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Keeping your kids safe at home and at school

Being a parent is one of the most rewarding jobs in the world, but it also means finding stregths you didn't know you had and dealing with fears you didn't know existed.

You can minimise these worries in-part by creating a safe environment for your children. Not in a ‘wrap you up in cotton wool’ kinda way, but in a way that reduces the big safety risks while still allowing them the freedom children need to grow into independent, responsible people.

Safety around things with wheels

New Zealand has one of the highest levels of driveway injuries in the world. About five kids are killed on driveways every year and around 20 are admitted to Auckland’s Starship every month for injuries related to driveway run overs. Safekids Aotearoa recommends this policy for every Kiwi home:

  • CHECK for children before driving off
  • SUPERVISE children around vehicles – always
  • SEPARATE play areas from driveways

If you have school-age kids who love using bikes, scooters and skateboards, remind them that drivers can’t be relied on to see them – especially if they’re riding or skating on the footpath. It’s always a case of ‘rider beware’.

Safety in the online world

When it comes to kids, the internet is both a blessing and a curse. Appropriate use of the World Wide Web can be hugely helpful for school work and hobbies, but it’s also a place where cyberbullies, hackers, fraudsters and other nasty people hang out. You can’t hope to totally control your children’s online life, but you can encourage them to speak out when they encounter something they don't think is right or scary. Being able to talk about nasty encounters will help them to learn how to cope with the downside of the internet.

For social media sites, make sure their settings are private and recommend they never open links sent by strangers. Netsafe has an online safety parent toolkit and a lot of other useful information related to children and the internet.

Safety around the home

Some of the biggest risks to kids are in plain sight, i.e. your home. About 48 children die each year and 231 preschoolers are hospitalised every month due to serious accidents in the home, according to the latest Safekids Aotearoa statistics. You’ll find a bunch of resources on the Safekids website, but here’s a summary of safety measures you can implement at your place:

  • To prevent falls related to open windows, use security stays to stop windows from opening too wide.
  • Make sure staircases and steps have handrails for safety. For under-threes, use door barriers at the top of staircases.
  • Keep poisonous products and medicines in high or locked cupboards. Try to buy products that have child-safe caps.
  • In the kitchen, keep knives in a child-safe drawer and use the lock feature of the dishwasher to prevent kids from playing with it. Always supervise children when the stove top and oven are in use.
  • Children get bitten because they don’t understand how to be safe around dogs. Go to dogsafety.govt.nz for insight into how to read dog behaviour. Never leave young children alone with a dog, even if it’s a trusted family pet.

Safety around water

One of the best things you can do as a parent is ensuring your children learn to swim well. New Zealand has around 15,000kms of coastline, so being confident and able in the water is really important. If your kids are pre-schoolers, the sooner you start the learn-to-swim process, the better. If you have school-age children who aren’t yet capable in the water, private swim lessons are a really smart idea.

Boats of all descriptions are often part of Kiwi life. Whether you have a couple of kayaks, a runabout or a super-yacht, the requirements are the same for kids - they need to wear life jackets all the time. Children don’t always enjoy the chunkiness of traditional life vests, so consider the auto-inflate models that are much lighter and easier to wear.

Water safety isn’t just about recreational pastimes. Small children can drown in just a few centimetres of water, so never leave your toddler or baby unattended while they’re in the bath or near natural water features (including large puddles). If you have a swimming pool or spa, make sure it lives up to your local council’s safety regulations.

Safety from school bullies

When your children leave the safe cocoon of home and head off to school, you can’t be confident they’ll always be treated kindly or fairly. Unfortunately bullies are part of the school environment; physical bullying or mental bullying.

You can’t shrug and say ‘bullying is part of life’, because some bullying experiences can have consequences for years afterward. The website bullyingfree.nz has been created to prevent bullying in Aotearoa. It's full of great information about recognising bullying and doing something about it.

Part of an active anti-bullying strategy could be helping out at your kids’ school. When you’re closer to the school community, you can keep your ear to the ground for warning signs of bullying. The easy way to get involved is to join the PTA and volunteer when teachers ask for parent helpers.

It’s also smart to do whatever you can to keep track of your child’s social life. Invite their friends home to play, so you can get to know the kids they’re mixing with. Talk to the parents of your children’s friends whenever you can. And always make sure your child can reach you easily, if something’s not going right. For this reason, many Kiwi parents choose to arm their kids with phones at around Year 7 (start of intermediate).

Keeping our kids safe is an important role as a parent, luckily there are heaps of resources available to help.