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Recent events in the news reinforce the notion that any child can fall prey to sexual predators. Such a horrifying notion makes most of us cringe and quickly change the subject. But the responsible parent faces this possibility squarely and takes steps to keep children safe. It’s easy to imagine that a victimized child had inattentive parents or didn’t learn the lessons about Stranger Danger. We tell ourselves that our own children are somehow safe from this sort of thing. But we’d be wrong. Any child can be a victim and it’s important to notice how and why.

Far from being a stranger, most sexual predators are known to their victims. They certainly are not “strangers.” Most predators do not snatch children off street corners, but get to know their victims very well and build their trust. So if you only teach your children to distrust strangers, you’re leaving him vulnerable to familiar people who have bad intentions. Predators often are counted as family friends and are trusted members of the community. This is not an accident. Predators carefully craft their image so that adults admire and trust them. Pay attention if an adult friend seems too friendly and takes too much interest in your child.

Predators don’t act like evil people at all. In fact, many act like children, wanting to play with kids instead of hanging out with other grownups or teens. An older child or adult who wants to take your child out to the movies, have him over for the night, and take him to ball games – as if the two of them were best friends of the same age – is acting oddly.

Predators prey on your child’s innocence and inexperience. He or she (yes, predators can be women too!) look for polite, compliant kids who obey adults and don’t like drama. Many children in the preteen years try hard to fit in and go along with the system. They are success-oriented. These are the children predators look for, since they can be counted on to obey adults and ignore all the warning signals.

Predators look for vulnerable parents too. They look for families that are under stress and parents who might welcome a little help in raising a child. Predators may offer a child of financially-strapped parents goodies that mom and dad can’t afford. They offer to give a single parent an afternoon off, while they watch the children, and the grateful parent thinks she’s found a terrific friend. Watch out!

Short of keeping your children locked up at home, how can you protect your child from nefarious people who would do them harm? Here are some ways:

  1. Teach your children to distrust anyone who acts strangely. Grandpa Gene, the kid next door, the soccer coach, or her fourth-grade teacher. Anyone who makes an odd request or touches her when touching is unnecessary should be refused and reported.
  2. Your child should hang out with kids his own age, not with an adult or older teen. Parents of teens, pay attention to your own kid. If he seems to prefer hanging out with younger children, figure out why.
  3. Think twice before you agree to something that seems on the surface like a friendly gesture but might really be a set-up for a dangerous situation. No one, really, is all that eager to watch your kids for an evening. The more someone insists that this is a great idea, the more skeptical you should be.
  4. Make sure your child knows how to speak up and make a scene if he needs to. We want our kids to be polite with adults but there is a time when politeness doesn’t work. Help your child to know when those times are and support him when he stands up for himself. Talk about how to handle dangerous situations.
  5. Be aware of your child’s online connections. Make sure your child doesn’t use his real name as an online handle. Just doing this will help your child see that anyone can disguise his true identity online. Monitor your kid’s online life and know where he’s going and who he’s planning to see when he goes out, especially if he’s meeting someone from the online world.
  6. Finally, if you think something bad has happened between your child and an adult, tell the police. You owe it to your child and you owe it to every other child this person knows. Too many times situations continue even though parents have some suspicions. They don’t want to make trouble. They don’t want to make a mistake.

The real risk you run is the risk to your child. Teach your child to be assertive. Teach your child to tell you everything by accepting without question everything she tells you. And when the situation require you to speak up do it. Predators assume neither your child nor you will tell.


© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Look for free downloads on Dr. Anderson’s website at

We’ve had lots of out-of-town company at our house these past two weeks, with children and aunts and all engaged in lots of activities. The Number One phrase that seemed to come out of people’s mouths the easiest was “Be careful!” That got me to thinking. Is “be careful!” the best thing to say?

Of course our motives are good. We see the potential for injury or breakage and a warning seems in order. But “be careful!” often doesn’t do what we intend. “Be careful!”  – when it does anything at all – seems confusing. That can’t be good.

First of all, “be careful!” isn’t very specific. If there’s a real danger, it makes sense to spell it out. “Be careful with that knife because it’s very sharp” not only gives a warning but tells what action the warning is about and why. But we often don’t say what a child should be careful about. We aren’t very clear.

Second, “be careful!” isn’t very instructive. It tells that there’s danger ahead but not how to avoid it. It would be better to say, “Be careful with that vase. It would be good to hold it with two hands.” This provides a pause in the action that gives a child time to reconsider the possible outcomes but also suggests a way to avoid disaster.

Third, “be careful!” limits a child’s actions. An active child is a learning child but “be careful!” cuts off learning. When our warning makes a child stop and wait for a grownup to do things for her, or makes a child stop and not try at all, then our warning keeps a child, not just safe, but little. Competence and confidence come from doing things. We have to let kids do.

This is the very reason why our “be careful!” often is ignored. Children want to expand their abilities. They are eager to try new things and become more capable today than they were last week. So even though we whine, “be careful!” kids laugh and do things anyway. “Be careful!” when it’s said over and over about even trivial actions loses its punch.

