We may live in one of the safest countries in the world, but when it comes to our kids, there’s still a lot we need to do to protect them from harm. From cracking down on cyber-bullying to preventing toddlers from running off in public and even guarding against the risk of kidnapping, it’s important to stay vigilant.
While you may like to believe it’ll never happen to you – raise your hand if you’ve ever been guilty of leaving your front door unlocked as you feel so safe – there’s truth in the old adage that you can never be too careful. As a case in point, the recent Safe Cities Index 2015 ranked Abu Dhabi as the 25th safest city in the world, which is fantastic news. However, people actually perceive it to be the second-safest city in the world, which serves as a warning that perhaps we should all be a bit more safety-conscious.
Before you start wrapping your kids up in cotton wool, though, our expert advice can help you supercharge your safety tactics for greater piece of mind.
Safe as houses
Those with inquisitive toddlers at home will be familiar with ways to keep them safe from everyday dangers, by installing safety gates and keeping cleaning products under lock and key, for instance, but it’s advisable to introduce some commonsense house rules too.
“Toddlers can act faster than we imagine,” says Basak Sen Sasal, general manager at SnapSights (www.snapsights.ae), which provides home-monitoring services for families in the UAE. “Working parents can’t be with their kids all the time. If you have a nanny, advise her to focus on the kids at times when you can’t – so not to do any house chores while the child is awake, for instance. There are some areas of the home that we consider ‘red zones’, such as the kitchen, balcony doors, house doors (back and front) and the stairs, where little ones must always be accompanied by an adult. Whenever our monitoring operators see a baby or toddler in these areas unaccompanied we take two immediate actions. Firstly, we inform the nanny immediately through our audio-enabled cameras. If she happens to be [working] in the laundry room, for instance, they can dash towards the area where the baby or toddler needs immediate adult supervision. Secondly, we inform parents immediately through an SMS or phone call – depending on the importance, we send instant footage also – so they can work with the nanny to prevent this from happening in future.”
This protocol has also been followed in cases where Snapsights has found toddlers trying to take advantage of open doors when water was being delivered or when a cleaning company arrived or left.
“I personally had a very uncomfortable situation once when a complete stranger opened the door to our villa and got inside the living room,” says Basak. “When he saw my husband and I in the kitchen, he pretended he was an estate agent but when we asked for his business card he rushed outside, got inside his car and drove off. Shockingly, this happened in one of the very secure gated villa communities in Dubai. Later, I heard that it happened to some of our neighbours too.”
If your child is capable of actually opening the door when the doorbell rings, Basak suggests the following: “It shouldn’t be a children’s job to open the door. Until a certain age, they must be accompanied by an adult so make sure they understand this,” she says. “When your children get to the age when they can be left home alone, always drum into them that the apartment or villa doors should stay locked at all times. Even us adults, it’s always good to be cautious.”
Out and about
The thought of their little one running off in public strikes fear into the hearts of mums the world over. Although at times it feels like your child is intent on breaking free from your grasp, there’s plenty you can do to stay in control.
“Mums using harnesses to keep toddlers within close range has been a contentious topic for years, but when it comes to ensuring your child’s safety, this is a popular option,” says Angelica Robinson, area manager at Caboodle Pamper & Play (www.caboodle.ae). “If your child is still using a stroller, you can provide two options: hold mummy’s or the caregiver’s hand; or sit in the stroller. For little ones who are keen to be independent, they will be encouraged to follow the rules and, if they rebel or run off, it’s back in the stroller they go until they can understand there are only two options.”
When it comes to crossing roads, try playing the ‘red light, green light’ game. “Turning safety into a fun game can be a great way to get kids to buy into the notion of the importance of listening and responding,” says Angelica. “The premise of this game is to tell your children to walk or run and when you yell ‘red light’ they need to stop. When you yell ‘green light’ he or she can go. Practise in your home or garden first and, when they get the hang of it, you can use it while on a walk within safe parameters.”
If your child does get separated from you, it’s important for them to know what to do. “If your child is old enough to recognise ‘safe strangers’ and ‘meeting points,’ you can point out people in uniform, such as police officers, or even clerks at restaurants and grocery stores. These individuals are ‘safe’ to ask for help,” says Angelica. “You can also designate a meeting point at a notable spot that can be easily identified and found.”
Iron-on labels in a discreet place on a T-shirt or inside shoes can be useful so your little one has your mobile number handy.
Another useful tool is My Buddy Tag: place the wristband on your tot and you can track him or her via your smartphone. If the child moves a specified distance away from you or goes out of range, you’ll get an immediate notification on your phone. There’s also a panic button on the wristband that your kid can easily activate, as well as a water-safety alert feature that kicks in if your child has been submerged for more that five seconds, plus a personal ID to help reunite you both if separated. It costs Dh179 and is distributed by Bigonchildren.com and is available at select retailers including Caboodle.
The walk to school
If your kids are walking to and from school – or insist that you wait around the corner instead of coming to the school gate – there are agreements you can put in place.
“Make sure you know where your children are at all times. Make it a rule that they must ask permission or check in with you before going anywhere and give your children your work and mobile numbers so they can reach you at all times,” advises Simon Jodrell, head of primary at Dubai British School (dubaibritishschool.ae). “Point out safe spots such as places to play, safe roads and paths to take and safe places to go if there’s trouble. Also, teach children to trust their instincts. Explain that if they ever feel scared or uncomfortable, they should get away as fast as they can and tell a safe adult.
Simon continues: “Reassure them that you will help them when they need it. Teach them to be assertive and make sure they know that it’s OK to say ‘no’ to an adult and to run away from adults in dangerous situations. Lastly, encourage children to play with others – there’s safety in numbers.”
Dubai British School runs a ‘Yell, Run, Tell’ awareness assembly each term where they talk about speaking to strangers. Simple rules kids take from the initiative include never to accept gifts or sweets from a stranger; never to accept a lift from a stranger; never go anywhere with a stranger; never to go off on their own without telling a parent or a trusted adult; and never to go up to a car to give directions.