Kid Confidential: Teaching Our Kids About “Tricky People”

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We’ve all heard of “stranger danger” and have probably taught our own children about the concept.  Don’t go anywhere or get into a car with anyone you don’t know.  As speech-language pathologists we may have even discussed this as part of our safety topics along with fire safety, learning about law enforcement and teaching our students how to dial 911.  We may even talk about “stranger danger” when we are targeting problem solving and reasoning skills for those students with social communication or cognitive delays.   But is “stranger danger” the best way to teach our children to be aware of adults, teenagers, or even same age peers that may hurt them?  According to the American Psychological Association’s web article, titled “Child Sexual Abuse: What Parents Should Know,” 30% of predators of sexual abuse are family members, while it is estimated that an additional 60% of predators are non-family members but are known to the child (i.e. family friends, caregivers, neighbors, etc.).  Considering 90% of all child sexual abuse cases occur by someone the child knows, is “stranger danger” really accurate?  I’m not so sure anymore.

I recently became aware of Safely Every After, Inc, a company devoted to child safety that focuses on teaching children and adults ways to identify the “tricky people” in our lives because many times “tricky people” are not strangers at all.  Pattie Fitzgerald, owner of Safely Every After, Inc., has been advocating for child safety for more than 10 years and has a number of wonderful free resources on her website including prevention tips, red flags for parents/adults, safety rules for children, internet safety rules and cyberbullying guidelines.  Pattie educates children of all ages as young as 3 years of age.  For preschool age children (3-5 years), she has written a book titled, No Trespassing-This is MY Body!, which discusses what “thumbs up” and “thumbs down” touch is and that children are the “boss of their own bodies.”  She also presents her information to schools and offers workshops for children grades K-4 (Kidz-Power) and grades 5-8 (Play it Safe!).  Additional workshops for kids and adults such as Internet Safety and Social Media and Protect the Children You Teach geared toward educators and school staff are also available.  If you think your school could benefit from a presentation by Pattie, feel free to refer your administrator to her website for more information.

So who are “tricky people”?  According to Pattie, here are just a few red flags that you are with a “tricky person”:

  1. This person continually tries to arrange for “alone time” with children;
  2. He/she befriends one particular child and lavishes gifts upon him/her;
  3. He/she frequently offers to babysit or “help out” for free;
  4. He/she insists on being physical with a child especially when the child seems uneasy or has asked the person to stop; and
  5. He/she blurs boundaries of physical touch or uses inappropriate words to comment on a child’s looks or body.

Tricky people can be a stranger or someone the child knows.  A tricky person can be a friend of the child’s parent or a family member.  Tricky people are everywhere and we need to listen to our instincts when we get that “uh-oh” feeling.  These are the things Pattie and her crew at Safely Every After, Inc., advocate teaching children and adults.

Granted, as SLPs in schools, clinics, and private practice, we may not be permitted to discuss the topics of touch with our students depending on parental preference.  However, we can discuss and teach general safety rules.  For example, the second rule on Pattie’s “Super-Ten Safe-Smart Rules for Kids and Grownups” is that a child must know his/her name, address, phone number, and parents’ cell phone numbers in case of an emergency.  We as SLPs do work on having our students answer biographical information questions so this rule works perfectly within our therapy goals.  A few more examples of rules that would go nicely with targeting problem solving and reasoning skills are rules three, four, and five that state “Safe grownups don’t ask kids for help.  They go to other adults for assistance,” or “I never go anywhere or take anything from someone I don’t know no matter what they say,” and “I always check first and get permission before I go anywhere, change my plans, or take something even if it’s from someone I know.”  There are several other safety rules that can be discussed when targeting reasoning and problem-solving skills in a safe way and I encourage you to read all about them on Pattie’s website.

So why, during ASHA’s Better Speech and Hearing Month, am I discussing the topic of child safety?  Well, who better to modify and explain child safety rules to our communication-delayed children, than SLPs?  Who better to determine if our children have the capacity to communicate when and how they have been hurt? Who better than the programmers of our non-verbal students’ AAC devices, to make sure there is language available for our students to express when they are hurting?   Who better, than us, to prepare our students for safety over the summer months?  In fact, we, as SLPs, may be the first adults to successfully broach the topic of safety with our students as we can modify and adapt information to the child’s level of comprehension.  So my question is, who better than us?

Disclaimer:  I am not, nor have I ever received payment or any form of compensation from Pattie Fitzgerald or Safely Ever After,Inc. for writing this blog article.  My purpose for writing this article is purely for educational purposes to share the knowledge I have recently learned and found on this website.  Use this information at your discretion.

 

Maria Del Duca, M.S. CCC-SLP, is a pediatric speech-language pathologist in southern, Arizona.  She owns a private practice, Communication Station: Speech Therapy, PLLC, and has a speech and language blog under the same name.  Maria received her master’s degree from Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania.  She has been practicing as an ASHA certified member since 2003 and is an affiliate of Special Interest Group 16, School-Based Issues.  She has experience in various settings such as private practice, hospital and school environments and has practiced speech pathology in NJ, MD, KS and now AZ.  Maria has a passion for early childhood, autism spectrum disorders, rare syndromes, and childhood Apraxia of speech.  For more information, visit her blog or find her on Facebook.