The most challenging child safety problems

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

Kids have headed back to school and parents everywhere are about to be confronted with a wild new set of fears and mind-boggling situations that they may not feel properly equipped to handle.

What is the best thing to say to your children about swine flu? Unemployed parents? Money problems? Cell phones? What about rampant sexuality on TV and elsewhere?

A new book by seven top family parenting experts, Parenting by Strengths, helps parents cope with the most challenging situations. Here are some of the ideas they offer to guide the conversations with your children on the topics of the day.

Swine flu: With the ever-present media coverage and aggressive prevention at school, children will be coming home worried and confused about the risk of illness. Talk with them and let them open up and express their concerns.

Ask them about what they are worried about specifically. Then teach them about the different types of flu and tell them specifically what precautions the school and your family are taking to be safe. Make a game of washing hands, keeping things cleaner than ever, keeping healthy and working as a team.

Be sure kids are equipped with a hand sanitizer and that they use it frequently. Tell them not to share foods and drinks, especially with friends who are sick. Without nagging and with a bit of humor, review the importance of staying healthy with good eating, hygiene and sleeping habits.

Job loss and money problems: Tell the truth. Tell your kids that there won't be as many presents this holiday season. Tell them that your family budget is really strained right now. The key is to reassure them that you love them, that your family is safe and that their basic needs will be met. Everyone can chip in to cut down on costs.

When framed in a positive way, this is an opportunity to teach your children how to save money and spend wisely. Have your kids make gifts, teach them how to shop clearance aisles first, go to second-hand or dollar stores, do product comparisons, shop from a list to avoid impulse buys, and use coupon sites. [ editor's note: We like]

Limit TV and cell phones for school success: Get with it! Today's technology is ever-changing and never will be as innate to us parents as it is to our children. Nonetheless, it is crucial for parents to be aware and stay informed about what children are watching on TV, the music they listen to, and how they use the Internet and cell phones. Create a set of rules that identify proper use and the consequences of improper use. Go over the rules and get the child to sign on the dotted line.

Take control! Look over your TV channels and your computers and use your power to block unwanted channels and Internet sites from your children's use. There are many tools available to help. It's perfectly reasonable to set limits around cell phone and TV use. Have a basket in the kitchen where the cell phone is "checked in." During homework time, meal time, family activities and bedtime, the cell phone is checked in to avoid distractions. You also should model this behavior unless your work requires that you be reachable 24/7. If your child's grades are bad enough, you can also keep the cell phone Monday through Friday until the child's grades improve.

Be savvy! Don't assume other parents have the same rules you do -- share your limits before your child plays at another child's home.

Sexy Halloween costumes: Children need reliable, accurate information from trusted adults to handle the messages about sexuality they receive on a daily basis from media sources and peers. For parents with young girls, especially, Halloween can mean going through racks of costumes with short skirts, bare midriffs, and laced up heels. Use these teachable moments to discuss your values and limits around costumes.

For older children, talk about how companies use sex to sell products. It's important to talk with kids about all aspects of sexuality -- the positives, the marketing, and how to avoid abuse. Keep the conversation and lines of communication open. Teach your values, and give your children reliable, accurate information about the many ways sexuality messages enter their lives.