Written by: Cally Worden
There is a fine line between educating kids about Stranger Danger and making them terrified of meeting new people. Strangers are everywhere you go, most of them are perfectly nice, decent people. As adults we know this, but we are also aware that there exists a tiny minority who are not. But how to impart this knowledge to our children without scaring them?
What is a Stranger?
Anyone who is unknown to you or your family is a stranger. It’s important to teach your child to be careful around strangers. This creates a problem when you’re trying to teach your child about staying safe – if they feel threatened and are out alone the best thing to do is approach an adult for help – probably a stranger. Not an easy one to reconcile.
Different Types of Stranger
My son thinks that all people wearing dark clothes are ‘mean and not nice Mummy’. He’s clearly been watching too many kids shows that stereotype villains in this way. It’s a start that he’s beginning the make assessments of people, but there is far more to it than looks – some of the most vile people can appear groomed, attractive, and nice.
I tell him that looks are not the best thing on which to base his judgement about strangers. His best bet for now (at 4 years old) is simply to be wary around all strangers, learn to watch how people behave and become aware of his own reactions to them. Sometimes, someone just seems odd and you don’t know why. Learning to trust your own judgement is a key skill.
So, we sit in the shopping centre watching the world go by. I ask him what he sees in different people – how they look, how they are behaving and, crucially, how they make him feel. It’s a start.
In our family ‘safe’ strangers are any grown-up who it’s okay to approach if you need help. Examples would be police officers, shop assistants and teachers. We let our kids know that it’s okay to approach these types of strangers if they are in trouble, but to always try and do so in a public place. If none of these very-identifiable people are around, the next best bet is a lady with children, finally a man with kids.
I know that distinction shouldn’t have to be made, I’m sorry if it’s offensive to any Dads reading this, but that seems to be how life works. I asked my husband what he thought? Although he’d be happy to help any child in trouble, he knows society may be quick to jump on him as a potential troublemaker. He would always help out, but in the knowledge that he may end up in a position where he has to justify his actions. Life is rubbish sometimes. It’s just plain wrong that men are made to feel that way.
Part of the Stranger Danger lesson for kids is to know how to recognise a bad situation. What can they do if they find themselves in a place that’s not comfortable? Possible signs of danger can include:
- Being approached politely by a stranger who looks nice, being asked for help to find their dog, or something they have lost
- Anyone your child has never spoken to before and inviting them into their home
- Being offered a ride home from school, or a lift anywhere
- Being followed
- Strangers in cars asking for directions – keep your distance
- Any adult asking your child to do anything that makes them uncomfortable – including lying, keeping a secret, or doing something without Mum or Dad’s permission
If your child experiences any of these situations, or some other circumstances that make them feel unsafe, they need to know what to do. Teach your child the following actions:
- No! Go! Yell! Tell! – is a short, snappy mantra that even small kids can learn. Show them it’s okay to say ‘No!’. Then encourage them to ‘Go!’ away from the situation if they can. If they are scared it’s okay to ‘Yell!‚Äô after any such scary experience ask your child to ‘Tell!’ an adult straight away – they need to know that what has happened was not their fault, that it’s okay to share it
- We teach our kids to respect and obey adults in many situations. Breaking away from this habit can be hard, it’s vital kids know that when the chips are down all rules are cancelled – staying safe is always their priority
- Hitting is rarely an acceptable behaviour, but teach your children that lashing out at an adult when they feel physically threatened is okay
We have to cut the apron strings at some point. As our kids grow the chances of them ending up in a dodgy situation increase. You can help them to cope by:
- Making safety concerns second nature – point out safe places and routes when you’re out and about; talk about shifty behaviour in people you see; ask them to think now about how they may react in a given situation
- Get Self Defence lessons – for older kids this can really help with their confidence, which in itself offers protection. Bad adults often target vulnerable kids
- Teach them to trust their instincts – it’s never too early to start this. My 4 year old doesn’t understand many of the things he feels right now, but in teaching him to listen to his feelings I’m hopefully helping him to identify and trust his gut instincts, a skill he will benefit from throughout his life
- Encourage a pack mentality – I’m not talking about gangs, but rather the idea that there is safety in numbers. Make it natural for your child to choose to be out and about in a group rather than alone
- Nurture assertiveness – not all kids (or adults) are naturally assertive. It is a skill that can be learned, with practice your child will become adept at saying what they feel and standing up to adults in a respectful but strong manner.