As your child heads out the door to school, you’ve done a lot of prepping for their day, from packing a healthy lunch to making sure their homework is completed. But have you done your homework on after-school safety? Whether your children are six or 16, prepare for some common after-school safety issues so your entire family is alert and ready for any potential dangers.

School pick-ups

When the school bell rings, droves of children are released for the afternoon. As they rush to their freedom, take precautions to ensure their utmost safety.

  • Alert the school if someone besides you or the person usually responsible for picking up your child is coming. "When kids are dismissed from school," says Randi Bremner, a teacher in Surrey, BC, "teachers typically try to make sure each student gets matched with their parent or the appropriate adult."
  • Set an agreed-upon time and meeting spot for picking up your child. That way, if your child isn’t at the designated meeting spot, you immediately know that something may not be right. "For traffic safety, parents are encouraged to pick up their children at the school’s curb side, instead of making the child cross the street," says Bremner.

Walking safety

The Israelites wandered the desert for 40 years. Arm your children with safety tips to make sure they don’t get lost for the same amount of time – better yet, not at all!

  • Know your child’s route to and from school or the bus stop. Remind them to never take shortcuts, as that can get them lost or make it hard for you to find them during an emergency.
  • Walk with your child along his or her route for the first couple of trips. Point out safe areas to cross the road – if you haven’t already, now is the perfect time to instill the value of crosswalks – and potential hazards, like uneven surfaces in the sidewalk.
  • Drive slowly when in school zones, neighbourhoods and other areas that children frequent after school. "Younger children often don’t have fully developed peripheral vision," says Bremner, which makes traffic hazards infinitely more dangerous. She notes that this, paired with a child’s often energetic pace of movement, is why school zone speed limits are so critically important.

Staying at home

Home Alone, the 1990s Hollywood comedy, may have elicited laughs when it first premiered, but home safety issues are no joke. The specific age at which children are ready to stay at home unaccompanied after school varies depending on their personal level of responsibility and maturity. Generally, kids don’t need constant adult supervision beginning around ages 11 or 12, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

  • Provide your child with a key to the house, but don’t label it with any identifiable information, such as your address or a label that reads "House Key." If they lose it, you don’t want a stranger to show up.
  • Keep all doors and windows locked, and warn your children to never open the door for anyone.
  • Post emergency contact information in prominent places. Make sure your children know how to get in touch with you, your spouse and a trusted third party, such as a neighbour or grandparent.
  • Advise your children to either not answer the telephone, or to simply tell the caller that their parent is busy or can’t come to the phone. Children should never tell callers that their parents aren’t home.

Dealing with strangers

Although the Royal Canadian Mounted Police report that the number of incidences of child abductions and other problematic run-ins with strangers has dropped since 2008, it can still be a potential problem. Teaching your child the right responses to various situations can help keep them safe if they’re ever approached by someone with less-than-benevolent intentions.

  • Create a safety password that you share between you, your child and the trusted adult who may be picking them up from school or home. The Missing Children Society of Canada advises that your child should never go with anyone, even someone they may know or someone who offers them gifts, unless the adult can tell your child the secret password.
  • Sometimes, making a ruckus is a good thing! In situations where someone tries to forcibly take your child somewhere, tell them to raise a loud commotion – scatter the contents of their backpack, push nearby objects over, etc. – and scream, "This person is not my parent/guardian/family!"
  • Remove any visible identification on your child, such as nametags on a backpack or lunch box. Strangers may use the child’s name to build trust and rapport with your child.
  • Teach your child who they can run to for help if they’re ever approached by a stranger that makes them feel uncomfortable. The RCMP suggests that they ask for assistance from anyone with a uniform or name tag, preferably a female.

Reference to the individuals quoted does not constitute a blanket endorsement of either the individuals’ external work or their respective organization.

© 2010 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.

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