Positive Parenting 123: What should I tell my kids about talking to strangers?
It is a hard concept for kids to understand when we tell them not to talk to strangers. They see us speaking to strangers at the checkout line at the grocery store, the bagel store, etc. They may think if we talk to someone once, then he is not a stranger. In addition, they may feel it is ok for them to talk to strangers since they have seen us do it. Talk to your children about “stranger danger” and develop safety rules for your family.
Tell your children that they won’t have to worry about strangers if they follow your safety rules. Tell them that you believe most people are good, therefore most strangers are good. However, some people have problems that cause them not to be nice to kids. Practice what you are telling your kids. If they ever find themselves in a dangerous situation, they will revert to what they know and they will know what to do.
In regards to the two students walking home from Stratford gymnastics on March 30 who were approached by a man in a car, they knew what to do. “The girls handled themselves very well," Detective Richard Pedone of the Garden City Police Department said. "They stayed away from the car, called 911 and took a picture of the car’s license plate with their cell phone. They used everything they have been taught by their parents, the school and the police. They did an excellent job.”
When talking to your kids about strangers, try not to be anxious, as kids pick up on this and get nervous themselves. Pick a calm time to speak to your children about this subject, perhaps at dinner time or during a car ride. Do not discuss this subject before bed time because it may lead them to be afraid to fall asleep or to have bad dreams. Do not focus on the negative consequences of talking to strangers. Instead, focus on teaching and practicing what to do to stay safe with strangers. Here are some examples of safety rules for strangers:
- Children should be taught that you can’t tell by appearances if someone is nice on the inside. Someone who looks nice and is well-dressed may not really be a nice person.
- Adults will ask other adults for assistance and will not ask a child for help. If an adult asks your child to help the adult, or asks for directions, the child should respond “NO” and run away.
- Teach kids to listen to their inner voice. If something seems weird, they should follow their instincts! Say “NO” and run away.
- It is okay to get help from strangers in an emergency situation. People who are okay to approach are store clerks or other Moms with children.
- Develop a code word that is used when anyone other than Mom or Dad picks up your kids.
- Always ask the adult in charge of you before you let a stranger get close, talk to you or give you anything.
- Always ask the adult in charge permission before you go anywhere with anyone, either a friend or a stranger. Tell your child to tell the adult in charge where he is going, who he will be with and what he will be doing.
- If someone approaches your child by car, teach your child to say “NO,” cross the street and run away in the opposite direction. It will be hard for the car to turn around and follow the child without arousing suspicion.
- If a stranger is asking or doing something that feels weird, then say “NO” and run away. Go to any home nearby with cars outside and knock on the door calling “help!”
- It is okay to speak to strangers as long as Mommy and Daddy are with you. For example, if you are at a restaurant or running errands and a stranger approaches and asks them their name, teach them it is okay to speak to them. What is not okay is for them to speak to a stranger when they are not with Mommy and Daddy.
- If someone tries to grab your child, teach your child to fall to the ground and scream “help” over and over. The more noise they can make, the better off they will be to try to attract attention from passersby. Also, teach your child to kick, bite or do anything possible to get away.
- Ask your children if there is anything they are wondering about or are scared about. Then listen patiently for their response.
One way a stranger may try to lure kids into their car is to say “come see my puppy” or “I have tickets for the Mets game. Your parents told me to pick you up and bring you to them. They are meeting us at the stadium” or even “your Mom (or parents) have been in a car accident. I was at the scene and they told me to pick you up and bring you to them at the hospital.”
You can tell your kids that only Mommy, Daddy, grandparents or their aunt or uncle or neighbor, etc. will pick them up during an emergency. Mommy and Daddy will give any adult who is authorized to pick them up and take them somewhere a code word. The adult will always tell them the code word before they take them anywhere.
In addition to what kids learn in school and from their parents, Detective Pedone says, “Experts recommend that parents or guardians role play with their children about just how someone might approach them, such as offering candy, asking for help or if they’d like to come and meet their new puppy. You should teach your child to give a firm 'NO' and walk away. When you role play with your children, keep it matter of fact and calm so as to not overly frighten them. Part of protecting children is not just pointing out dangers, but also teaching them confidence. This will help them to make good decisions in bad situations.”
Play the “what if” game with your child frequently. For example, ask, "If an adult or older child you do not know approaches you and asks you directions, what would you do?" Say “NO” loudly and run away. For example, ask, "what if you get lost while shopping with Mommy?" Teach them to go to a store clerk or another Mom who has kids with her. Ask, "what if a man approaches you at the park to go for a ride on his motorcycle?" Teach your child to give a firm “NO” and run away. "What if a woman approaches you and says that Mommy is hurt and she sent me for you." Teach your child to listen for the code word. If she does not tell it to you, then Mommy has not sent her to pick you up. Give a loud “NO” and run away.
We need to teach our children that there are people in this world who are looking out only for themselves, and not for the child. By developing, talking about and practicing our Stranger Safety rules, we will feel more confident that our children will know what to do in the event a stranger approaches them.
The opinions in this article are those of Positive Parenting, 123 Inc. The information is meant as a guide and does not replace professional medical advice. Always consult your pediatrician with any concerns you may have about your child.