Fifty Key Messages – How to teach my child about Stranger Danger

Q. In our area there was a concern that a strange man was approaching and talking to children at a local playground. The report was that he was trying to lure them away from the playground. The police were called and, though there was no one arrested they issued a general warning that we should all be careful in the local area and make sure to warn our children of the dangers from strangers and so on. My question is: how much you should talk to children about “stranger danger”. I have two girls aged six and eight and, generally, they are happy children. I have told them that they should only talk to people they know and that there are bad people out there. My older girl is a little bit of the anxious type and she tends to worry about things. She somehow picked up on the news about the playground and is now worried about going out. How much should I talk to her about things? I don’t want to scare her but I do want her to be safe.

A. Probably the greatest fear for any parent is that our children will come to some harm and we will not be able to protect them. The possibility of child abduction or harm from strangers is probably a worst nightmare for many parents. When such cases happen they are particularly tragic and draw a lot of media attention and sympathy from families. However, we should assess these risks realistically and put these fears in context. Though incidents of child abduction or harm from strangers receive a lot of media attention, they are remarkably rare events, particularly when compared with other dangers. For example, in the last 20 years in Ireland and the UK, there has only been a handful of child abductions, yet in the same time many thousands of children have been killed or seriously injured in road traffic incidents, either as pedestrians or passengers. In simple terms, this means that children are thousands of times more likely to be harmed on the road than to be abducted and harmed by a stranger.

Of course, it makes sense to warn children of risks and to take practical steps to keep them safe, but we must be sensible and address the main risks that they are really facing.

In your question you raise the important issue of not scaring children when you warn them of dangers. This is an important issue as “scare tactics” are not as effective as positive safety messages and can make sensitive children who are prone to being nervous scared of doing everyday things. While you do want to let children know of dangers, you need to counterbalance this with a more positive message of keeping safe. For example, rather than telling children that there are “bad people” out there who can harm you, it is better to emphasise a safety message such as they should never go anywhere or take anything from a stranger, or to remind them that “mummy and daddy will only send someone they know to collect you” or that they should never go anywhere different without asking mummy or daddy first.

In addition, simple vigilance as a parent will make the most difference in ensuring young children’s safety. Knowing where they are at all times, making sure they are with trusted adults and children, making sure to collect them at agreed times, having rules about being in at a certain time and so on, are all parenting habits that will keep young children safe.

While most children have a natural shyness from strangers, some children are more impulsive and can have little natural fear of danger, especially when they are younger. As a result, these children can be more likely to “wander off” or “go off with anyone” and could therefore be at more risk. As a result these children need much more parental supervision, as well as frequent warnings of danger and constant reminders of keeping safe. Luckily, many of these impulsive traits can fade as they get older and they can take on parents’ warnings.

On the other hand, it is important to adopt a different approach with a child who is more naturally nervous or anxious, like your older daughter. Spending too much time reminding of them of danger may overwhelm them with anxiety and may be unnecessary as their natural fears would mean they are going to stay away from strangers anyway. In this situation, it may be more effective to talk through the issues in a more balanced way with your daughter. First, listen carefully to what she knows already about what happened and what her fears are. If she says she is nervous about going out, remind her of all the safety strategies she is taking such as staying with friends, coming in on time, as well as all the steps she could take if she felt in danger such as walking away, contacting you, going to someone trustworthy such as a teacher and so on. Finally, a core part of the school curriculum is teaching children about road and personal safety. Check in with your children’s school about the issue and when they are teaching the subject to your children – this is a good time for you to talk through the issue at home as well. In particular, the Stay Safe programme is taught throughout schools in Ireland and this teaches children in an age-appropriate way about protecting themselves from bullying child abuse and victimisation – the key message being “saying no and telling someone”. The Stay Safe website at describes the programme and there is an excellent free guide for parents that describes in very practical terms how you can keep your own children safe.

John Sharry, Irish Times Newspaper, June 26th 2012.