I’ve said that it helps to add to “be careful!” either what a child should be careful about or how to take care with whatever he’s doing. In addition, it helps to ask a child, “what can you do to stay safe?” or “what can you do to keep that safe?”  Asking a child to stop and consider both the danger inherent in an action and what he can do to be proactive in keeping himself or others safe does two good things: it signals our confidence in his ability to be safe and it inspires him to be responsible about planning for safety. Confidence coupled with responsibility is what we really want, isn’t it?

If you find yourself overusing the phrase “be careful!” try being more supportive of your child’s desire to become responsible and confident. See if your child becomes – instead of more reckless – more safe.


© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s book, Parenting: A Field Guide, at your favorite bookstore.

You’re just going to the grocery store or around the block. A short trip. Slow speeds. Not much traffic. So it’s a huge temptation to not buckle-in your child. It’s such a hassle to fiddle with all the straps and with your child’s resistance. The risk, you figure, is really small.

You’re not alone. A recent study by Safe Kids Worldwide found that 1 in 4 parents admits to driving without buckling their 10-and-under children into a car seat or booster seat. This survey of over 1000 parents found that more affluent parents and younger parents were most likely to omit this crucial safety step.

It’s true that the number of children dying in car crashes has dropped by 58% since 1987 – a wonderful accomplishment. It’s far less likely than it used to be that you know of or have heard of a child crash fatality. But this drop is not because driving is so much safer than before. It’s because more parents than before take the time to secure their children safely. Parents whose children are unsecured inside a car expose their kids to the same, elevated risk of severe injury and death as existed in generations past.

Car accidents are still a leading cause of death in children. In 2011 679 children aged 12 and under died in crashes. Of these, one-third were unrestrained inside the car. Older kids involved in fatal car crashes were more likely to be unrestrained or improperly restrained than younger children.

Yes, it’s fun to “ride shotgun” in the front passenger seat. Yes, sitting in a booster seat makes an older child feel he’s being treated like a baby. But children who are still not adult-sized can be injured or killed by airbag impacts. Everyone else in the car might walk away but the under-12 child sitting in the wrong place or at the wrong height may suffer great harm.

Naturally, one exception leads to many more. Every parent knows that permitting a child to ride improperly secured even once makes it more likely she’ll ask for the same “privilege” again. It’s more likely a younger sibling will think riding unrestrained is admirable. It makes the task of buckling everyone in that much harder. Here’s what to do:

  1. Make certain you and other adults buckle seat belts for every trip, even short ones. No exceptions.
  2. Do not put the car in gear until everyone in the car is properly secured. Pull over and stop driving if someone disengages his restraint system while the car is in motion.
  3. Always position children in the back seat. Use car seats or boosters appropriate to the age and size of the child.
  4. Make certain your child’s car seat or booster is properly secured inside the car.
  5. Insist that everyone with whom your child rides – friends, car pools, family members – always buckle children in.
  6. If driving during the night, resist the temptation to let children sleep on the floor of the car or in fully-reclined seats without proper buckling-in.

Never make an exception to the all-buckled-in rule. No ride is so short that there is no risk of an accident. According to Partners for Child Passenger Safety, 80% of crashes involving children occur within 20 minutes of home and at speeds less than 45 mph. Riding in the country is no guarantee of safety. In fact, over half of fatal accidents happen in rural areas, according to the National Highway Safety Council.

There are so many dangers over which parents have no control. It makes sense to exercise the little control we have. Making certain children are fully secured inside a car is a detail that should never be overlooked.


© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Developmentally Appropriate Parenting, at your favorite bookstore.

How do babies learn to be careful at the edge of a dropoff? It’s not that they learn when they fall. Babies learn to be afraid of heights even without the experience of falling.

Instead, it appears that babies learn to be cautious just by moving around. Babies too young to crawl learned to avoid drop-offs when they used a go-cart-type device that gave them experience with motion.

Up to about 9 months old, babies seem unconcerned about falling. Every parent knows that unattended infants readily roll off beds or changing tables or tumble down stairs. They seem oblivious to the danger heights pose.

But as soon as a child is able to crawl, she gets more cautious. Joseph Campos, researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, has done a lot of study on this change of perspective. For example, he has found that at about this age, babies pick up cues from trusted adults about unfamiliar situations, including the situation of encountering a dropoff.

In a recent study, published this month in Psychological Science, Campos led a team in understanding if children’s ability to get around helps in developing a fear of heights. The research team gave some babies who hadn’t yet learned to crawl – and who therefore were still unconcerned about heights – experience with a riding toy that permitted them to get around on their own. These go-cart babies quickly became worried whenever they came to an edge, as indicated by increased heart rate. Babies without the go-cart experience showed no anxiety about visual cliffs.

According to Campos, this finding is important because it means the ability to judge the danger of a dropoff doesn’t develop just by growing older. It’s not a maturational thing. Instead, it depends on experience.

For us parents, the take-home message is this: children need experiences. They need to move around and do things. And children who have a disability that limits their mobility or who are restricted in what they’re allowed to do in order to keep them “safe” or out of the way may be delayed in key cognitive accomplishments.

If just being able to move around is so important, what else matters too? It’s important to let kids be kids.

© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Developmentally Appropriate Parenting, at your favorite bookstore.