Stranger danger is a concept we wish we didn’t have to teach our children. Being that we have no choice, we’d at least like to teach this concept in such a way that we don’t leave our kids in abject fear of every anonymous person on the street. But how do you teach a kid to be scared but not too scared? It’s not so simple.
There are experts who talk about employing the phrase “stranger safety” as opposed to “stranger danger.” There’s nothing wrong with this idea per say, but there really is no way to talk about safety without discussing the concept of watchfulness or what it is we want children to be watchful about. In the end, the stress on phraseology is just semantics and doesn’t fool anyone, let alone your children. They sense in their guts what it is you’d rather not say aloud.
Stranger Danger Not Common
On the other hand, by practicing the safety concepts you teach them, your kids can gain confidence as they become more skillful. Make sure to praise their competence as they improve. Remind them, too, that most strangers are good people. These twin tactics, bolstering their skills and letting them know that danger is not commonplace, should, to a large degree, strengthen your children against unreasonable fear.
One important idea to emphasize when teaching children about staying safe is that harm to children is more likely to come from someone they know than from a stranger. Therefore, kids should be taught not just about being approached by strangers when alone but about setting appropriate boundaries with those they know. They should also be taught that there are two standards of behavior: one set of safety rules for when they are with a parent and a different set of rules for when they are on their own.
You do want to let your kids know that some people have problems that might bring them to hurt children. Be serious, but be calm as you speak to them. As you discuss these issues, keep in mind that you don’t need to embellish what you tell them with scary stories or details. Tell them only what they need to know to stay safe.
Reassure your children that if they stick to the rules you teach them, they needn’t fear strangers. Remind them that if they feel unsure, they can check with an adult before speaking to or going off with someone with whom they aren’t so familiar. Have your child tell you names of people they know well along with the names of those less familiar to them. By generating their own examples of strangers and those they know well, children will begin to realize their own competence in distinguishing strangers from acquaintances.
Here are some tips for teaching stranger safety to your children:
On Your Own—Remember
- Most people are good so most strangers are good
- A stranger is anyone I don’t know
- A stranger can be nice
- A stranger can look familiar
- I must check with an adult I know before allowing a stranger to talk to me, come close to me, or give me things
- I won’t go anywhere with a stranger or with someone I know without telling a parent or other responsible adult
- I will make sure that a parent or responsible adult knows where I am going, with whom, and what I will be doing
- If there is no adult to ask, it is better to go where there are other people in case I need help
- I won’t give personal information to a stranger or to anyone who makes me feel uncomfortable
- If I have an emergency and there is no one nearby that I know, it is okay to seek help from strangers
- I will observe the family safety rules for answering the phone, the door, and for using the Internet
Practice These Safety Skills
- Stand and walk with calmness, confidence, and awareness
- Move away and remain out of reach of approaching strangers
- Walk away from a stranger even if he or she is nice
- Check with an adult even when a trusted acquaintance says you don’t have to
- Get help from an uncaring or busy adult when you are lost or feeling afraid
- Call for help, run, and find a safe place for an emergency
- Don’t answer the door to a stranger
- My body is my own alone
- No one can touch me for any reason if I don’t want them to
- No one can touch me in the places I keep covered except for a medical professional for reasons of health
- Never touch another person’s covered places
- If someone touches me it never has to be a secret
- If someone makes me feel uncomfortable it cannot be a secret
- If I have a problem and an adult doesn’t listen to me I have to keep telling until someone helps me
- Practice saying no while being polite and firm and looking a person in the eyes
- Keep on saying no to things that make you uncomfortable even if someone offers you something nice, says something mean, or threatens you