• Maxine Knight

Tribulations of a helicopter parent….Safeguarding

As a parent, what is your biggest fear?

Well, I can tell you mine. It's the unimaginable thought of talking to my child one second, then looking down to find that they are gone the next, never to be seen again.

A few years ago, I watched a BBC drama which stayed with me called The Missing. It was based on a momentary lack of attention that changed the course of a family's life forever. This has also been the cause of my annoying helicopter parenting.

Trust me when I say, I find it as annoying as my child probably does. #NotAFunMum.

Since becoming a mother, the fight to not parent ‘helicopter style’ has been a daily internal struggle, which has only intensified since having my second child.

Two children under the age of 5!

How do I take them both out at the same time? What if I need to breastfeed? Suppose one of them runs off? Suppose someone sees me struggling with one, and takes the other…?

I can’t even tell you how tiring being on constant high alert is.

It can be easy at times to feel like I’m the only parent to feel this way — as I observe other parents seemingly running errands or taking their children on trips in such an effortless fashion.

Obviously perspective is a hell of a thing, and thankfully through the powers of the internet and various parenting forums, I have been able to curb this fear in the knowledge that I am not the only one that suffers from this state of anxiety.

The Incident

So let's cut to the incident.

Last week, I'd decided to take the kids to meet up with a friend at the farm. I had totally forgotten that it was the summer holidays, so our usual quiet park area was heaving with kids — I wasn’t prepared.

Inner voice: "It’s cool, you got this."

My sociable little man had taken an instant liking to an older boy and in seconds they had become firm buddies. The older boy — possibly 6 or 7 — didn't realise that the giant 4-year-old wasn't actually his age.

I had been practising my more laid-back approach of casually glancing over — every 4.5 seconds — to make sure that he was okay, rather than intensely staring at him whilst he played.

Then out of the blue, my friend’s boy came over to tell me that my son had gone to the toilet.


Eyes are scanning, but no child is mine. Breath quickening.

I don’t remember pushing my baby into my friend's arms. She may have even been holding her own baby at the time but I was on the move, running in sheer panic for the park gates.

I'm pretty sure parents I passed recognised that look on my face. I could literally hear nothing but the blood pumping through my head and the only thought I had was ... he's been taken.

Thankfully, as soon as I opened the gates I spotted him, not too far, but far enough for a 4-year-old and out of the park perimeter. What was he thinking!?

Silly me, he's 4...he wasn't.

And his reasoning for going off...his new-found older friend needed to go to the toilet and asked him along.

So from launching my baby at my friend to finding him took about 40 seconds, but that 40 seconds was long enough for my body to register around 4 sequential heart attacks!

The usual relief ensued followed by yelling about never doing that again, "I've told you to always stay where I can see you!!!" I could see that his eyes had already glazed over, he was looking at the slide and the WAH WAH WAH coming from my mouth was clearly holding him up.

Why do I bother?

It took about half an hour for the adrenaline to start to fade from my body, but in its place, a worrying thought came to mind.

Now, although he had not been taken, and the circumstances by which the older boy had asked him to leave the playground was completely innocent, I couldn't help but think... Jamie Bulger.

In 1993 the world was rocked when at just 2 years of age, little Jamie Bulger was abducted and killed by two 10-year-old boys.

What if...?

So is my fear irrational?

Now I love a stat, and in my original draft I even had one lined up ready to go about missing persons etc. But then this blog started to take a dark alarmist left turn and my aim was to take an empowering right.

Don't panic let's get empowered!

Now we all know that we can't be with our children at all times to keep them safe. But what we can do is arm them with the tools to empower themselves and help you in your duties to protect them.

I have often seen bandied around that the ol 'Stranger Danger' rule is out of date due to some of the valid reasons listed below:

Your child may actually need a strangers help, i.e if they are lost.

In actual fact, a high percentage of perpetrators are not actually strangers at all.

We don't want to put the fear of God into children. DANGER! DANGER! DANGER!

We want them to be safe, not scared.

So I researched around to try and find the right way to broach this topic with my 4-year-old. It's important and one of the many topics on safeguarding I will be covering with him before he starts school — taking that next step to his independence.

I came across a number of different safeguarding programs. One such was about replacing the word ‘Stranger’ with ‘Tricky Person’ as, “IT'S NOT WHAT SOMEONE LOOKS LIKE, IT'S WHAT THEY SAY OR WANT TO DO WITH A CHILD THAT MAKES THEM UNSAFE OR 'TRICKY'”

The one that most resonated with me was, ‘Clever Never Goes’, a concept created by Action Against Abduction to replace the Stranger Danger tag-line.

According to the website,

“It teaches children that they must never go anywhere with anyone, a stranger or a familiar face, unless plans have been made beforehand. It tells them that following the rules makes them clever, gives them the confidence to trust their instincts and teaches them how to react to unsafe situations.”

It had 3 easy steps which is useful as my son doesn’t really have the capacity for the in-depth discussion needed, or the attention span.

So my hope in all of this is that a little seed is being planted and foundations for more in-depth discussions as he gets older.


So although my fairy-tale wish is that no one ever has to experience losing their child — even if it's for just one minute —unfortunately it is an all too common reality.

However, there are steps that can be taken to minimize the risks; and plenty of insightful programs available online to help broach safety methods which can be tailored to suite you and your child's needs.

You will not only be entrusting your little one with some of the responsibility of their own self safety, ultimately, you'll be kick starting their journey to empowerment.

Useful Links



To discuss hiring Max as a freelance writer, please contact: max@maxineknightwrites.com

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