Personal Safety and Bodily Care Lessons for Preschoolers
During the month of November our class explored several topics relating to personal safety and bodily care, including:
- How to stay safe in public spaces
- How to care for our bodies and keep ourselves safe and healthy
- Bodily autonomy and consent
- Fire safety
Safety in Public
Early in the month we read a book called I Can Play It Safe by Alison Feigh in order to introduce the topic of personal safety in public places. People commonly tend to focus on teaching children to avoid strangers. There are three main reasons why this approach is not helpful. First, the majority of abuse and abduction incidents are perpetrated not by strangers, but by someone the child knows. Second, a stranger will often be the one to help a child if they are lost or hurt. Third, the concept of "stranger" can be very abstract to a young child. When a store employee asks if we want help, we usually don’t consider them to be a “stranger” even though we don’t know them personally. When you drop your wallet and a “stranger” kindly hands it back to you, you’ll still thank them and engage with them in a polite and friendly way. When we go to the State Fair, we don’t want our children shrinking away at every person saying hello to us. Teaching children to be afraid of strangers can be both problematic and ineffective.
It’s important to teach children that when someone wants to give them something or take them somewhere, there are three steps to remember. The three steps are simple: RUN, YELL, TELL. We practiced these steps during large group time and encourage you to practice them with your child at home. If anyone wants to give a child something or take them somewhere,
1. The child should say in a loud voice, “I HAVE TO ASK FIRST!”
2. The child runs to the adult (parent, teacher, relative, etc.) who is with them.
3. The child asks the person taking care of them for permission. That adult can assess the situation. It may be very harmless, like someone offering a free sample at a store. If it is something harmless, the other adult is not going to object to the child asking first.
We use these steps for a few reasons. The child runs to you so that you quickly become aware of the encounter. The child asks loudly so anyone nearby is alerted to the encounter. When the child asks you for permission, you can go over to the other adult and model appropriate social behavior. In most cases, you and the other adult will smile and talk. In the very rare case that the other adult did not have good intentions, they will probably have left already and you can alert authorities and thank your child for being safe. Barring this rare occurrence, you will be teaching your child to not be afraid of people just because you don’t know them.
If someone tries to grab a child, touch them in a way that is not OK or makes them feel scared, the child should also use RUN, YELL, TELL. They run while yelling, “I have to find my Mom" (or Dad, etc.). They should run to you or to a crowd of people.
When children are lost in a public place, they need to rely on strangers. If they are in a store, they should go to the cash register and talk to the person at the counter. If they get lost in some other public place, they should find (in order of statistical safety) a mom with kids, a dad with kids, or a group of people. If there is no group, then they should find a grown up to help them.
You can find additional resources for child safety at http://missingchildrenmn.com/child-safety/
Since the beginning of the school year we have been helping children learn bodily care tasks such as proper hand-washing. We follow the six steps shown in the image below.
We encourage children to sing a song such as ABCs or Twinkle Twinkle Little Star while they rub soap on their hands. We also teach children to wash their palms, backs of the hands, between the fingers, and around the wrists.
In order to get children thinking about other ways that they care for their bodies, we created a body poster with the title "How Do We Take Care of Our Bodies?" Children contributed ideas to the poster, which is currently hanging in the classroom. As children come up with more ideas, we will continue adding them to the poster.
Children's ideas about how they take care of their bodies
Bodily Autonomy and Consent
You might have noticed that one of the ideas a child came up with on the poster above is "Do not touch people when they say 'No.'" We believe that bodily autonomy and consent are important topics to teach children from an early age. We want children to know that they are in charge of their own bodies. Likewise, they need to learn that each individual person gets to decide when, how, and whether they are touched. Every person has the right to say NO to any kind of touch. If someone doesn't respect a child's wishes with regard to touch, the child should tell an adult. If that adult doesn't help them, they should keep telling until they get help.
One of the concepts mentioned in the book I Can Play It Safe (see above) is that everyone has body parts that are private - the parts that are covered by underwear or a swimsuit. Children should learn that nobody else should touch their private body parts, with the exception of an adult who is taking care of them (a doctor performing a check-up, a caregiver changing a diaper or helping with toileting, etc.). If anyone else touches a child's private body parts, the child should tell an adult who listens and helps.
Young children can be very physically expressive with each other. They like to wrestle, hug, hold hands, and throw snowballs, among many other physical acts. We teach children that it's okay to do these things as long as they get permission from the other person first. Similarly, as teachers we try to model respect for children's bodies by communicating to them the ways we might need to touch them in order to provide care. For instance, "Your nose is running. I'm going to wipe it with a tissue" or "I'll help you push up your sleeves so they stay dry while you wash your hands."
This past week we enjoyed a visit from a Minneapolis fire fighter. She taught the children many important fire safety guidelines, including:
- If a child finds matches or a lighter, leave them alone and tell an adult
- Stay three steps away from a campfire or grill
- Stop, drop, and roll if clothes catch fire
- Have a safe meeting spot outside your home in case of fire
Children practice Stop, Drop, and Roll with fire fighter Cassidy
If your family hasn't yet done so, we encourage you to designate a safe meeting spot (neighbor's house, tree on the boulevard, etc.) in case there is a fire in your home. Practice going to this spot at least once a month with your whole family. The more you practice, the more routine it will become for your child. We do monthly fire drills at school that involve quickly and quietly leaving the building, gathering at the big log by the fort building area, and making sure everyone is safe and accounted for.
We also encourage you to have some books about fire safety at home (or check some out from the library), particularly those that show photos of a fire fighter wearing full gear. The image of a fire fighter may be scary to some children, so it's important to familiarize them with that image and teach them that fire fighters are helpers. Children should be taught not to hide if they feel scared, but to go straight to the fire fighter for help in case of fire.
We hope this has been a helpful overview of the safety topics we have covered in the past month at school. We will continue to expand on these topics as the year goes on!
Special thanks to Mike Huber for his contributions to this blog post!