Posted on: 03.06.2015.
Author: Ana G
Image courtesy of pixabay.com, licensed under CC0 1.0
Toddlers and small children tend to be shy. For a while, then, parents don’t have to worry too much about them encountering or interacting with strangers. As kids get older, though, they become more open to the people around them. This is a good, natural thing, but it opens up a new world of risks too. When your child’s social skills start blossoming, it’s time to start talking about stranger safety.
Like many parents, you may be at a loss about how to discuss stranger safety. Without giving the matter some thought and planning out what you’re going to say, you could inadvertently frighten your child. It’s crucial to establish rules about strangers, but you should take care to do so in a friendly, non-threatening way. When sitting down with your kid to discuss stranger safety, use age-appropriate language and provide them with clear, easy-to-understand instructions.
More than anyone else, parents play the biggest part in teaching kids about staying safe in various situations. These 5 simple rules will help lay the groundwork for your child to develop a strong understanding of stranger safety basics.
''Maleficent at Disney Social Media Moms Celebration'' by Josh Hallett is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
Parents often assume that their kids know what strangers are. Instead of assuming, ask your child what they consider a stranger to be. Chances are that their answer will surprise you at least a little. From there, explain that a stranger is anyone who your child doesn’t know, but that all strangers aren’t “bad.”
Help your child understand that there are “good,” or safe, strangers and “bad,” or potentially unsafe, strangers. Give examples. For instance, explain that a “bad” stranger is someone who makes them feel unsafe or uncomfortable in some way, while a “good” stranger is someone who they can safely turn to for help. Teachers, police officers, store employees and the like all fall into the latter category. Tell your child that they may need to ask a stranger for help someday and that they need to understand who is appropriate to approach and who isn’t. Give your child some practice by having them point out “good” strangers in public places. Keep in mind that kids often assume "bad" strangers resemble cartoon villains and other "bad guys," which isn't true. Remind your child that just because someone “looks” good or friendly doesn’t mean they are safe.
''yard sale fun - name tag'' by EvelynGiggles is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Arm your child with the knowledge they need to handle various scenarios in which they may be exposed to strangers. Using a warm, friendly tone to tell them they should always ask their mom or dad before speaking to another adult they don’t know.
Make sure your child knows their first and last name, both parents’ first and last names and the family phone number in case they are ever separated from you or other familiar, safe adults. Go through a few scenarios with them to ensure they know what to do.
At the store, tell your child what to do if they get separated from you. They should stay in the building and look for a person wearing a name tag or a woman with a stroller, i.e. another parent. Have your child point out such strangers to ensure the point has been driven home.
When out in public with your child, remind them to stay within your sight at all times and to come ask you if they want to relocate elsewhere so you can go along.
Teach them how to handle various situations when they’re home alone too. For instance, they should never open the door for anyone except immediate family. Explain that anyone else will understand this rule. Also, teach your child what to say if someone calls asking for you when you’re not home. Be sure to establish Internet safety rules as well.
Teach your child how to stay safe when out in the neighborhood or elsewhere alone. Explain which places they should avoid, like parking lots and vacant areas. Teach them safe routes for getting to and from playgrounds, school and other places.
Finally, establish a family code word. Make it something unique but easy to remember. Tell your child they may never leave with anyone who doesn’t know the code word.
Since you won’t always be with your child when they encounter strangers, a great way to keep them safe is to teach them about suspicious behavior. First and foremost, tell your child that kids ask adults for help – not vice-versa. An adult stranger asking for their help is a huge red flag.
Teach your child a few potential things strangers may say that should arouse their suspicion. Classic examples include, “My dog is missing. Can you help me find it?,” “Would you like this candy/toy?” and “I’m an old friend of your dad’s. Want me to take you home?” Explain to your child that strange adults should not be asking for any personal information; if they really need it, they should ask the child’s mom or dad instead.
Continually re-emphasize basic stranger safety tips: No talking to strangers, no sharing personal information with strangers, no accepting stuff from strangers and no getting into cars or going places with strangers.
''Cautious Child Opening Door'' by Sharon & Nikki McCutcheon is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Role-playing is an invaluable teaching tool because kids tend to learn better by doing. By role-playing various stranger safety scenarios with your kid, they will gain experience that could come in handy in the future.
One role-playing scenario to try is to knock on the front door of your home pretending to be a stranger. Run through the scenario again and again until your child handles the situation properly and without hesitation.
Practice different scenarios in public places like malls and parks; for instance, pose as a stranger asking your child to help you find your own kid. Remind your child of common ploys dangerous strangers may use, including asking for help in some way or saying they are supposed to pick them up from somewhere. Be sure to include scenarios at school, such as a stranger showing up to take them home.
Whenever possible, remind your child that it’s okay to be “rude” to strangers and to simply walk away if they are uncomfortable. Tell them if they feel ever feel threatened, it’s okay to make a big, loud scene. If it turns out they’re wrong, make sure they know they won’t get in trouble. Remind your kid that it’s okay for them to say no to strangers. Practice these scenarios regularly until they become like second nature to your child.
''come on'' by pawpaw67 is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
The best time to start discussing stranger safety with your child is when they are starting to come out of their shells, so to speak. However, the conversations shouldn’t end there. As your child grows and gains more independence, they will run into new situations involving strangers. Therefore, it’s smart to have ongoing conversations about stranger safety as your child grows and matures.
Whenever your child will have a new experience, like going to the mall with friends alone, sleeping over at a friend’s house or attending their first concert without their parents, have a quick refresher session about stranger safety rules. Before your child heads anywhere, make them tell you the “three Ws”: where they’re going, who they’re going with and what time they’ll be back. Tell them they must inform you immediately if their plans change, and make sure they use the buddy system and never go off anywhere completely alone.
From an early age, teach your child that they should tell you if other people share secrets with them. Tell them their parents have the right to know anything that anyone else says to them.
Finally, be a good role model by always addressing parents before addressing their children. In other words, when approaching a child and their mom or dad, address the adult first. Addressing the unknown child first flies in the face of what you've been teaching your child about being safe about strangers.
Teaching your child about stranger safety from an early age will help them know how to protect themselves, which is incredibly empowering and can help your child develop self-esteem and confidence. At the same time, establishing stranger safety rules – and knowing your child has absorbed them well – will help you feel more secure, allowing you to let your child spread their wings as they get older.