Just about everyone has heard the phrase “stranger danger”. Everyone knows to stay away from strangers, that strangers are people we don’t know who could potentially hurt us. As children, we’re taught this in schools, by parents, at church or sports practices or on television – everywhere. The problem is, statistically the person most likely to harm or abduct a child is somebody that child knows.

Now, none of this is to say that children shouldn’t still be aware of strangers. They absolutely should. But if people that children know can also pose a danger, how can we protect them? How can they protect themselves? And how can you educate them about this without completely terrifying them? We talked about this very thing in class with our Juniors’ students recently.

A really great tool that we introduced to our students to help keep them safe is The Family Safe Word. Simply, it is a code word to be used in various instances that will let a child know if a situation or person is safe to be around. It should be a word that everyone in the household is familiar with and should be able to remember. Let me give an example of how the safe word works:

A family, let’s call them the Drogos, decides to create a safe word. So they all sit down together – parents and children – and decide on the word “Kangaroo”. The parents tell the kids that they shouldn’t share this word with anyone, and that they shouldn’t go anywhere with anyone unless that person knows the safe word “kangaroo”. Furthermore, if someone tries to take them somewhere and does not know the safe word, they should seek help from another adult that they trust. A few weeks later, the kids are waiting to be picked up from school. Their uncle comes over and says “your mom is in the hospital, and she sent me to come and pick you up.” The kids say “what’s the family safe word?”. The uncle doesn’t know, and they refuse to go with him and immediately tell a nearby teacher. Thanks to the family safe word, the kids were able to avoid a potentially dangerous situation. A few weeks later, a new babysitter shows up to pick the kids up from school. Earlier in the day, their parents told them that they would be going home with their new sitter. When he arrives, the children ask him for the safe word, and he says “kangaroo.” They check with their teacher, and head home with the new babysitter. Again, the family safe word has served its purpose.

Safe words can be used in many different ways, and are a simple and effective tool to help children stay safe. They provide a great spring board for safety discussions with children as well. The Welch Martial Art Experience strongly recommends creating a family safe word, and discussing the rules and uses of it with your family.