It’s back to school again! Either your kids are already back in school or you’re preparing to send them. With so many things to check off your “to do” list, from school supplies to shoe shopping, we’re here to help with your family’s back-to-school safety plan. Whether you are staying connected through your security system and remote alarm monitoring or relying on neighbors, school officials and others, consider these tips when helping your family stay secure before and after school:
Keep Latchkey Kids Secure at Home
Follow these suggested rules to help keep kids who are home alone secure and provide you peace of mind.
Identify a trusted neighbor or emergency contact for you and your child to reach if things don’t go as planned. In addition to a neighbor, consider a nearby relative or even a co-worker in case your child can’t reach you. Keep contact information for school representatives with you as well, such as your child’s principal or the bus/transportation department.
Stay aware when arriving home. Teach your child to assess your home before entering. If something looks off, such as a torn screen, open door, or broken window, he or she should not enter and should go to a neighbor’s to call you or the authorities. If your home is protected by a monitored alarm system, make sure your child knows what to do if the system sounds and an alarm dispatcher calls.
Keep all doors closed and locked. Remind your child that even “bad” guys can look nice or impersonate professionals we should trust, such as utility workers or emergency personnel. And, anyone can be convincing, with stories of lost pets or car trouble. For these reasons, enforce a strict rule of never opening the door to anyone. Have children follow our tips for staying safe when strangers knock or have your child call you or a neighbor if someone comes to the door. Front door security cameras and text notifications also can help you confirm who stopped by. This time of year especially, everyone should be aware of door-to-door sales representatives.
Schedule a check-in. It’s easier than ever to call, send a text or wave to your security camera. Set a time for this check in to happen every day. Homeowners with wireless security installed and an alarm monitoring app can have notifications sent that show video of a child entering the home or when a door is opened or closed. (Is there a sensitive area of your home that shouldn’t be accessed when you’re not home, such as swimming pool or cabinet? Notifications can be sent if someone enters those areas too.)
Establish a routine. When everyone knows what to expect and what’s normal, it helps to maintain safety. Outline together the route home, time of arrival and check-in routine. Have agreed upon snacks, chores, or homework plans plus downtime for them to relax safely after school. In the event of an emergency or a lost child, knowing the daily route and routine can help authorities.
Discuss kitchen safety and more. Unfortunately, potential dangers come in many forms. When considering the safety of your children, remember hazards such as falls or burns. Discuss safe food options and make a plan for having healthy snacks available, within easy reach. Carefully consider the ages of your children before allowing heated snacks to be prepared.
Plan for emergencies and any unforeseen situations. Keep emergency numbers by the phone, and make sure your children know your address and when to call 911. Discuss what to do during an emergency or unexpected event. Role play situations and outline steps they should take if a storm approaches, the power goes out, you get stuck in traffic, etc.
Set rules for the phone. If you allow your child to answer the phone, teach him or her what to do if someone asks for a parent. Have your child share that you are busy at the moment and can’t come to the phone. A child should never share that he or she is alone or a parent is not home.
Increase Crosswalk, Bus Stop, and Neighborhood Safety
Follow these tips for helping students safely get to and from school.
Review the route to school or bus stop plan. Team with other students and parents to map out the safest route and agree on rules for staying safe. Some basics: Have your child carry your contact information. Avoid empty lots or alleys. Walk in pairs or groups. Know what to do if an adult approaches in a car or on foot. Don’t wear headphones or play games while walking or riding. Bike helmets are a must, and a whistle can come in handy to attract attention if needed.
For more tips, the National Child Safety Council and Safe Kids Worldwide have resources and guidelines on a variety of topics, including school bus safety, bicycle safety, drug prevention, and more.
Talk to your children about their roles and responsibilities. Remind them that others will be watching out for them but they need to watch out for themselves too. Drivers can sometimes be distracted, so your child needs to stay alert and aware of surroundings. For example, make eye contact with drivers before crossing a crosswalk, and avoid headphones or playing on a device along the way.
It’s OK to be cautious. Don’t feel guilty or overprotective if you watch until your child gets safely into the school (no matter how long the drop off line is). If something doesn’t feel right, take steps to help make you and your child more comfortable (see the next tip). Also, be aware that states vary in their notification methods related to Megan’s Law, but you should have access to a local sexual offender registry. Conduct an online search or ask your law enforcement office about your area.
Speak up and share concerns. Most schools have specific notification systems in place as well as security measures for the school day, including students’ arrival and departure times. Are school crossings adequate? Would you receive a call if your child is absent? If you have concerns about or ideas for improving these measures, visit with school administrators so everyone feels comfortable and knows what to expect. A team approach can go a long way in keeping kids safe.
Encourage open communications. Make sure children know they can come to you or another trusted adult if something is wrong, from bus stop bullies to an unknown adult hanging around the neighborhood. If something doesn’t feel right, encourage them to talk to you without fear and to understand that their concerns are important and matter.
We know that parents with remote home security options and video cameras rest a little easier, having the ability to stay connected, peek in, and receive visual verification of their children’s safe arrival. However, following these tips can help keep everyone safe and should become a part of your back-to-school checklist.