Child safety

Time Out Kids looks at ways to teach our kids, and ourselves, how to keep safe

Child safety


1. Kathryn Heslop
A New Zealander mum of three, Kathryn has worked as a social worker before moving to Dubai almost four years ago.

2. Cecilia Caraballo
Cecilia recently moved to Dubai from Tokyo with her husband and two children. She has been working in relocation.

3. Suzanne Sultan Summerhill
A writer who explores lots of different issues affecting children through her Bug Buddy book series.

4. Dr. Rania Hawayek
A paediatrician with Infinity Clinic, Dr. Hawayek has practised in the UK as well as Dubai. She is a mum of three.

5. Emer O'Doherty
Time Out Kids staff writer and Irish mum of two.

6. Carolyne Allmark
Time Out Kids staff writer and English mum of two girls.

7. Samina Khanyari
General manager of Jumeirah International Nurseries who has worked for more than a decade in early years education.

8. Dr. Sarah Rasmi
Canadian psychologist and professor with a passion for supporting families, Dr. Rasmi works with parents across a range of family, relationship and wellbeing issues.

9. David Williams
Head of Early years and KS1 at Regent International school with a wealth of experience with young people both in the UK and the UAE.

10. Andalene Salvesen
The UAE’s supergranny, a parent coach and founder of Munchkins, Salvesen has extensive experience in empowering parents to be the best they can be.

Emer O’Doherty: Recently, one of the national newspapers ran a story about a little girl who had been accosted by a stranger in a popular community in Dubai. There was hysteria on many social media forums, as parents felt very anxious. So, it got us thinking, although we often perceive the UAE to be super-safe and we let our children run a little bit freer because there is relatively little crime, in reality how safe are our children?

Suzanne Summerill Sultan: I don’t think it’s any safer than anywhere else in the world. It’s just like any other place and we have to be careful.

Cecelia Caraballo: Coming from Tokyo, I feel I’m not safe anywhere, being so safe there. My husband is even more worried than me. My son is at that age where he doesn’t want to go with me to the ladies’ room, wants to go by himself. Once or twice we’ve let him go by himself and recently my husband couldn’t go with him because he was with my daughter and he heard that a man was talking to my son. He got really worried and he went in and told the guy you don’t talk to a kid in the restroom because it’s suspicious.

Emer: How can you teach your children about stranger danger without scaring them?

Andalene Salvesen: My forte is discipline and getting children to listen and stay with parents. If we tell our kids don’t talk to strangers then who am I? I’m a stranger, your teacher is a stranger. I thought a good term to use instead would be to say “tricky people”,
so we differentiate between a stranger and a tricky person.

Emer: So, what is a tricky person and what do they do?

Andalene: An adult should never need to ask a child for help, tricky people do. Tricky people ask you to keep secrets. I encourage parents never to say to a child to keep a secret. Nobody is allowed to keep a secret – we have surprises – so differentiate between those two things. Tricky people try to trick you into doing things. They will try to trick you to come to the car. The tricky people don’t know your family word. So, you can ask that person ‘Do you know our family word?’ Tricky people want you to go with them and not with your parents, that’s another point to give them. The other thing is that tricky people make your body react – so we call it early warning signals. There are a lot of early warning signals for older children and they can listen to their bodies and think, ‘That person makes me sweat, that person makes my hand shake, that person makes my knees shake, that person makes me feel like I want to run’. They need to recognise those early warning signals and think, ‘My body is telling me something, what is it?’

David Williams: These elements can start from three to four years old. The key is that we need to empower children to be confident and teach them about these elements at the age of three and four, otherwise they aren’t going to be confident enough to assert themselves when they are ten and 11 and they aren’t going to be in a position to say ‘no’, and that’s so important.

Carolyne Allmark: How do you do that?

David: [The UAE] is pretty good at looking at children’s happiness and wellbeing. At school we get children to put an emphasis on their own character strengths and make sure they’re aware of what they can do with their personalities so they are strong and confident individuals and that goes through lessons and giving them independence in classrooms and around the school. For example, we’ve got a pizza shop in the classroom at the age of three and four. They go out into the environment and ask people in the school what they want to order for the pizza. This gives them the opportunity to interact with different varieties of people because, of course, if you haven’t then you’re not going to know who the tricky people are. You are not going to have come across enough people without mum and dad by your side. So, they’re heavily supervised in these exploratory learning lessons but it’s about giving them those experiences.

Samina Khanyari: In the nurseries as well, where children are two and three, there’s not an understanding of tricky people because everyone’s a stranger to them. We need to empower them at that age and give them the self esteem for them to use the word ‘no’. They should be comfortable to say no and use these words and believe in themselves. It’s okay to say no to their friends and other people if that’s what you want to say. Parents don’t have the same safety barrier here for some reason. People will leave their children in the car to run in and grab something in the supermarket or they allow them to go wandering off in aisles.

David: There are still threats in the UAE, just like there are in any country. Parents are used to the UK, where you are constantly reminded of a threat and then you come here and it’s not so apparent, so you become more relaxed.

Dr. Rania Hawayek: When I was in the UK, this topic was much more front-line. It’s spoken about in schools and everywhere whereas over here it’s less so, so parents don’t realise when the right time is to begin to think about it or mention it to their children. And when this comes up in a clinical situation, and a child has been molested, they might feel like they’ve failed because they think, ‘I’ve never spoken to my child about who tricky people are, I never thought to give my child the tools to say no.’

