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Keeping Growing Kids Safe from Toxic Influences

By Anne Leedom

One thing all parents have in common is the awareness that kids grow up so fast. You really do blink and they have moved into another phase, another age and with it come a whole new set of attitudes, behaviors and potential dangers. I find it very comforting that I no longer have to worry about my babies succumbing to SIDS or choking. My house is no longer baby proofed. However, there is still a serious threat everyday of new and often more frightening dangers that threaten my kids. One of the most frightening aspects of these new dangers is that I wonít always be five feet away to protect them.

I have spent years researching the many ways to keep my kids safe and help guide them to know on their own how to do the right thing. Here the most important factors I have discovered to increase their chances of staying safe through their growing years.

Provide a sanctuary at home
Giving your kids a home where they feel comfortable is one of the most important things you can do to keep your kids safe. Let them know they can have their friends over. Know the kids your kids are hanging out with. Donít worry about everything being perfect. One wise father I know puts together a wonderful party at his house for his kids during school dances. He gives his kids a place to come to with their friends where they can have a great time and not feel like they have to be in a place that might not be in their best interest.

Be a positive role model
One of the primary needs all human beings have is that of belonging. Give your kids a sense they are part of a family, whatever your family set up might be, that they feel proud of. Let them see you living a life you are happy and proud of. Itís a natural magnet. Kids really do want to be around their parents if their parents are happy and productive and excited about life. The best gift you can give your kids is to include them in a world where they feel blessed and life is good.

Keep communication lines open
One of my favorite times growing up was sitting in the kitchen talking with my mother while she made dinner. This didnít happen every night, but it did provide a frequent and relaxed environment to discuss the day and what happened to both of us. The key element that kept communication flowing is that she shared things with me as much as she wanted me to share with her. It was a two way, respectful relationship where we both felt valued. This made it very easy to come to her with more difficult issues as they arose.

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Make sure your kids feel treasured
There is a big difference between feeling loved and feeling treasured. When kids feel treasured and special they understand more deeply how much they hurt others by making poor decisions. Take a moment each day to write your child a note, put a flower in your daughterís room, and spend some one on one time with them. Small, creative gestures build a special feeling in kids that they are truly valued. This not only builds self-esteem, but it also builds a sense of self-protectiveness in your child. When they feel connected to others who care about them, they are far less likely to place themselves in harms way. So ask yourself if your child FEELS loved, not just if you love your child.

Connect your child to the world
As kids grow they need to feel they are part of a bigger world than just their immediate family. Sheltering our kids too much sets them up for poor relationship choices. Involve them in outside groups and with other families YOU feel are in their best interest. By controlling initially where they spend their time outside of home, you will go a long way toward giving them healthy and safe alternatives.

Be constantly aware of changes in your child
The most attentive and involved parents may still find themselves facing challenges with their kids and the negative influences that confront kids everyday. One of the best tools to keep your kids safe is to be aware of changes in their behavior and or attitude that could signal that something is wrong. Signs of withdrawal or hostility and be normal as kids naturally become more independent. Be on the lookout for extremes or unusual and unexplained changes and be insistent on knowing whatís happening with your child. Donít let them brush you off. By being consistent without being too invasive you can maintain a pulse for your childís inner world and be a life saving device if needed.

© Anne Leedom
Anne Leedom is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Parenting Bookmark. She has been quoted in Parents, Redbook and Nick Jr. Magazines and has been a guest on National Public Radio Affiliate WHWC on the show "Mental Health Today with Dr. Minette Ponick." Anne lives in El Dorado Hills and can be reached at anne AT parentingbookmark DOT com.


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