once the kidnapper gets fed up and lets the kid go, or once they are laying on the ground with a kicked groin or clawed-out eyes, the kid's job is to RUN!!! Tell them to run as fast as they can, towards something, be that back into the store, to the nearest house, toward the road, wherever they can find people.
At this point, it doesn't really matter who he or she runs to, pretty much anyone is going to be better than what they just left. So let them know, this time it doesn't have to be an employee or a mother with children. Just this one time, it's ok to run to a car on the road or in the parking lot and find any adult to help them. And tell them, don't stop screaming even now. Scream while you run. Scream and scream and scream.

Let your kids help come up with ideas of where they could run, coming up with every scenario you can think of. This repetition of lots of different ideas will help open your kids' minds so that they can adapt quickly to the situation and figure out what to do, even if you haven't covered that exact situation with them before. And letting them help with the ideas will keep them interested, and this will also help them learn to adapt.

I know this seems like it could be scary for a little kid. You definitely have to make it fairly age-appropriate in the amount of info you give them, and in how you present it. But I start talking about this with my kids when they're about 2. A slight bit of fear - well maybe more like awareness - is appropriate to make your kids safe.

My kids have never been scared by these talks. And I feel like we are really helping them be prepared so that hopefully none of this will ever even be needed. Every once in a while we pop the question out of nowhere: "Who can tell me the 3 things to do if a stranger tries to grab you?" I think if they can keep those 3 things in their minds, they will have a very good chance of not ever "being worth it."

And yes, we have a copy of Safety Kids, too!

This post was written by my cousin, Erin. She's the mom of three little boys and she homeschools! Amazing woman. Thanks for letting me share this Erin! 

Hope it got everyone thinking! How will you keep your kids safe?


  1. I totally remember the safety kids. Used to listen to those songs as a child too! :) Great post about safety, and stranger danger. Thanks!

  2. I love that you have them practice!

  3. Great Post. The only thing that I would add is that kids are far more likely to be abused and/or kidnapped by people they know. So make sure to also give them the good touch/ bad touch discussion. We started that discussion at like 18 months by reading simple books (your body belongs to you).


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