When you become a mom, one of your strongest instincts is to protect and shield your child from anything and everything harmful. When your child becomes old enough to stray a bit from your well-protected nest, it can be a nerve-wracking and stressful season if you’re not sure how to teach your children some important tips on stranger danger and keeping themselves safe.
While the practice in the past has been teaching kids not to trust “strangers,” or people unknown to them, that isn’t necessarily the best way to go about protecting your kids from dangerous people. Unfortunately, 90% of sexual abuse happens by a person the child knows and only a fraction of 1% of children are abducted by a total stranger (most missing children either run away or are taken by a family member). With statistics like these, “stranger danger” seems to be a bit of a non-issue. So what is a mom to do?
First, teach your kids who strangers are. There are “strangers,” or people who you and your family doesn’t know well. These people may look nice and not at all scary, and that’s important for kids to understand. Then there are “safe strangers,” or people who the child may not know but can generally trust, like a police officer or a firefighter. Second, use this list of tips to teach your kids to stay safe when they are outside your presence. While this list of tips is not at all the only ways to get the job done, it will give you a head start and, hopefully, some peace of mind.
Safety Tips to Teach Your Child about Stranger Danger
1. No one should touch your private parts.
Teach your children about body safety early. Start using proper names for genitalia and teach them to your child. Take the shame out of talking about a “penis” or a “vagina” and make it a topic they can discuss with you with ease. Teach them that no one should touch their private parts (not adults or other children) and that no one should ask them to touch their private parts. Explain that mommy and daddy can see them naked, and also a doctor but only if mommy or daddy is with them. Also, teach them that no one should take pictures of their private parts or show them pictures of private body parts. Make sure they know that, no matter what, if anyone attempts to do these things, no matter who they are, your child should come to you immediately and that they will not be in trouble.
2. Never get into a car or leave with a stranger.
Teach your child that they should never get into a car or leave with a stranger they do not know, no matter what the person says. Start practicing role playing scenarios and coach your child how they should respond to stranger danger in different situations.
3. Know, and practice, a family code word.
Assign a unique and easy to remember code word to your family. It may be easy for a child to remember not to get in a car with a stranger, but what about someone he or she knows? Teach your child that, even if he knows the person, unless that person uses the family code word, your child is not to go with them. Period.
4. When in trouble, look for a “safe stranger” or a mom with kids.
In a perfect world, an alert, uniformed police officer would be standing within shouting distance of your child at all times, ready to pounce on any villain who may try to pull unsavory shenanigans. Unfortunately, this is not the case. In the event your child can’t find a “safe stranger” like a police officer or firefighter, train your child to look for a mom with kids if he or she is lost or feels unsafe.
5. Don’t be afraid to yell, “NO!” and make a scene.
We American’s tend to make it a point to train our children to behave and use manners, especially while in public. But when your child feels threatened or unsafe, he or she needs to understand that it’s okay to be loud and rude. Teach your child that yelling or screaming things like “NO!” “Where’s my mom?” “Who are you?” “Leave me alone!” or simply, “HELP!” is absolutely okay under these stranger danger circumstances. As are kicking, biting, punching, and throwing a fit.
6. Don’t ever keep a secret from Mom & Dad.
Drill it into your kid’s brain that they will never, ever, ever be in trouble for telling you or a trusted family member if someone has made them feel unsafe, uncomfortable or has asked them to do anything regarding their private parts. Assure them that, even if the perpetrator has told them they would get in trouble, or that they would hurt their family if they told, that they are lying and that it is ALWAYS okay to tell mom and dad any secret.
7. Trust your gut.
Teach your child to trust their gut instincts. It can be hard to explain what that is to a young child, so perhaps explain it as an “uh-oh” feeling: an uncomfortable feeling in their tummy that tells them something is wrong. Let them know that when they feel that feeling, find a “safe stranger” or come talk to you or another trusted adult and tell them about it. Also, be sure to encourage them that even if their “uh-oh” feeling is ultimately wrong, it’s better to listen to their gut and be cautious than to ignore it.
Navigating the scary world of “stranger danger” can be a hard topic for parents and kids alike. All we want as parents is to keep our babies safe, but the world we live in can make that very difficult. Start talking to your kids early about strangers and body safety, and start implementing these tips sooner than you think you need to. The more you talk about it and practice safety strategies with your kids, the more prepared you, and they, will be to let them stretch their wings safely when the time is right.