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How to keep your child safe the first time he tries something new

Junior may insist that he’s all grown up and can take the bus by himself – but how do you know he’s really ready?  We’ve got some guidelines to use and suggestions to keep him safe.

From 5 years old

Goes to the public restroom alone

Dr Claire Halsey, a clinical psychologist and parenting expert, says that if your child can use the toilet on his own and knows how to clean up after himself, then you can start teaching him how to tell the difference between the male and female facilities, as well as routines like locking the toilet door, and using the washbasin and hand dryer.

Most kids from the age of five or six will be able to manage those skills, although they may want your assistance. You can accompany your child to the restroom to help him out at the start, until he’s confident enough to go on his own.

KEEP HIM SAFE! Start by getting your child to use public restrooms in familiar places such as your neighbourhood shopping centre. In unfamiliar situations, busy places or places where you’re unsure of the restroom’s cleanliness or safety, it’s wise to carry on accompanying your child until he is significantly older, says Dr Halsey.

Do also teach your child what to do if a stranger approaches him in the restroom, and how to handle accidents – for example, if he slips and falls, or if he soils himself.

Prepares a simple meal

Kids as young as five can be encouraged to prepare a simple meal on their own, such as a bowl of cereal or a sandwich, as long as the task does not involve sharp objects or hot liquids, says Daniel Koh, psychologist from Insights Mind Centre. But if there is cooking or another more elaborate food preparation skill involved, you might want to wait until your child is older, say about 10 years old.

KEEP HIM SAFE! Teach your child how to handle a knife and hot liquids, and make sure he knows to wear oven mitts when taking hot dishes out of the oven.

You may want to forbid him from using the food processor, microwave oven or blender until he’s older. Also instruct him to clean up after himself, and to mop up spills on the floor to prevent slips and falls.

Takes the lift alone

As children mature differently, it’s not easy to say when your child would be ready for this. But children as young as six can be trained to take the lift, since all they’d have to do is press a button.

“Ask yourself: Can your child identify potential dangers? Can he ask for help if needed? Can he follow instructions and rules as well as understand and perform the task? These questions will help you to determine if your child is ready,” says Dr Lim Boon Leng, psychiatrist from Dr BL Lim Centre for Psychological Wellness.

KEEP HIM SAFE! Make sure your child knows what the alarm or emergency button is for and understands that he can press it if the lift stops or breaks down suddenly. Remind him not to panic if he finds himself in such a situation. It’s also important that he knows not to enter the lift alone with anybody who looks suspicious.

From 8 years old

Orders food or buys something alone

“Once your child can count, he should be allowed to make purchases and to order food with you supervising,” says Dr Lim. “By the time children are eight years old, most of them would be cognitively mature enough to make the right order and be able to handle money correctly.”

KEEP HIM SAFE! Make sure your child knows what he is buying, how much it costs, and how much change he should expect. And if he is cheated out of change or charged more than he should pay, should he bring it up to the vendor, report the matter to you, or just let it go? Give him some basic guidelines so he’ll know what to do.

From 10 years old

Rides the bus solo

Being able to travel to school alone is a positive step towards independence for your child. Make your decision based on these factors: the distance and safety of the journey, your child’s level of maturity, and his ability to deal with any problem that may arise – for instance, boarding the wrong bus or alighting at the wrong stop. Says Dr Halsey: “Late primary school age may be suitable for some kids, while others may have to wait until they are mature enough.”

KEEP HIM SAFE! Your child needs to be able to manage money, use the fare card, and know the route. He should also learn to handle situations like transport breakdowns or delays. The only way your child can pick up these skills is through practice – he has to experience taking the bus or train with you, says Dr Halsey.

Rehearse various scenarios with him, and teach him how to handle such problems. Start with short, familiar journeys and build up to longer, less familiar ones. You may want to be present as he boards, or ride separately from him to supervise and problem-solve.

Stays home alone

“Leaving your child home alone is a big step towards independence but it’s not always easy to judge when he’ll be ready for it,” says Dr Halsey. The decision will not only depend on your child’s age, it’s also crucial to consider his level of maturity. “If your child doesn’t want to be left home alone, isn’t confident about it, or has medical or other issues, then you may want to wait a little longer,” Dr Halsey adds.

Usually, it’s when a child is in his tweens that parents let him try out short periods of time alone at home. You may wish to start with periods of 15 to 30 minutes, and schedule these when you know your neighbours or relatives are nearby to help out, in case your child runs into difficulties. Phone home a couple of times to see how everything is going, and afterwards, get your child’s feedback on the experience.

KEEP HIM SAFE! Advance preparation will make this experience safer for your child and less anxiety-provoking for you. Discuss with your child what is expected of him and write it down – this may include certain rules you want him to follow. “No cooking, no visitors, and never open the door to strangers, for example,” says Dr Halsey.

Also ensure that your child knows what to do in an emergency – such as a fire or an accident – and has your contact details as well as those of the emergency services.

By Sasha Gonzales, Simply Her, May 2015 

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