Despite the fact that nearly 50% of child abductions are committed by someone known to the child, it is still essential to educate children about stranger safety. Our goal, when teaching our children about talking (or not talking) to strangers, is to provide them with the wisdom to manage potentially harmful or dangerous situations.
We do not want to instill fear but to empower our children with knowledge. We may be reluctant to have such a difficult conversation with our child, but as parents - we need to ensure that our children have the proper tools for managing some of life’s more difficult challenges.
While we hope this is one challenge our families never have to face, it is important to ensure that our children are armed appropriately.
Begin with age-appropriate conversations. The conversation is not only age-dependent but maturity dependent. Take both into consideration before approaching your child.
Talk about what a stranger is. Children need to know that not everyone is good, but not all strangers are bad. They also need to know that not all dangerous strangers look scary. Help your children learn to decipher between “good” and “bad”. Police officers, for example, are typically unknown on a personal level, but they are not dangerous.
Talk about the “typical” ploys - someone who wants help finding a lost dog, is offering candy, or asking for directions. Teach your children to never accept candy, never approach a car, and never pet someone’s dog unless mom, dad, or caregiver is there and says it’s ok.
Stranger education should extend beyond the conversation. Don’t assume that a simple conversation or even several conversations on the topic of stranger safety will make your child a pro. Ask your child to repeat what he or she heard.
Role play. We all cringe (especially those of us in the counseling profession) when we hear the word role play, but it is the best method of learning. Practice, practice, practice. It’s one thing to say what you know, but it is another thing to do what you know.
Test your child. Invite a neighbor or friend who your child does not know to ring the bell or approach her when you are not around. See what your child does when actually put in the situation of “stranger danger”.
Instruct your child to trust his guts. The butterfly feelings in his stomach should be paid attention to. If he does not feel safe or comfortable about a person who is approaching him, he should do whatever it takes to get away and get help.
There are plenty of books, activities, and online resources to help bring the message of stranger safety to our young children. Again, this is not a one time conversation. This is something that should be ongoing with layers of knowledge being built upon previous layers of knowledge. Whatever it takes to keep our children safe!
I love these age-appropriate conversation starters provided by Take 25 through The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. Conversation Starters