Navigating the “Stranger Danger” Conversation
As soon as our kids are old enough to make conversation we instill in them the fear of talking to strangers while at the same time, expecting them to be polite and friendly with others.
I personally find it a struggle – not wanting to offend people but also making sure they know not to talk to the “wrong” people. We don’t want to give them nightmares, but also don’t want them wandering off with anyone who offers them a treat. No wonder we (and they) are confused.
As a mom with concerns, I’m sharing two great resources, Babycenter and the National Crime Prevention Council with tips on how to deal with talking to strangers, along with commonly asked questions and answers. Here are some tips from Babycenter:
Discuss the concept of strangers. Kids are usually ready for this discussion around age 4. Starting by asking your child, “Do you know what a stranger is?” If your child isn’t sure, tell him a stranger is anybody he doesn’t know. To avoid frightening your child unnecessarily, emphasize that a stranger is not necessarily a good person or a bad person – just someone he doesn’t know. After talking to her preschooler about the risk of approaching an unfamiliar dog, one BabyCenter mom says, “I drew the parallel that a stranger might be nice or not, just like a dog you don’t know.”
Go over do’s and don’ts. Define some rules about how to deal with strangers. Kraizer suggests giving an older preschooler a game plan to follow if you become separated: “If you lose Mommy in the grocery store, go to where we pay for things and tell them you’re lost, tell them your name, and don’t move from that spot until I come to get you.” Tell an older preschooler that if he’s approached by a stranger, he should go straight to the person who’s taking care of him. “If you get separated, you want them to have clear, simple rules to follow so they’re less at risk,” says Sherryll Kraizer, executive director of Coalition for Children and author of The Safe Child Book.
Establish guidelines for using public bathrooms. By age 6, most children are ready to use a public restroom on their own. But be vigilant: Stand outside the door and tell your child to call if she needs you. Tell her to refuse help from anyone who offers it by saying, “No, thank you. I’ll do it myself,” or “No, thank you. My mom can help me.”
Role-play to teach, not to scare. “What if?” questions are an opportunity to practice – just be sure to stay positive and not frighten your child. “Role-playing is the key to teaching kids how to handle tricky situations,” says Kraizer. Act out with your child what to do if she’s approached while alone in the park. (For example, she could move closer to the nearest parent who’s there with kids.) Kraizer suggests telling your child, “If you’re by yourself or with friends, and you’re approached by someone you don’t know, stop what you’re doing, stand up, and stay an arm’s reach away from that person.” Demonstrate exactly what that means.
Another example: If a person drives up in a car and asks for directions to the nearest grocery store, tell your child to take a step back and point to where it is. But if the individual gets out of the car, instruct your child to take several steps back, turn around, and go inside the house or school to get an adult.
To read the full article including answers to common questions about strangers, click here and Here for safety tips from the National Crime Prevention Council