It’s important to start talking to your child about strangers at an early age. It’s an awkward conversation to have because you don’t want to instill too much fear into your child even though you want to instill some amount of fear into him or her so that they are aware that not all strangers are innocent. Though many strangers are nice and harmless, there are a few that are not and can hurt your child – and children need to learn this. Start talking to your child about stranger danger between the ages of 3-5, which is when they start to interact with others in the world. Interaction can take place anywhere: a store, school, playground, just to name a few. Children need to know that they are victims early on so that if someone tries to hurt them or take them, they know how to react quickly and safely.
Explain to your child what a stranger is. A stranger is anyone you or your child do not know or do not know well. It’s also important to emphasize that not all bad strangers look mean and ugly. Your child needs to know that any stranger, mean or nice, pretty or ugly/scary looking, can still cause them harm. Emphasize that your child should never leave with a stranger. Bad strangers usually know how to lure children away and they will say things like, “I lost my cat/dog. Can you help me find it?” or “I have some really good candy, want some? I have more in my car-come with me to get it real quick.” Tell your child to never leave with a stranger that offers to give them a ride home or that says, “I know your mom/dad and they told me to take you home because they had to work late.” Your child should know to NEVER go anywhere with a stranger. If someone pulls over with their car and asks your child for directions, tell your child to run the other way or into your home and not help anyone find their way.
There are certain strangers that are good strangers like policemen and firemen. Explain the differences to your child and under what circumstances it may be acceptable to accept help from a good stranger (i.e. if your child is being followed or chased, he or she will more than likely need to ask for help from a pedestrian). Also show your child where the “safe zones” are in your neighborhood if your child is being threatened and needs to run for help. Show them where the police station is, the fire house, the hospital, the local grocery store, etc.
Make it very clear that your child should NEVER leave with a stranger or family member or family friend unless you, the parent, tells your child first that a specific person will be picking them up from school or something like that. Notify the school as well so the faculty can look out for your child’s best interest and safety.
A great phrase to teach your child is “NO, GO, YELL, TELL.” In a dangerous situation, your child should say no, run away, yell as loud as he or she can to let others hear the screams for help, and tell someone that he or she can trust what happened and to ask for help. Teach your child that you will love them regardless if someone hurts them and to always come to you if they are hurt in any way.
The more aware children are of the dangers that are present each and every day, the more likely they will stay safe and protected from those that want to cause them harm. And we cannot emphasize enough that your child should not go anywhere with anyone (whether they know them or not) unless they have your physical approval first – from you and you alone. Always know where your children are and don’t let them go anywhere alone where there is potential for them to be harmed. Safety first – always.