I’d like to ask you to do something we all dread, but please indulge me. Sit back for a minute and vividly imagine the sickening remorse you would feel if your child looked to you in an emergency, and you froze or panicked.
The fear of being unprepared during a crisis has literally kept me up at night, and I know I’m not alone.
Next, visualize a situation in which you apply safety know-how to save your child from injury-or worse. Envision the peace of mind that comes with being prepared. Having some trouble painting this mental picture? I want to help you.
I’m an unbelievably lucky husband, and the proud father of a funny, energetic four-year-old boy and his sassy 22-month-old sidekick of a sister. My kids, along with their mom, drive my overarching purpose in life: To protect my family and keep it happy.
For the past 10 years, I have been very pleased and fortunate to make a living by helping to protect dignitaries, my colleagues and their families. The primary goals in my life, at work and at home, have some overlapping similarities. My job, as a professional and a dad, is to sensibly minimize the risk of danger to the people I care about through:
• Prevention: Studying risks and how to reduce their likelihood.
• Detection: Recognizing hazards as they develop.
• Reaction: Responding appropriately.
Whether that means protecting colleagues from danger overseas, or keeping my family safe at home in northern Virginia, a protective mindset pervades my life and colors how I address the risks to my family’s security.
Let me be very upfront and transparent: I am not some self-proclaimed child safety guru. Far from it. Before I could ever prevent, detect and react to child safety risks, I first had to get smart. As I quickly found out, I had a lot to learn.
I based my self-education on the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s statistics on accidental child deaths, which show suffocation, drowning and motor vehicle accidents as the major causes. Falls, burns, vehicle accidents and poisoning ranked highest as causes of accidental, but nonfatal, injuries.
I suppose I could have stopped there, but I kept on and also studied dozens of other risk topics such as abduction, car seats, fire prevention, household hazards and travel safety. And that’s just for starters. As I type this, I am learning about the perils of alcohol and drug abuse, bullying, driving, exploitation, internet and sports injuries, to name a few.
The author Napoleon Hill wrote: “Knowledge is not power; it is only potential power that becomes real through use.” The same can be said about risks to your kids’ safety; being able to apply your knowledge is what counts, and having a risk assessment process in place has led me to consistent results.
After my son was born, and later my daughter, I soon found myself relying on a process that I call the Four A’s of Child Safety:
• Awareness: Be vigilant and conscious of your kids’ surroundings.
• Anticipation: Try to stay ‘one step ahead’ by predicting kids’ actions.
• Assessment: Quickly weigh an activity’s likely benefits against the possibility of a worst-case outcome.
• Action: Be in a position to act decisively, because serious accidents can happen in the blink of an eye.
Make no mistakes about it: This process takes time and effort. However, like most worthwhile habits, through repetition I adapted it to how I approach my kids’ many activities. The Four A’s of Child Safety give me the power to permissively say ‘yes’ more often than reflexively saying ‘no’.
This process isn’t perfect, because it’s impossible to be everywhere and predict everything. There is no such thing as zero-defect parenting. Nevertheless, I rely on the process and a protective mindset to help shield my kids from the really bad stuff out there.
THE PROTECTIVE MINDSET
The essence of the protective mindset is a holistic understanding of the hazards our kids face. This awareness generates a frame of reference, which allows me to better assess likely risks and narrow my focus on protective versus over-protective parenting.
You see, I am a proudly protective, but not over-protective, dad. In no way do I endorse ‘helicopter parenting’ by hovering over your kids or worrying yourself sick about worst-case scenarios. I understand and appreciate the positive effects that living and playing freely in a permissive environment has on my kids’ physical and emotional health. My wife and I are committed to raising strong, confident and independent human beings.
However, that doesn’t stop me from continually assessing their risk of suffering serious harm. In the U.S. alone, 12,000 children die preventable deaths every year, and kids will be rushed to emergency rooms 9,000,000 times. Only the lucky ones will recover fully. That’s why I do what I can-without ‘hovering’-to keep my kids from becoming one of these sad statistics. Aside from being a great husband, it’s my priority in life. Period. Full stop.
Some critics might argue that being even moderately safety-conscious can negatively affect your children’s self-esteem, confidence and appetite for risk-taking. This may be true in some cases, but I would rather hope for the best while I mentally prepare for the worst than gamble on chance or ‘fate’. My kids deserve that much. All kids do.