Cecelia: Children are expected to go to school by themselves at the age of six in Japan. They have their train cards and they take the train. In Japan, children are encouraged to talk to strangers and trust them because they will help them if they get lost and here is quite the opposite and my children are a little bit scared because the first thing I said was, ‘Now it’s the opposite.’

Kathryn Heslop: I would say New Zealand is not as safe as here and there are certain places that are safer than others. I think it’s important to give kids empowerment and confidence. My son is eight years old and he wants to be more independent now and I actually think it’s good to give them confidence within a controlled environment and within boundaries. So, when he wants to go to the bathroom alone he won’t know that I’m hovering outside – he’s increasing his confidence and I know he’s safe.

Dr. Sarah Rasmi: We also have to teach children to trust their instincts. The statistics show that the perpetrators of physical and sexual assault are people that the children know. Children need to know that they have the power to say no and when something doesn’t feel right. If it’s by someone they perceive as a safe person, then they should trust those instincts and feel confident to say no and come and tell us. We need to make sure that when our kids come and tell us something, even when it’s something we don’t like or something that takes us aback, to just stop and collect ourselves for a moment because we have that reaction which deters them from talking to us again. It’s really important that they pay attention to their body. We have these physiological responses for a reason, it’s called fight or flight for a reason.

Cecelia: We also need to be aware of older children. For example, at a sleepover, the older brother of their friends trying to touch them, because these things happen. It’s not just strangers or family members, it’s other children as well.

Carolyne: Lots of children go on sleepovers very young here in the UAE. I wonder if it’s because here there isn’t as much family so your friends really become like your family and you trust them very quickly. The whole thing baffles me, I don’t understand why people are in such a rush to let their kids sleep over.

David: Each country has different threats. The sleepover thing is definitely alien in the UK, whereas you have four and five-year-olds giving out sleepover party invites here. But then yesterday there was a boy on his scooter going to get something from the shop and I thought it looked really odd, but in the UK kids go to the shop by themselves all the time.

Rania: People assume the people they know are trustworthy. But strangers are strangers and over here stranger danger isn’t seen as such a big deal as in other places.

Carolyne: Psychologically, how much detail should we go into with our children as to what can happen to them?

Sarah: Use role plays so they can practise before they use the public toilet alone. What would you do if someone came into the cubicle? What would you say? Staying away from the fear message is important because they don’t fear most of the perpetrators because the perpetrators are familiar to them.

Andalene: Have a five-point plan of five people in their circle that they can trust and they can turn to and that will listen to them.

Samina: If somebody touches you in a way you don’t like or think is inappropriate, what do you do? You tell them to yell, to scream, and to run, and to go to find somebody. I read an article where the writer said to do eagle claws and monster teeth and bite and show you’re cross. And show your children the safe people, such as teachers, police etc. As a parent we have a responsibility to identify those key people in the community and identify them to our children.

Rania: Let’s say it’s happened, and the child feels ashamed that it happened and think that it’s their fault. How do you get them to talk to you? How do I remain the mother that my daughter can come to me without being scared. How do parents do that, maintain a position of authority but be the person your children turn to?

Sarah: Communication is key across the board, talking to them and then listening to them. You’re important to me, you matter, I’m listening, and by doing that in your daily life you’re creating a sacred space for them to approach you if something does go wrong. Focus on the things that are important and become that safe haven for them.

Andelene: Parents will tell me they just don’t have time and I encourage them to stagger their bed times to make sure they children go to bed 15 minutes after each other. That way you get 15 minutes alone with each child every day to open up. Then you’ve got a moment to say you’re special to me and give them the opportunity to speak to you.

Suzanne: Stories are a great tool. There are morals at the end of all of my stories which help the storyteller relate the content to real-life situations. As you read the moral you will expand on that with your child.

David: There’s a massive problem with stereotypes. Back in the UK I dealt with so many social services cases and I have to say it’s a 50/50 split – it’s not just men. If we are going to deal with strangers and safe people there has to be both. Children aren’t born with these stereotypes, we’ve got to teach them the breadth and about inclusivity, not giving them a label to run with.

Kathryn: I used to work with young women who had been sexually abused and in every case shame is a huge part of the problem. We need to discipline the behaviour but not the child; your behaviour is not good but you as a person, you are good. I think a lot of the times when parents discipline, we put shame on our children and they feel it’s a reflection of them as a person and not the behaviour.

Sarah: Another important thing is not to overshare on Facebook.

Kathryn: Have boundaries. I will not let my children play on their computers in bedrooms, you can sign up to really good security programmes. It’s our responsibility to keep our kids safe in terms of cyber space.

Sarah: My son’s emails come through to my phone so I see them before he does. I have rules for my son around social media and when he uses them, it will be under guidelines. Commonsensemedia is a site that gives age ratings and reviews about different types of media and I use that to monitor what he is watching. It’s good to be cautious and get a balance but also recognise that the risks are quite small. Being aware of that helps us to avoid slipping into that paranoia.

The event

Time Out Kids Coffee Club with Kids HQ

Time Out
Kids Coffee Club took place at Kids HQ. The next event, on Wednesday November 9, will take place on the terrace of Brunello Restaurant. Mums and dads can sit back and join in the discussion, while their children can have some supervised fun on the adjacent lawns and in the brand-new outdoor playground. Freshly made pastries, muffins and sandwiches are provided for adults and children, free of charge, as well as coffee, tea, juice and water. Come join us on Wednesday November 9 for a light-hearted chat about coping with visitors over the festive season. Limited seating is available and advance registration is essential. To register, email

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