Parenting: Instill safety as a value, not just set of rules

Safety ranks paramount on the list of parental stresses. Rules and lectures become mantras as we try to slow our children down enough to actually listen to us.

I was shameless in my efforts to get my kids to stay safe. Ice cream. Money. I even tried empathy. “Just think of how sad I’ll be if you get hurt. … OK, now go have fun.”

I was never convinced my kids valued the importance of safety as much as I thought they should. To this day, I still tell my adult children to be safe as my parting words.

There are many ways that we teach children about safety. Or mandate it. Rules about crossing the street. Rules about interacting with strangers. Rules about what time to be home. Rules about Internet hours. Rules about using electric appliances. Rules about when you are supposed to be in school. All rules designed to keep our children safe, healthy and productive.

Knowing what the rules are, knowing what you need to do to follow them, and then following them: That was the traditional way I learned about rules. I also learned by another traditional method, I followed the rules or else. As a result, I grew up following safety rules so I did not get into trouble, not because I saw safety as a value.

Teaching children to be safe is more than teaching them to follow rules. A search for “safety and values” on the Internet led me to a construction company website. The site proclaimed that attention to safety is the right thing to do for ourselves, our families and our fellow workers. It said that safety must be a core value and not just a priority. It said that safety is more than just completing a checklist of things to do, and that it should be a mindful and intentional part of our everyday activities at home, at work and in the community.

Next time you are walking with your kids in downtown Bellingham, you are likely to pass by one of the many roadwork projects going on. You might take a moment to point out the safety equipment, clothing and rules that are part of the work site. It might spark some interesting observations and comments from your child about safety.

It is good that we have rigorous safety standards for dangerous industries and community activities. And it is good that we have them in our schools and in our homes.

To raise safety awareness in your child’s life, consider engaging them in routine home safety and prevention activities. Depending on their age, one to three minutes of their attention is enough time to introduce to them to the variety of ways that safety is a part of our daily life. Such activities include things like changing a smoke alarm battery, updating emergency contact numbers, and repairing a broken step. Use a home safety checklist from the Internet and visit the Safe Kids Whatcom County website for more ideas.

As a parent and child-safety advocate, you may also want to look into local policy and practices relevant to child safety — smoke-free parks, for instance. In Whatcom County it is illegal to smoke within 25 feet of a building entrance, but you can smoke next to a park swing set and other playground equipment. Maybe that could be changed.

Another matter you might want to look into is that only one school district in Whatcom County has adopted an adult, child and youth safety model that meets the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention standards for preventing child sexual abuse. Kudos to Mount Baker School District for creating a district culture that values the safety of children and refuses to tolerate sexual misconduct and abuse of children.

One more matter you might be interested in: It should be easy to dispose of unused prescription medications so they don’t enter our waterways and children don’t accidentally or purposely take them. You might want to encourage Whatcom County to join King County and mandate prescription drug take back sites at all pharmacies.

Learning about these safety issues and becoming involved is another way to make safety an intentional part of your family’s daily life. By making safety a family value, you might not lessen your worry, but your child might just make a better choice when it counts.

Byron Manering is executive director of Brigid Collins Family Support Center in Bellingham.