how to keep your children safe
Health and safety

How to keep your children safe

Krav Maga and self defence expert Patrick Cumisky outlines a number of approaches to help you keep your children safe and give you peace of mind.

How to keep you children safe

Keeping children safe while allowing them grow to confident, independent adults may well be the single most important role of a parent. As a parent you should train yourself to trust your intuition. Situations or people that don’t feel right should be taken seriously and fully investigated or avoided, even if you don’t know why.

As children grow older they will seek more independence and new experiences, this is natural. They will resist your instructions and perhaps be unhappy with some of your instructions and behaviours, but that is part of the job of being a parent. You have more life experience and are more aware of the risks, as well as the evolutionary programming, to be obsessed with your children safety, that’s your job. Your children don’t have to like it, they just have to be safe.

1. Trust Your Intuition

One of most important elements in keeping children safe is for the parent to trust their intuition. Young children have a limited ability to protect themselves, which means nature has imbued parents with a heightened sense of awareness around our children’s safety.

Our brain operates on two levels of thinking, ‘System 1’ and ‘System 2’. System 1 is conscious thinking, which focuses on big problems or the task at hand. This is backed up by ‘System 2’ thinking which operates in the background monitoring our environment, and thus is the type of thinking that often spots anomalies, behaviours which are out of place or situations that just don’t ‘feel right’. This shows up as a feeling of unease, intuition or gut feeling.

how to keep your children safe

If you feel something is wrong with your child or about the behaviour of someone around your child, take every step to find out more. Beware of disregarding this feeling: minimisation and excuse-making are the enemies of intuition. If you remain in any way in doubt, change something. If it’s a babysitter, change them, if it’s your child visiting another home, stop. Your child’s safety is too important for you to wait for proof that something is wrong. Remember, final proof may be harm to your child.

2. Understand and Recognise Predator Behaviour

Research has shown that predators who seek to abuse or harm children demonstrate a common set of behaviours. These behaviours include:


Beware if someone you have never met is too friendly too fast, inappropriately friendly, or ‘oversharing’ – too much detail can be an attempt to bypass your guard and build misplaced trust. This type of behaviour can be difficult to deal with as we are placed in situations where it feels awkward or even rude if we do not engage and that is exactly what the predator wants to achieve. Again, you must trust your intuition. If someone is behaving too familiar, too fast, you should discontinue the conversation and create distance. If your attempt to disentangle yourself from an ‘over-familiar’ conversation is met by attempts at persuasion, rudeness or aggression this should only confirm your gut feeling.

Forced Teaming

A classic predatory strategy is ‘forced teaming’, where the predator will attempt to manufacture a common problem or challenge where none really exists. This can be as simple as offering to help carry shopping or share a lift . The predator’s goal is to engage in a joint activity, creating a false sense of trust and to build rapport. The key to dealing with this is to recognise it for the manipulation it is and firmly decline to take part.

Ignoring ‘No’

It’s important to teach your child that one of the most important indicators of potential aggression is ignoring the word ‘no’. This is the last word a predator wants to hear as they attempt to manipulate the situation to their own end. Someone who fails to respect a ‘no’ is ignoring the ‘no’ because it does not serve them. This may lead to promises, attempts at negotiation or even anger.

The most important thing to understand is that when someone ignores a ‘no’ they are attempting to control and this should make one firmer in their resolve to leave the situation. If they think they are in the presence of someone capable of predatory behaviour, it is important that once they question the situation: moving to safety, should be top priority. This behaviour shows that they are fully aware of what is happening and may, in itself, deter the predator who may fear exposure and possible capture.

3. Privacy and Control

Privacy and control are required to harm a child. You should absolutely assure yourself that anyone who has this type of access to your children will not harm them. Get to know everyone who has access to your children, be it neighbours, schools or activity leaders. Fully check all references and claimed credentials. Don’t assume someone else has!

Communicate in detail with anyone who has responsibility for your child’s safety. Make sure they understand your expectations in how your child is cared for, ensure you understand and are satisfied with the vetting procedures and communication procedures in the event of an incident. Putting your willingness to communicate and help in ensuring your child’s safety as well your expectations of the carer in writing, is a powerful way to get your message across and ensure it you are taken seriously.

