For #familystoriesmonth, I posted about your family story last week. I touched on family rituals which help bond a family around expected, delightful traditions. Today, I’d like to share some thoughts on keeping our family unified under less enjoyable circumstances. Recently, I spoke at the Parenting: Unconference in Abu Dhabi and found these tips were well received. Most parents had never created a safety plan for their families, so I thought it’d be worth asking today: Does your family have a safety plan?

First, the basics.

  1. Do you have an evacuation plan? Do kids know where to go in case of fire?
  2. Is there a first aid kit readily accessible in the house and do the kids know where to find it?
  3. Is there a working fire extinguisher and does everyone know how to use it?
  4. Has the family listed emergency contacts where everyone can view them? And are the contacts aware they’re listed and prepared to help in case of emergency?
  5. Are there flashlights by the kids’ beds, in case the power goes out?

Next, the safe word.

We’ve all been on a raucous playground, where the parents are trying to squeeze in a proper conversation over the din. Kids are screaming with joy (and the occasional scrape), and at least five kids are shouting, “Mom!”

Maybe it’s “Mom, look at me!” or “Mom, can you get my shoe?”… Or possibly, it’s, “Mom, help!”

family safety safe word

How might we help our kids break through the audio clutter to capture our attention when they really need it? Agree on a family safe word that: 1) only your family knows, 2) is not normally used on a daily basis. This way, in the midst of playground chaos or grocery store mayhem, your kids can immediately get your attention if they’re in danger. We’ve had one with Laini since she was able to speak, and thank God she’s never had to use it!

Then, the teenager’s “safe word.”

As kids get older, they may find themselves in socially compromising situations. The boyfriend is being too aggressive… the party’s getting out of control… a friend just pulled out a baggie. Your kid may not want to text “Mom, come get me” because friends might see and make fun of them.

So, arm your teen with a phrase they can text you, which means “Please get me out of here.” Agree on the phrase, which: 1) only your family knows, 2) is not normally used on a daily basis.

family safety teen safe text

Last, create space for dialogue.

Kids may have something they want to tell you, but they can’t find the window. They may not know how to initiate a difficult discussion, or signal that something is wrong.

So, parents can establish and normalize a way for children to open and hold difficult dialogue. Our family defined the construct for our family meeting years ago and my husband and I “run water though the pipes” every so often, to keep the window top of mind. It’s nothing fancy.

Here’s how it works: one of us calls a family meeting and lights a candle. We agree to sit and talk until the one who initiated the meeting blows out the candle. This sets the expectation that we will hold a calm discussion, that every voice matters, and that we will dialogue productively until we reach closure.

chang family meeting

We’ve held family meetings over new job offers and possible relocations, Laini’s allowance increase, vacation plans, and when it was time to put down our beloved Puffin. The family meeting has worked well for us, but it’s no magic formula. The key is to let our kids know that there’s a channel for the heavier conversations. And that their voice matters, and they’re seen as a valued, contributing member of the family.

What are some of your family safety habits and practices?