When you’re out and about with your child, it’s not unusual for someone to notice your adorable child and want to engage her. The stranger may ask her questions, such as what her name is or how old she is. You want to teach her to be polite, but you also want to teach your child that she shouldn’t talk to strangers.
So, how can you teach your child about strangers who can hurt them and strangers who could potentially help them in emergency situations?
“Don’t talk to strangers” has been the mantra of many parents for generations. But instead of making a blanket statement, it’s better to teach kids when it’s appropriate to talk to strangers and when it is not.
“It’s important to talk to your preschooler about stranger danger,” said Dr. Sarah Adams, a pediatrician at Akron Children’s Hospital Pediatrics in Hudson. “When your kids are out with you, it’s fine to let them say hello and talk to new people. You are monitoring the situation and will protect her. But, if your child is alone and approached by a stranger, your child should immediately tell you or another trusted adult.”
Tell your child that if a stranger ever approaches and offers a ride or treats, like candy or toys, or asks for help with finding a lost dog, your child should step away and find a trusted adult if they’re not with you, such as a teacher or child care worker.
“We taught our children a family code word that was completely unrelated to our home and address,” said Dr. Adams. “That way if someone approached one of our kids and offered them a ride, for example, they knew it was safe to go with them if the stranger knew the code word.”
Most kids are likely to be wary of strangers who are mean-looking or appear frightening in some way. But the truth is, most child molesters and abductors are regular-looking people. Many go out of their way to look friendly, safe and appealing to children. So instead of judging a person by appearance, teach kids to judge people by their actions.
Perhaps just as important, encourage kids to trust their own instincts. Teach them that if someone makes them feel uncomfortable or if they feel like something’s just not right — even if they can’t explain why — they need to walk away immediately.
But, what happens if your kids are alone and need to approach a stranger for help?
First, they should try to find a person in uniform, like a police officer, security guard or store employee. If there are no uniformed people, grandparents, women and people with children may be able to help. And again, remind them about instincts: If they don’t have a good feeling about a certain person, they should approach someone else.
“Teach your children it’s OK to ask strangers for help, say to use their phone to call you or 911, but they should never go with a stranger,” said Dr. Adams. “The important thing to remember is kids should never be left alone or unattended. But, if your child should separate from you for any reason, it’s important to teach them about appropriate behaviors and what to do if they’re ever approached to keep them safe.”