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Building respect, not fear, in kids

Published Sep. 16, 2005

Prepare, not scare, is the message Paula Statman wants parents of young children to remember.

"Instead of using DON'Ts: Don't talk to strangers. Don't take candy from strangers. Don't go anywhere with strangers. Parents need to tell their children what to DO in potentially dangerous situations," Statman said.

She thinks parents also need to let children know that they might have to rely on adults to help them in certain situations.

Statman hosted a seminar, "Raising Careful, Confident Kids in a Crazy World," at St. Petersburg Junior College's Clearwater Campus on Thursday.

An author, psychotherapist, family educator and mother, Statman founded KidWISE in 1989 to teach adults how to help children avoid or resist abduction, molestation and other potential dangers. The group is based in California.

"Scare tactics just don't work anymore," Statman said. "We need to teach kids to be clearheaded, so they know what to do when Mom or Dad aren't around. Instead of saying something like "parks are too dangerous for kids,' we might say, "If anyone approaches you, here's what to do . . .' "

Statman teaches parents and child-care professionals what she calls the "Five Ps." They are: protect, prepare, practice, prompt and preview.

Protect means just that: setting limits for a child that will protect him or her, but at the same time encourage the child to grow and achieve independence.

Part of protecting children, she said, is to give them praise and self-confidence so they will be able to talk with you about any subject.

Statman said children between the ages of 2 and 5 should be taught the names of all body parts, perhaps by using a stuffed teddy bear; learn the difference between touches that are okay and not okay; and be able to identify strangers, friends and "helping people," such as police officers. And, above all, learn to recite their name, address, phone number, and know how to dial 911.

She said most "at-risk" children _ those in danger of the threat of abduction _ feel unloved, lonely, starved for affection and keep secrets from adults, especially their parents.

"If we communicate with our children, give them love and praise and teach them, they can say no to adults they don't trust; they will know what to do in confusing situations.