4. Train your children to be safe and listen to them

Teach your child the behaviours of predators. Make sure they know it’s okay to defy an adult if they feel the situation is wrong. Train them to go to a woman if lost, the simple fact is a woman is much more likely to stop everything and take care for the child and less likely to harm them. Listen to your children and monitor their behaviour. Make sure to pay attention to any unusual behaviour around specific individuals, places or events. Talk to them about always telling you if they feel something is strange or wrong and that they should tell you immediately. Train your child to shout ‘this is not my mam/dad’ if they are being carried away, otherwise onlookers may assume it’s just a child throwing a tantrum.

how to keep your children safe

As children grow older they will seek more independence and new experiences, this is natural. They will resist your instructions and perhaps be unhappy with some of your instructions and behaviours, but that is part of the job of being a parent You have more life experience and are more aware of the risks, as well as the evolutionary programming, to be obsessed with your children safety, that’s your job. Your children don’t have to like it, they just have to be safe.

Patrick’s 7 top tips on what parents should tell their kids

1. Always trust your instincts. If a situation feels wrong, leave and get to a safer place or person.

2. If you feel a person is being too friendly or pushy, clearly say no to what ever they are asking and leave!

3. Never go somewhere private with someone you don’t know or trust.

4. Adults very rarely need to ask children for help. If they do – this is often an attempt to manipulate.

5. Strangers should never ask children to keep secrets or threaten them. If you are ever told to keep a secret or threatened, tell a parent or trusted adult immediately.

6. If someone tries to take you somewhere, resist, shout and make sure passers-by know you do not know the person involved.

7. If you are in danger and you can escape, always escape, even if others can’t escape with you. Your job is to get help as quickly as possible: By escaping and getting help you expose the attacker to being caught and may well cause them to run.

Find out more about Patrick at

More you might like:

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Keeping kids safe from abuse
Helping your child to be street smart


Q. I’m would like to start an exercise programme that will benefit my emotional health as much as my physical health, but I don’t know which type of class would be best. Should I consider choosing from yoga, pilates, tai chi, or could you recommend a class, please?

A It’s great that you have decided to get into exercise. The benefits to you are going to be great. You’ll sleep better, have more energy, better skin, reduced stressed, not to mention all the amazing physical benefits of your clothes fitting better, and looking healthy, trim and toned! My advice to you would be to try them all. Even if some don’t offer pay-as-you-go sessions, if you get in touch directly with the instructor, they will almost always let you try it out first to see if it’s for you. All of the above things that you mentioned are great for mental health, so it really will be a personal preference as to which you go for. On top of the classes you mention, all forms of exercise will give you great mental rewards so consider the not so obvious interval training sessions, bootcamp, and circuits too, as you will also feel on top of the world after a class like that.


Ask Sarah

Q I’ve heard a lot about the Paleo diet and as I am very interested in reducing the amount of processed foods and grain based meals my family eats, we are considering following this diet. From what I read it seems to be a back-to-basics type of eating. Is a Paleo diet safe for children? My kids are aged seven and nine.

A The Paleo diet is one of the most fashionable diets around at the moment. It is also known as the ‘caveman diet’ and is based on cutting out processed foods, starchy foods like bread and potatoes and eating more meat, vegetables and fruit.
As fad diets go, it is not the worst but there are some good and bad sides to it. Reducing the amount of processed foods we eat is always a good idea and by doing that you will usually reduce the amount of fat, salt and sugar you eat, which is a good thing! The problem with the Paleo diet is that it also cuts out dairy (on the basis that cavemen didn’t drink milk) and this means that the diet is very low in calcium. For this reason it is really not suitable for children who do need a lot of calcium for growing bones. How did cavemen manage without dairy? They ate a lot more food than we do (up to 10,000 calories per day compared to the 2,000 most of us eat). By eating that amount of food they were able to pick up just enough calcium from green vegetables and seeds. To put it in perspective, you would need to eat 16 servings of broccoli a day to get all the calcium you need. This is easier to do if you eat 10,000 calories per day rather than 2,000.
The other problem with the paleo diet is that it is not entirely based in science. Many of the Paleo diets out there say you should not eat wheat, even though we know that cavemen did in fact eat wheat and other grains. These diets also don’t recommend that you eat blubber and the big lumps of fat that were also a large part of the caveman diet!
A final problem is that many Paleo diets encourage people to cut out beans and lentils and to get their protein from meat and fish instead. Many studies over the last few years are clear that eating too much animal protein is linked with more cancer and heart disease. Eating some vegetarian meals based on beans and lentils is a great way to get your protein without always going for meat.
Is this a diet we should follow? I think there is a lot we can learn from the Paleo diets. We could all do with eating less salt, sugar and processed foods and adding in more nuts and seeds as well as more vegetables. However, I think following a strict Paleo diet could lead to low levels of calcium and vitamin D and so it is not suitable for children or teens and adults would need to think about a calcium supplement.