For years, the tagline has always been “Stranger Danger!’ I remember having the inherent evils of strangers drilled into me as a child. We implicitly warn our kids to “never talk to strangers,” when I’m not convinced that’s the best advice. The thing is, there may be times when our children NEED to talk to a stranger, and the sad truth, is that the majority of kidnappings and sexual abuse cases happen at the hands of someone the child knows/recognizes. Towards that end, I’ve compiled a list of things to consider when talking to your children about safety.
1. Watch Out for “Tricky” People
*Pattie Fitzgerald developed the phrase, “Tricky People are the New Strangers“. She has an AMAZING safety check-list HERE. checklistmommy.com wrote a great post on Pattie and her tips awhile back as well. *
- We shouldn’t be warning our children to avoid strangers…we should be teaching them to avoid “tricky people.” These are the people who try to convince kids to do things, keep secrets, etc. The loony at the park or strolling through the neighborhood won’t fit the standard “stranger” persona. It is likely this person will attempt to befriend the child, introducing him/herself (ie-“Now, I’m not a stranger!”), offering a prize, luring with something fun, etc.
- A tricky person is someone who will ask a child for help (um, no), or ask a child to keep a secret (which includes not checking with mom first.) (Ie-“Want to come over and play my new video game? It’s okay. You don’t have to ask your mom first.” OR “Hey, can you help me find my dog?” etc..)
The Key lesson here:
Teach your child not to do anything or go anywhere with ANY adults/teenagers at all without permission first!
(Teach your child they MUST ask first even if it is with someone they know!!!) Let them know this includes the neighbor boy, their soccer coach, your creepy uncle, etc. If they cannot ask permission, the answer has to be NO.)
2. Look for the Mom with Kids
This is where we need to let our kids know that it is OK to talk to strangers. My kids know that if they get lost or separated from me somewhere, that it is safe to find a mom with kids and ask her for help. A mother who has her children with her is very very unlikely to do anything to your child.
The other option for getting lost, is to freeze and yell. Teach them to stay put, and yell for help. (If you’re uncomfortable with having them find a mom with kids to help.)
3. You Don’t Have to be Polite
This is pretty important to teach, as it feels backwards for a lot of kids. We teach our kids to respect grown-ups. However, let your child know that if someone makes them feel uncomfortable or afraid, that they can say NO, run away, or use their words.
4. Don’t Keep Secrets
Let your child know that a grownup should never ask a child to keep a secret, and that they shouldn’t ever keep something from Mom and Dad. Make sure they know this is ESPECIALLY important if the “secret” they are being asked to keep makes them feel scared. Try to keep open lines of communication so that your child will feel comfortable letting you know if there IS a problem, or so that they won’t worry about “getting in trouble.”
5. Be Present
Make sure you know who the adults are in your child’s life. Who are the teachers, assistants, coaches, neighbors, other parents at practice, etc? Let the adults in your child’s life know that you are present and involved. Show up early once in awhile, or unannounced. Make sure you are on time to pick your child up, etc. so that they are never “the last one” or in a situation where they are alone with someone who is not you.
6. Set Clear Boundaries
Make sure your kids know the rules. Do they need to stay where you can see them? Do they have permission to play at the neighbor’s house? Who has permission to take them home? Be clear, and make sure they always check with you before going somewhere, etc.
7. Learn Their Contact Info
Kids NEED to know their full name (as a Kindergarten teacher I was AMAZED at how few of my students knew their own last name), your full name (they can’t tell a policeman that your name is Mommy!), their address, phone number, and your cell number.
8. Check out the Red Flags and Warnings List!
This is an AWESOME list of things that should put you on notice. Remember that even friends and family members who demonstrate these behaviors should be noted. Like I said earlier, the vast majority of abductions and abuse happen at the hands of a family member or acquaintance. Be open to seeing what is in front of you, even if it makes you uncomfortable. Bottom line? Your kids have to come first. If they come to you and tell you something is wrong, believe them. Investigate. Trust your instincts, and teach them to trust theirs.
Red Flags and Warnings List (Every parent should read this!)
Stay safe everyone.