August is officially here, and that means moms everywhere are cheering– it’s time to get ready to go back to school! If your family has been singing “Back to school. Back to school, to prove to Dad that I’m not a fool. I got my lunch packed up, my boots tied tight, I hope I don’t get in a fight.” (Billy Madison, 1995) you might even have your kids excited too! (And if you don’t recognize this movie quote, my daughter is clearly right that I am getting old.)
This should be a fun time getting to cross off school supply lists, figure out who your kid(s) have for a teacher, and even shopping for new clothes! But this is also a very important time to consider back-to-school safety, and what you can do as a parent to aid in keeping your child safe this school year.
I’ve compiled a list of dos and don’ts for your quick safety guide!
Personalized Student Gear
Don’t: You’ll want to skip the option to embroider your child’s backpack or lunchbox with their name, and while you’re at it skip the name decal for their water bottle too! Yes, I’m looking at you PotteryBarn.
Do: Let your child pick out their backpack and matching lunch box! Or let them go bananas and get a totally mismatched set, with a water bottle of their choice too!
Clearly marked personal identifiers, i.e. a bold print of a child’s name printed largely across their backpack, is something a predator could take advantage of. A strange person often becomes less intimidating to a child when they greet you with a smile and know your name. Consider labeling your child’s things more discreetly! For instance, try using their initials or use a symbol like a heart, star, circle, etc. that your child can easily recognize! You can use a permanent marker to write your child’s initials or a symbol on the bottom of their water bottle. For their backpack and lunchbox, you can find an appropriate place on the inside to write their initials or check Pinterest for printable backpack tags you can clip onto the inside!
First Day of School Photo
Don’t: Please, please do not include within your childs’ photo any geographic information like your street sign, house number, or even the school in which they are attending.
Do: Still take your annual first day of school photo that your sweet children might come to begrudge as teenagers! If you have a cute chalkboard sign or print out you like to fill out with some fun facts about your child, use it!
Your child’s first day of school photo is memorable, and fun to post for all your friends and family to see! But in a time with social media use so high I urge you to really consider what is included in your post or pictures you’re sharing. You always want to keep your child safe. So not allowing strangers or predators the exact details of where your child lives and goes to school is imperative. Therefore, look over each photo before you share it to double-check you haven’t missed anything!
Don’t: Try not to instill in your child to their core that all new adults are “scary” and to fear anyone they come across in their school day.
Do: Teach your child about ‘stranger danger’ and form age-appropriate ideas about what these kinds of situations might be like in real life.
It is important to address stranger danger to your child and emphasize the seriousness of the topic. But, it is also important to prepare your child for the variety of school staff they might engage with throughout a school day. This could be bus drivers, crosswalk and parking lot attendants, teachers, teachers aids, custodians, lunchroom staff, recess duty attendants, etc. Most school websites include pictures of school staff from the previous year, it might be helpful to go through these with your child and point out some faces you think your child might see in their first few days of school so they have a few familiar faces to look for as they start a new school year!
More Important Safety Tips
If your child walks or rides a bike to school, practice this route with them several times leading up to the start of the school year. I encourage you to do this even if your child took the same route the previous year, or it is a route your family uses regularly. If possible, try to set your child up with a buddy system. It could be a friend who can walk or ride with them or a neighbor down the block who’s able to watch them from their front porch. Furthermore, your child is safer when in a pair or group and has an extra set of eyes on them.
If you have not adopted a safe word with your child, do so now! A safe word is a specific word or phrase your child knows to ask or listen for from someone they don’t recognize, to know they are safe. We have heard heartbreaking stories about predators using false claims like “Your mom was in a car accident, I was sent to pick you up”, etc. to lure innocent children in their vehicle without making a scene. The purpose of a safe word is to help prevent this. Practice the safe word, and continue to remind them of it often.
Lastly, if your child does not already know their full name, parents’ or guardians’ names, where they live, and how to dial 911, the time to teach them is now. It might seem silly, but the amount of young children who couldn’t remember their parents’ names when asked, and responded with “mom and dad” is too many for those of school age. It is okay if your child is not able to memorize their full address yet; the most important part is for them to know what town they live in and any landmark identifiers close to their home
Does your family use other safety tips or approaches for transitioning into a new school year? We’d love to hear what works for you!
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