Too often our social media feeds are flooded with heart-wrenching posts from police and parents about missing young people.

As parents our hearts go straight to the families and what they might be experiencing, and for a split second we allow ourselves to fear this could happen to our own child.

Thankfully on most occasions, the young people are found. But in rare cases it can end tragically.

Dr Anna Cohen, clinical child psychologist, believes parents need to have honest conversations with their children about ways to stay safe, to keep them safe – but it can be a tricky balance.

The Sydney mum-of-two has shared her best tools for parents navigating safety as their children grow and take on the world without them holding their hands.

1. Build a relationship that welcomes communication

Building quality relationships is critical for parents to ensure children can communicate with them openly and honestly.

“As parents we need to set a foundation early on, where our children feel comfortable reaching out for help without fear of consequences,” she says.

“In our family we have a secret code word which my kids can text me at any time and I’ll come and get them straight away no matter where they are.

“They know I won’t interrogate them when I get there, it’s up to them to tell me, but by not putting the pressure on them they inevitable do.

“By respecting them and showing care it reinforces the message that nothing is too big to talk about.”

2. Recognise early warning signs

One of the biggest challenges parents face is helping our children recognise and respond to unsafe situations. Parent should be having developmentally-appropriate conversations about identifying early warning signs especially in their bodies, if they feel uncomfortable or threatened.

“Engaging in role-playing scenarios and discussing various ‘what-if’ situations, can help to empower your children to trust their instincts, distinguish between feelings of safety and danger, and allows you to discuss different ways to exit a situation.

“This proactive approach helps to build confidence and equips children with the tools to better protect themselves.”

3. Empower kids to set boundaries

Teaching children to set and respect their boundaries is crucial for their safety and wellbeing.

“It’s important we give our children permission to say ‘no’ as well as learn to take calculated risks,” Dr Cohen says. 

“This not only promotes self-awareness and assertiveness, it instils a sense of autonomy and ownership over their bodies and choices.

“As parents we play a vital role in encouraging and respecting these boundaries, fostering a sense of trust and mutual understanding within the family.”

4. The role of tracking apps

Tracking apps like Life 360 when used with mutual consent and respect, especially during emergencies or when children may not know their exact location, can be incredibly helpful.

However, Dr Cohen cautions against using such apps as a means of control, as this can erode trust and hinder the development of independence in children.

“As parents we need to strike a balance between ensuring safety and respecting our children’s privacy and autonomy,” she says. 

“Keeping our children safe isn’t easy because we aren’t always there with them. But what we can do is prioritise safety and communication within our families by teaching our children that their voices matter, their bodies are their own, and that they can always turn to us for support, understanding, and protection.

“In doing so, we are empowering them to face life’s challenges with confidence and resilience.”