Source: Solution Talk

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Fifty Key Messages – Tips for your child on the internet

(From Tusla’s parenting24seven website)

You can help your child get the benefits of using the internet while avoiding some of the risks. Here are some guidelines for keeping your child safe on the internet:

Be informed and ‘net-savvy’

The best safeguard against online dangers is being informed and familiar with the internet. Often children know more about new technology than adults so it’s important you know your way around the internet and then you can help children protect themselves from various internet dangers.


Keep the computer in a busy part of the house, where the screen can always be seen. Let the children know that their activities on the computer will be supervised.

Helping Children Use Computers

Use the Internet with your child. Let them lead but stay with them until you are sure they using it appropriately. You can also check your Internet browser history to make sure they have been accessing suitable sites.

Keep an open dialogue

Keep the communication lines open and cultivate an interest in children’s online activities—their favourite Web sites, online games and interests, and discuss what they are doing. Talk to your children about the benefits and dangers of the Internet and don’t be afraid to ask who they are talking to online and what they are talking about. Tell your child always to let you know if an online ‘friend’ they don’t know in real life wants to meet them.

Agree on a game plan / rules of use

Discuss computer guidelines and rules for using the internet with the children. Post a print out of these rules near the computer as a reminder.

Possible issues to include in these guidelines are:
  • Duration of use – time allowed on the computer
  • Sites allowed to access
  • Always tell an adult if they have received scary, inappropriate or threatening messages.
  • Never share personal information on the Internet such as your name, address, telephone number, school name etc without your parents/carer’s permission. Never send pictures of your family, friends or yourself to anyone online without permission either.
  • Be aware of the potential dangers online – adults pretending to be children; business companies wanting mobile information to take money off your phone; dangerous people; spam emails that can spread a virus in your computer and access personal and banking information.
  • Do not open emails from people you don’t know.
  • Never agree to meet people that you have met online and inform parents/ guardians if people ask to meet you in person.

InternetSafety is one website that has an example of a Family Game Plan that you can use.

Protect your computer

Take advantage of the software that exists to help parents manage their children’s computer experience. In only a few minutes, parental control software such as Magic Desktop or Safe Eyes can block inappropriate websites, restrict the amount of time that your kids use the Internet, and monitor their Instant Messenger chats to protect against predators.

Mobile phones

Mobile phones can also access the Internet these days and the above rules/gameplan need to be applied if your child has access to the internet through their phone. If your child is sent inappropriate material, pictures or texts on their phone they need to let a parent/ supervising adult know. Again it is vital that the lines of communication are kept open so that you know what messages your child is sending and receiving.


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Fifty Key Messages – Is your child affected by bullying?

(From Tusla’s parenting24seven website – link below)

Bullying is the repeated abuse of a child by one or several other children or adults. Incidences of bullying need to be taken very seriously. Your child will need lots of support if they are being bullied or if they have been accused of bullying themselves.

1. Look out for signs that your child is being affected by bullying, for example:

  • Being withdrawn
  • Not sleeping
  • Not eating
  • Not wanting to play with their friends
  • Being more ‘clingy’ than usual
  • Overly anxious

2. Tell your child you will take action in relation to the bullying.

3. If the bullying is happening at school, talk to the teacher and ask to see the policies and protocols that apply to bullying.

4. Ensure that there is a plan put in place to manage the bullying situation. Keep in touch regularly with the school and keep your child informed.

See also:

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Fifty Key Messages – Top six ways to be a positive parent


CRISPS is an activity from the Lifestart Foundation Spirals Programme, see

C. Be Consistent and avoid idle threats

Follow through on what you say and don’t change the ‘rules’ from day to day. Make sure all the people who are involved in caring for your child (partners, childminders, grandparents etc.) agree on what’s allowed. Apply the 80/20 rule. At least try and be consistent 80% of the time!

R. Reward desirable behaviour

Reward good behaviour rather than only punishing undesirable behaviour. Positive parenting should be more about learning and rewarding good behaviour, than punishing poor behaviour.

Sample Rewards :

  • Hugs, playing favourite game, story, gold star
  • AVOID – something that has been bought, something to eat

Remember children need attention – they will be more likely to repeat whatever they get the most attention doing! Attention when they have done something good is a lot more effective than giving them attention when they have done something not so good.

