boy wary of strangersAs parents, from the moment your children are born, you want to keep them safe. You make sure they wear a helmet while riding their bicycle, you teach them to look both ways before crossing the street and you teach them not to talk to strangers.

But is teaching your children not to talk to anyone they don’t know really the best way to help them learn to interact with their world? After all, kids see strangers every day. The clerk in the corner store, the bus driver and the policeman on the corner are all strangers. If your child is lost and has no trusted adults nearby, how is your child going to find help without talking to a stranger?

Instead of “don’t talk to strangers,” it is strongly suggested that we teach children how to interact with strangers and how to watch out for dangerous adult behaviours.

Most children believe that a stranger is a “bad” person who is ugly and acts mean. In addition, children will often believe that if they talk to someone once or twice, they are no longer a stranger and can, therefore, be trusted. In reality, children are most likely to be abducted by someone they know or are familiar with and when someone is intent on taking a child, they are often very nice and will create a ruse to get the child to go with them.

When children are taught not to talk to strangers, they may be afraid to talk to the very people who can help them in an emergency situation. There have been reported cases when a missing child did not respond to his rescuers because they had been taught not to talk to strangers. Instead of teaching your child not to talk to strangers, the best way to street proof your child is to teach them some basic skills on how to stay safe, even when they need to interact with people they don’t know. It’s important not to make it seem like all strangers are bad. If your child needs help, whether they’re lost, being threatened by a bully or being followed by someone who makes them uncomfortable, the safest thing for them to do is ask a stranger for help. By teaching showing your child which strangers are okay to trust, you are making it easier for them to stay safe.

Follow These Simple Steps

  • Your child should always know their full name, address and phone number.
  • While you’re walking around the town with your child, show him the places they can go if they need help when they’re on their own or lost. Local stores, restaurants, the police station and homes of family and friends.
  • Teach your child to judge people by their actions and not by their looks. Most child molesters go out of their way to be friendly and to look “normal,” so instead of judging them by their appearance, children should learn to trust their instincts and be wary of any actions that make them uncomfortable.
  • Teach your child to be assertive. Teach them that safety is more important than manners and that it’s okay to say “No!” or “Go Away!” when they are uncomfortable, even when they can’t explain why.
  • Teach your child that while it is okay to interact with strangers, it is never ok to accept candy, pets, treats or anything else without checking with you parent first.
  • Develop a code word with your child that needs to be used before anyone other than yourself picks them up.
  • Teach your child that most adults will only ask other adults for help and will never ask a child. If an adult asks for your child’s help, for directions or anything else, tell your child to yell “NO” and run away.
  • Teach your child that if they are lost or in trouble they should look for an adult with a name tag (like a police or security officer, or a store clerk) to help them. If there are no people in uniform around, try to approach a woman or someone with a child for help.
  • If they are alone and feel like they are in danger, teach your child to make a loud noise, like yelling or blowing a whistle so that someone will notice them.
  • Teach your child if anyone — whether it’s a stranger, friend, family member or anyone else – asks them to keep a secret, touches them in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable or asks your child to touch them in an inappropriate way, they need to tell you or another trusted adult immediately.

As much as we would like to, we can’t keep our children in a bubble. Your child watches you talk to strangers every day: the dry cleaner, the store clerk, even the lady on the corner. It’s important to teach your child that most people are good and we want our children to grow up being comfortable meeting new people. However, it’s even more important to teach your child to trust their instincts and to arm them with the knowledge of what to do if they feel uncomfortable or unsafe in any situation.

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