Talking to Kids about Stranger Danger
Your two kids, ages four and eight years, are friendly, outgoing, and trusting. Ordinarily, that’s a good thing. However, you want to temper that with a little caution regarding stranger danger . . . without teaching your kids to fear people or lose the traits that are generally admirable. How can you teach your kids about stranger danger while navigating the fine line between encouraging trust and friendliness and fostering fear and distrust?
1. Affirm to your kids that most people are kind but that there are those few people who are not. These not-kind people often look just like the rest of us: they are not easy to spot in a crowd.
2. Discuss stranger danger calmly. If you address the subject with anxiety, your kids will pick up on that and will likely mirror your anxiety.
3. Let your kids know that they need not feel fear: they just need to exercise caution and handle stranger danger situations wise. After all, having the knowledge of how to handle stranger danger situations lessens the likelihood of their victimization. (Side note: let your kids know that they cannot fully remove all risk. If your kids ultimately do fall victim, you do not want them to feel as if they are to blame for their own victimization because they failed to effectively handle the stranger danger.)
4. Tell your kids that it’s important for them to be with you, other trustworthy adults, their nanny, or a larger group of kids that they know well. One or two kids alone (no adults to watch out for them, and no larger group of kids for deterrence) are at greater risk than kids who are accompanied by adults or a larger group of kids.
5. Tell your kids that the rules are different when they are with trusted adults and when they are not. Clarify the boundaries of caution and prudence that you want your kids to exhibit when they are not with you or another trustworthy adult. These include walking briskly and purposefully (like they know where they are going and need to get there), keeping an eye on people in their immediate environment (is anyone moving closer to them?), how to say “no” and mean it, etc.
6. Provide situation specific responses that you want your kids to rely on when stranger danger may be present. Consider the following situations and suggested responses.
- A. A stranger offers your kids money or candy. Your kids should politely say, “no thanks” and walk away promptly. If the stranger persists, your kids should run . . . and yell for help if the stranger runs after them.
- B. A stranger offers your kids a ride home from school. Your kids should politely say, “no thanks” and walk away promptly. Your kids should never approach the stranger’s vehicle, even if just to hear the stranger’s words more clearly. If the stranger continues to try to persuade your kids to get in his/her car, your kids should run . . . and yell for help if the stranger runs after them.
- C. A stranger sits next to your kids on the park bench. The stranger begins asking your kids a lot of questions about who they are, where they live, who their parents are, who they are with at the park, etc. Your kids should politely end the conversation and leave the park bench, seeking instead the company of others that they know. If the stranger pursues your kids, your kids should run . . . and yell for help if the stranger runs after them.
- D. A stranger tries to strike up a conversation with your kids. When your kids try to walk away, the stranger tells your kids that he/she is feeling hurt by the rejection that he/she has just experienced. The stranger may act very sad. Make sure that your kids know that empathy is generally a good thing, but seeking to comfort someone who is manipulating them is very dangerous. Your kids should recognize this as inappropriate behavior by the stranger and continue to walk away. If the stranger persists, your kids should run . . . and yell for help if the stranger runs after them.
7. Role play these scenarios with your kids so that, if the real thing happens, they will have their responses committed to memory. In the moment of the stranger danger, your kids may feel panic. You don’t want them to have to stop and think about how to respond because the panic may prevent clear thinking. Instead, you want your recommended responses to come almost as instinct to your kids.
By following these tips, you can prepare your kids for stranger danger while navigating the fine line between encouraging trust and friendliness and fostering fear and distrust.
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