I. Be genuinely interested in what your child is saying, doing, thinking and feeling

S. Provide Structure

Structure your day: 
Dressing time, mealtime, bedtime. Younger children love routine, so try and provide as much structure in their day as possible.

Structure your home:
“Places & Spaces”: Provide accessible places for things that your child needs like their books, games and toys. It’s great if you have room to let your child have some special space – for example, an area of the garden when they are younger or a corner of a room or ‘den’ when they are older.

Structure activities: 
Plan, Explain, Do and Review. Involve your child, where possible, in your plans for the day giving explanations if necessary. When the activities are finished it’s good to share the experience, talking about some of the funny things that have happened.

P. Be Positive

Do say: “Walk to the table”
Don’t say: “Stop Running”

S. Be Specific

Do say: “You can play with your cars on the floor”
Don’t say: “Stop messing”

Other things you can do to be a positive parent:

Look out for the positive things that your child does around the home and comment on them. “Well done Kyle for putting those toys back in the crate”.
See Barnardos Positive Parenting Booklet:

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Fifty Key Messages – How can I encourage healthy eating?

Q. I know what my children should be eating, but my question is how do you actually get them to eat healthy foods? I have two boys aged two and five and though they are not the worst in what they eat, there is still a lot to be desired. For example, my five year old almost never eats the dinners we have as adults and his diet is restricted to mainly eating pasta and bread. He hates food that has ‘bits’ in it and will spit out anything he does not like. He does have the occasional apple (and this is the only fruit or vegetable he eats) and luckily he eats porridge in the morning with me. But apart from that he won’t eat any new foods I give him and it often ends up in a row. I would love him to eat more vegetables and to have dinners with us. What can we do?

A. Fostering healthy eating choices in children is a long-term project that can be marked by setbacks and frustrations. Frequently, young children can have a very limited range of preferred foods compared with adults. Like your own son, many children resist eating family dinners and instead want to eat only the foods they are familiar with – this is understandably frustrating for you as a parent. The good news is that there is a lot you can do as a parent to gradually expand a child’s food repertoire, though it does take patience and persistence.

Tune into your child’s eating habits and preferences

The first step is to observe closely and make an inventory of the amounts and types of foods your son eats. Frequently, although it might be restricted to certain foods, some children can have a relatively balanced and healthy diet that covers most of the food groups. As you describe, your son does currently eat a lot of healthy foods (such as apples, pasta and porridge). Secondly, it is important to try to understand the source of your child’s resistance to eating certain foods. Some children are averse to certain flavours or tastes but frequently children can be very sensitive to other aspects of food such as the texture, size, consistency and temperature. This may be the case with your son as he does not like the “bits” in some food. In addition, if a child has had a bad experience with a certain food, when they gagged or spat it out, this gives them negative associations that make it hard to try the food again.

Introduce new foods gradually to your son

The key to making progress is to start with food that your son likes and then to gradually expand these out to include new foods. Be extremely patient and positive when you introduce new foods and make sure to go at your son’s pace. You might expect him to tolerate only a small portion on his plate, before he smells it or tastes it (without putting it fully in his mouth), and so on. Though it is really hard, try to always be encouraging, positive and upbeat. The temptation is to criticise, cajole or even to force a child to eat but these are counter-productive strategies that can set you back (and can even invoke a “gag” response in your child). Instead, always focus on what your son is doing right, “you had a taste of that – well done” or to gently encourage him “well done, only one spoon to go”. Sometimes it is best not to mention the food at all and chat about other things as you eat. As he is five years old, it can be helpful to use rewards with him. For example, if he tries a new food (even one pea) he gets a star on a chart – the key thing is to get his co-operation rather than be fighting with him. Appreciate his efforts when he tries new foods and encourage him all the way.

