6 out of 10 of children think a stranger couldn’t possibly be a woman and most described a stranger as a sinister-looking man with dark glasses, a trench-coat, a hat and a beard. It’s vitally important your child knows that a stranger is anyone that they do not know. They can be male, female, young, old – It doesn’t matter how smartly dressed they are, how good looking they are or how polite and well-meaning they appear.
“Stranger danger” is an idea that can increase anxiety and make it harder for us to figure out ways of helping our children stay safe.
Although “stranger danger” seems like an easy way to teach our children basic personal safety, it actually puts them at a disadvantage. Children who are taught stranger danger may:
- Be afraid to ask helpful strangers for assistance when they need it
- Not know how to recognize and avoid risky situations
Instead of teaching “stranger danger,” try the following tips when talking to your child about abduction prevention safety:
- Don’t say: Never talk to strangers.
Say: You should not approach just anyone. If you need help, look for a uniformed police officer, a store clerk with a nametag, or a parent with children.
- Don’t say: Stay away from people you don’t know.
Say: It’s important for you to get my permission before going anywhere with anyone.
- Don’t say: You can tell someone is bad just by looking at them.
Say: Pay attention to what people do. Tell me right away if anyone asks you to keep a secret, makes you feel uncomfortable, or tries to get you to go with them.
Be sure that you are calm yourself when you talk to kids about strangers. If you sound anxious, they will pick up on that. Talking about “stranger danger” or focusing on scary stories can increase fear and anxiety for everyone. Instead, tell kids in a matter-of-fact way that you believe that most people are GOOD, and that this means that most strangers are good, but that a few people have problems that might cause them to hurt kids.
Our YouTube channel has a video discussion on explaining the concept of a stranger to your child https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ENu17fcEMqo
In the next article we shall discuss the concept of “Safe Strangers and Safe Buildings” a positive alternative, giving children an immediate strategy to use, as part of their growing understanding of stranger awareness.
Image courtesy of wikimedia.org (phantom stranger).