`IT'S IMPORTANT TO TEACH YOUR CHILDREN TO BE HEADS-UP'
December 3, 2000
NAME: Kate Kelly
BACKGROUND: In "Living Safe in an Unsafe World" (New American Library, $14.95), Kate Kelly outlines practical steps people can take to avoid dangerous situations or survive them if they're unavoidable. Topics covered include food safety, natural disasters, confrontations with animals, fire and car safety, among others, and include recommendations on making children safety conscious. Kelly has written 19 books on family-related subjects.
Q--Would you say it's knowledge that keeps you safe, not fear?
A--The perfect example of that is air travel. Statistically, you're so much safer in an airplane than you are driving your own car. Yet people have very little fear about being in their car and a lot of fear about being airborne.
Q--Have you always been safety conscious?
A--I was always protective. I was the kind of mom for whom baby-proofing the house was an absolute given. As my children got older, I became more aware of the wider world that I couldn't protect them from. And from that standpoint, I was a little late: The earlier you start teaching your child basic safety protection, the better your chance of having it ingrained.
Q--Were you careful as a child?
A--I was born in 1950, and children have less freedom now than I had when I was growing up. We'd head out for the afternoon on our bikes and report back at dinnertime. It was a go-where-you-want, take-care-of-yourself type of freedom. It gave us a bit of savvy.
Q--How are things different now?
A--Today everything is so organized. On the one hand, parents now are much more protective during the early years, but then there's that cusp time where kids want freedom but there hasn't been any way of getting them from A to C. Everybody skips B. You might always trick-or-treat with your kids and then all of a sudden they want to go on their own. To my shock, a lot of parents say, "OK, go on your own." I think there has to be that interim where you say, "Well, you can go on your own but I'm going to follow you in the car." You can't just turn someone loose.
Q--You need to teach them how to protect themselves?
A--I like the idea of something called "situational awareness." It's important to teach your children to be heads-up, to look around and evaluate situations when they get there. One of my kids is at the age of wanting to go to rock concerts. You want a 15-year-old to be able to say, "Gee, it's getting really crowded down there and those people have had a lot to drink, so I'm going to move away from the center of action here." They don't have to leave the concert, don't have to remove themselves from fun, just say, "Things are looking dicey here. I think I'll move."
Q--So, be aware of your surroundings?
A--And as soon as something seems amiss, do what you need to do. I've been in classrooms after school where mothers, teachers and kids will be sewing costumes or something, and the fire bell will go off and everybody just sits there! And I think, "Well, no custodian came by and told me they were going to test the fire alarm. I'm going to go find out if they're testing it, or whether we ought to get out." The idea that people would sit through an acknowledged emergency signal and not respond is frightening.
Q--How do you teach kids safety without instilling unnecessary fear in them?
A--You don't want to rob them of trust, or make them fearful of every human being. That's a bad world to live in, if you think you have to be on your guard because somebody asks you for directions. But you do want kids to be able to assess whether they can safely provide information to this person without endangering themselves. It's a fine line. But if you start early, you're not instilling fear; you're presenting it as "This is what we do. This is how we live."
Q--How do holidays throw us off-stride, safety-wise?
A--There are more distractions, generally. One particular danger is chaos in the kitchen. Getting burned is a real concern when you've got a lot of extra people in there. You're moving the turkey from the oven to the counter with all these hot juices and all of a sudden your nephew comes in. It's always worth thinking through kitchen management so you know how you're going to choreograph it, keep it from getting too crowded in there.
Another danger is candles. It's one thing to have them on the table when everyone's sitting there eating dinner and you blow them out as you get up. But a lot of people put them all around the house, and unless somebody's attending them full time, that isn't really a good idea.
Q--Also, guests aren't as familiar as family is with the terrain of the house.
A--Especially when you've got elderly people coming, try to look at your house the way somebody else would see it. Be careful about scatter rugs. If you have a couple of stairs somewhere that are hard to see, make sure people are going to see them every time.
Q--Are you good in an emergency?
A--I think I'd be much better now that I've written this book. I try to be prepared, use common sense, and always remember "life before property."
Q--In that critical split second, don't forget it's better to spill the pop than have a car accident?
A--Yes. It's interesting how people react sometimes. My husband has been in hotels when the fire alarm has gone off at 2 or 3 a.m., and he says the funniest thing is the sight of all these business people dashing out of their rooms in whatever they're sleeping in--holding their briefcases. Nobody ever leaves without their briefcase.