Staying safe around strangers
Now that your child is a little older it is important to allow her a little more freedom. Perhaps she walks to school alone now. Or maybe she rides her bike down the street to the park. She could be home alone for a few minutes while you run to the neighbor's to borrow something. This expanding freedom is normal and good for her. It lets her learn about how to function safely in the world, while still being protected and taught by you. More than before, she needs to understand how to stay safe.
As a parent, you want to keep your child safe: you make sure she wears a helmet and buckles her seatbelt and you tell her not to talk to strangers. Rules for wearing helmets and seatbelts are always a good idea. The rule against talking to strangers isn't always as obvious. It can even confuse your child.
- You may have taught your child to be helpful, so if a friendly adult asks her to help find a missing puppy, she is likely to want to help the grown-up.
- A smiling stranger may convince your child that it is OK to talk with him.
- There are times when children need to talk to a stranger, for example, if your child is lost, she will need help.
It is important to talk with your child about dangerous situations and how to handle them. Help her understand that grown-ups ask other grown-ups for help, they don't ask children. Teach her that if a grown-up she does not know:
- Asks her for directions, to take her picture, or to look at something, she should quickly walk away and tell a grown-up she does know what happened.
- Asks for help finding a lost pet, she should quickly walk away and tell a grown-up she does know what happened.
- Calls her by name it does not mean that he knows her. To help keep this from happening, do not write your child's name on the outside of clothing or backpacks where a stranger could read it.
- Tells her that there has been an emergency or that something has happened to you, she should not believe it. She should find an adult she knows to confirm the story.
Make sure your child she knows that it is OK to make a fuss and yell if she is scared. Teach her to yell, "This is not my father! Help me!" Bystanders watching a child struggle with an adult may assume that the adult is a parent with a misbehaving child if they are not told otherwise.
Your child needs a plan for when she gets lost. Teach her to ask a grandmother or a mother for help. These people are far less likely to be dangerous. They usually want to help children and are easy for kids to recognize.
When you go someplace where you might get separated, agree on a place to meet. For example, at a grocery store you could agree to meet by the checkout counter with the number 1 on it. Or at an amusement park meet by the big tree at the entrance with a sign or a statue she will remember. Tell her to not go there alone, but to get a mother or grandmother to help her get there.
Do not avoid talking about stranger safety because you are afraid of scaring your child. She already knows that some things in life are scary. Talking about these things will make her feel more confident and keep her safer.
Talking with your child will:
- Encourage her to tell you if any adult has made her uncomfortable, even if she knows the adult.
- Teach her to trust her instincts.
- Reassure her that you will never be mad at her for telling and that you can always keep her safe.
Talk about how to deal with getting lost and stranger safety the way you talk about wearing helmets, seatbelts, and sitting in booster seats. A child is much more likely to be hurt by a car than a stranger.