For most of us, the rules of personal safety during childhood were pretty straight-forward. Come to think of it, there was only one rule: Don’t talk to strangers. Over the years, we have learned that the “stranger danger” rule may have been a tad too simplistic. Classifying everyone a child does not know as a stranger creates confusion for the child and can interfere with her willingness to ask for help when needed.
Children who are taught basic safety principles and how to determine which strangers are safe to speak with are better off than children who are taught to cower from anyone they don’t know. Therefore, we have compiled a list of the 10 most important things to teach your kids about strangers:
- Define Stranger More often than not, children associate the word stranger with villain. It’s not uncommon for children to think of strangers dark, hooded figures. It’s important to teach your child that stranger does not equal villain. When you talk to your children about strangers, define the word in simple terms, such as “a stranger is someone we don’t know.”
- All Strangers are Not Bad It’s important to communicate to your children that it’s hard to tell if someone is a good stranger or a bad stranger simply by looking at them. Help your children identify which stranger they can trust, such as a policeman, a mom with other kids, a waitress, or a store clerk.
- Identify Unsafe Places Internet chat rooms aren’t the only unsafe areas for children. Teach your children that any location that’s isolated like the backyard woods, parking lots, or dark street ways should not be entered alone.
- Adults Asking for Help It’s important to teach your kids that adults will not turn to a child for help. Talk about the danger signs such as a grown-up pulling up alongside them in car asking for directions or an adult trying to enlist their help in search of a lost pet or child.
- It’s Okay to Say No Most children are taught to respect and obey grown-ups. It’s important you give your children permission to yell “No!” if someone tries to touch or grab them. Letting kids know they won’t be in trouble if they assert themselves is an important element to keeping them safe.
- Give Your Child a Sense of Control Instead of behaving like the almighty protector, let your kids wear the super-hero cape by simply changing your language. Instead of telling your children, “Stay where I can see you,” give them the control by saying, “Make sure you can see me.” This also takes the pressure off you to act like Hawk-eye.
- Create a Family Secret Codeword Select an easy to remember, yet obscure, password like, “Oooga Booga.” Teach your children that anyone who tries to offer them a ride home (“Your mom told me to come get you”) or claims there’s an emergency (“Hurry! Your dad is in the hospital!”) must know the secret codeword. If the person doesn’t know the codeword, he can’t be trusted.
- Empower Your Kids to be Rude Often times, children are afraid to be rude to adults because they are afraid to talk back to an authority figure. Teach your kids that safety overrules manners. Let them know it is okay to speak up when they feel uncomfortable. Arm your children with phrases such as, “I don’t know you. Get away from me!”
- Encourage Your Children Play with Others There is safety in numbers. Perpetrators are less likely to approach children who are in a group or with another child.
- Identify Safe Spots Safe spots are places your child can go if they need help. Some examples include houses of people you and your children know, local stores, restaurants, and the fire or police station. Make sure your children know the safest routes to get to these locations.
What did we miss? Do you suggestions for teaching children about strangers?