Try to agree with your son about trying new foods

One advantage of him being five rather than a toddler is that you can reason with him and get his agreement and co-operation around healthy eating. Sit down with him at a good time and explain how important it is for him to eat nutritiously and how you only encourage him because you love him – you wouldn’t be a good parent if you didn’t. Listen carefully to his objections and preferences. Make a list of all the foods he knows and categorise them into “those he loves”, “those he thinks are okay” and “those he doesn’t like at the moment”. It can help to adopt an educational approach and even to fit in with what he is learning in school. For example, when his school is discussing the food pyramid, get him to select a couple of foods he likes from each level of the pyramid. Or when he is learning the importance of eating a “rainbow” of fruit and vegetables for better health, set him the challenge of eating a food from all the colours of the rainbow in one week.

Take the long-term view

When dealing with fussy eating, it is important to put things into perspective. The vast majority of children with restricted diets tend to grow up healthily and well. In the long term, fussy eating tends to fade and children change their eating habits at different developmental points (often influenced by peer groups when they start school or become adolescents). The key is to continue to gently encourage healthy eating choices while remaining patient and keeping things in perspective.

John Sharry, Irish Times Newspaper, November 19th 2013.

Source: Solution Talk

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Fifty Key Messages – Fun recipes to make together

(From Tusla’s Parenting24Seven website)

Check out some easy snacks to make with your child, Brown bread ice cream, sweet potato crisps and chunky oatmeal drops.

Remember these are treats so a little every now and then!

Brown bread ice cream

(Suitable for vegetarians) 

This ice-cream is a novel way of including wholegrain into your kid’s diet and giving them a treat too!


110g / 4 oz. of wholemeal breadcrumbs
110g / 4 oz. of dark brown sugar
2 medium eggs
290ml / ½ pint of double cream
150ml / 5½ fl oz. of single cream
2 drops of vanilla essence


  1. Preheat the oven to 200°C / 400°F / Gas mark 6
  2. Leave the breadcrumbs to dry out in the oven for around 15 minutes or so.
  3. Mix the sugar in with the breadcrumbs and bring back to the oven for another 15 minutes.
  4. Remove from the oven, allow the mix to cool.
  5. Crush the sweetened crumbs together with the back of a spoon.
  6. Separate the egg yolks from the whites.
  7. Beat the yolks and mix in with the cream and the crumb mix.
  8. Whisk the egg whites until they are slightly stiff.
  9. Fold the whites into the mix and freeze in an airtight plastic container

Serving Suggestions

Serve with some fresh or tinned fruit like strawberries or raspberries.

Disclaimer Click here for more details

Sweet potato crisps

(suitable for vegetarians)

Kids will love these and they make a great alternative to crisps for a Halloween party!


500g / 17½ oz. of sweet potatoes
2 tablespoons of vegetable oil


  1. Preheat oven to 180°C / 350°F / Gas mark 4.
  2. Peel a sweet potato and cut into very thin slices using a potato slicer or a sharp knife.
  3. Put the sweet potato slices in a bowl and add two tablespoons of vegetable oil.
  4. Get those little hands to mix the sweet potato slices and vegetable oil.
  5. Put tin-foil on the bottom of a baking tray and lay the sweet potato slices out on it.
  6. Roast in oven for 10 to 15 minutes until crispy and then serve

Serving Suggestions

Serve hot or cold. Add more flavour to your crisps by lightly sprinkling them with spices before placing in the oven.

Disclaimer Click here for more details

Chunky oatmeal drops

(Suitable for vegetarians)

These cookies contain no added sugar as the sweetness comes from all the fruit! They also contain lots of whole-grains that release their energy slowly.


180g / 6 oz. of oat flour
40g / 1.5 oz. of oats
30g / 1 oz. of whole wheat flour
65g / 2.5 oz. of pineapple juice
1½ teaspoon of baking powder
1 teaspoon of salt
60g / 2 oz. of chopped walnuts
75g / 2.5 oz. of sultanas
2 tablespoons of water
1 teaspoon of vanilla essence
85g / 3 oz. of honey
165g / 8 oz. can of pineapple chunks, in own juice


  1. Preheat oven to 180ºC / 350ºF / Gas Mark 4.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, blend all the dry ingredients.
  3. In a separate bowl combine water, vanilla essence, honey and pineapple.
  4. Pour into the dry ingredients and stir.  Place spoonful’s onto a greased baking sheet.
  5. Cook for 10 to 12 minutes.
  6. Allow to cool on a wire rack

Serving Suggestions

This recipe works great with any type of fruit, dried or fresh, simply chop it up finely and add to the wet mixture before baking. Share these with friends to stop from munching on too many! Store in an airtight container.

