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Go Ask Mom

Go Ask Mom

Beyond stranger danger: How to talk to your kids

Posted January 20, 2011 8:10 p.m. EST

Picture yourself in this situation:  You're in a mall parking lot, a man comes over to you. He's frantic, screaming that his baby in his car at the other end of the lot has stopped breathing and he needs your help. Fast!

Do you go to his car to help, your heart breaking for that tiny baby? Do you call 911? Do you go back into the mall to find somebody else? Do you ignore him? When it comes to your safety or the safety of your kids, sometimes those decisions you make in those split seconds can make the difference between life or death.

Maybe it's not a revolutionary thought, but it's one worth thinking about and a situation worth preparing for. So said Amy Tiemann, North Carolina director of Kidpower, a nonprofit that works to teach people of all ages, but especially kids, how to stay safe. She spoke this week to a group of parents at the Montessori School of Raleigh.

Thinking about what you would do or helping your children figure out what they'd do in a tough situation means there's a better chance you'll make the right decision, she said.

Tiemann, the author of two books including "Mojo Mom," has been working to build awareness of Kidpower, which started on the West Coast, on this side of the country. Kidpower offers materials, publications, curriculum and workshops that use a positive message to teach people how to stay safe.

The focus here isn't on stranger danger, which most of us heard all about when we were kids.

Instead, the message is positive, but practical. Kidpower says it's OK to talk to strangers when mom or dad are right next to you, for instance. As Tiemann reminded us at the talk, strangers aren't the ones who pose the most danger to our kids. It's people we know - family, friends, the coach or neighbor down the street.

At the same time, Kidpower teaches kids that when some guy walks up to them as they're playing outside, they should go right inside the house to tell mom there's somebody out there. It teaches kids to use their intuition. If something doesn't feel right, it probably isn't so they need to walk away.

It's been tricky for me to figure out exactly how to talk about all this with my older daughter. I don't want to scare here about the world around her. But at the same time, I want her to be wary and cautious about the people she meets. It's a fine line.

So I appreciated Tiemann's talk and Kidpower's message. Kidpower's website has all kinds of articles, which I plan to read pretty closely. Kidpower focuses on preventing child abuse and other topics, such as bullying, where a child's safety might be threatened.

In the end, Tiemann says the best we can do is be prepared and know, for instance, that you wouldn't go to that man's car to help his baby (because you wouldn't go with a strange man to his car), but you would offer to call 911 or go inside the mall to get others together to help him.

"We can't control everything," Tiemann said. "Worry is a corrosive emotion. There is a level of acceptance that life is not predictable."

Tiemann offers workshops for groups of kids and adults at schools, workplaces, youth groups and elsewhere. Check the Kidpower North Carolina website for details.