Disclaimer Click here for more details

Source:  Safefood 

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Fifty Key Messages – Tips for a healthy diet for you and your child

(From Tusla’ s parenting24seven website)

Children form their eating habits from a young age, therefore, it is important to guide them in the right direction and give them an understanding of a balanced nutritional diet mixed with an active lifestyle.

There are many different websites and publications that can help you choose the best types of food for your child. But, there are a few things to remember:

  • A healthy balanced diet is important to ensure your child grows and develops to their full potential;
  • Healthy diets balanced with fun activities help strengthen their bones and muscles. It also helps brain development;
  • Make meals a family occasion where you all sit down and have a chat;
  • Try a variety of different food types, you would be surprised what your child likes;
  • Encourage your child to become involved in food preparation, this will support an interest in food as well as providing an opportunity to spend some time with your child;
  • Try and have a mix of vegetables, dairy, fruit and carbohydrates (like potatoes, pasta, etc.);
  • Avoid fast food and food high in sugar and fats;
  • Children should do at least 60 minutes of exercise a day and it doesn’t have to be done all at once;
  • Make exercise fun and join in where you can… it will help you too.
  • Do not force a particular food on a child, this will result in them never eating it and will probably make them ‘go off’ eating other food;
  • Children do not need the same amount of food as adults;
  • Try and limit the amount of treats given, treats should NOT be offered as a reward;
  • Offer water instead of fizzy drinks.

For more information, please click on the links below:,-Diet-and-Health/Life-Stages.aspx

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Fifty Key Messages: Baby see, Baby do when it comes to eating

Teaching your child how to eat properly

From the Tusla Parenting24Seven website

When showing your child how to hold a spoon – get close to your child, and hold a spoon in your hand. Do the same with a glass and cup.

Allow your child to feed themselves, even if they miss their mouth.

Sit and eat with your child, let them see how you use cutlery, glasses and cups. It is important to let children of this age to explore textures – e.g. cutlery and food.

50 Key Messages Staying safe at home for 0 – 5 year olds

Staying safe at home

Taken from the Tusla Parenting24Seven website

Things you can do to keep your child safe:

Childproof your home.

This is especially important when your child is learning to walk and becoming more mobile.

Safety in the Kitchen and Living room:


  • Be careful with hot drinks – a cup of tea or coffee (with milk) spilling over a baby or young child can result in severe scalds 15 minutes after the drink has been made.
  • Never heat your baby’s bottle in the microwave: the milk can be heated unevenly and could scald your baby’s mouth. Reheat in a bowl of warm water.
  • Reduce the temperature setting of water heaters and/or install thermostatic mixing valves on individual taps.


  • Young children have small airways, when means that it doesn’t take much to block their windpipe which carries air to their lungs.
  • Always supervise your children when they are playing. Watch out for older children sharing unsuitable objects with your younger child.
  • Ensure that any food that young children are eating are small bite size pieces to avoid choking.

Safety in the Bathroom:


Babies can drown in just a few centimetres of water – very quickly and without noise or struggle. They need constant supervision when around water so make sure they are never left alone while bathing – not even for a few seconds.

Medicine and Poisons:

Store all medicines in child proof containers and well out of the reach of children. All medicines are potentially harmful to children.
See also

Driveways and Gardens

  • Young children are especially at risk in driveways and carparks. They don’t yet realise how dangerous cars and bikes are and can get highly absorbed in whatever they are doing including chasing a ball behind a car!
  • Always hold your child’s hand near cars, even in your own driveway. Explain why it is important that they hold your hand.
  • Check and double-check where your child is before you reverse your vehicle. Reversing drivers find it very difficult to see small children behind their cars.
  • Children should always be supervised when using outdoor play equipment.

* information taken from Lifestart Foundation Keep Safe Programme and HSE Child Safety Awareness Programme (CSAP)