As a parent, it’s natural to want to protect your child from hazards, big or small, but many parents worry about being “helicopter” parents. In reality, even if you spend most of the day with your child, there will be moments that you won’t be with your child, whether he or she is at school on the playground or you get briefly separated in the supermarket. It may be in those moments, away from your child, that he or she may be approached by someone he or she doesn’t know.
While “Stranger Danger” was a suitable phrase for decades, it’s important that your child knows how to interact safely with someone he or she doesn’t know. Is every stranger going to be dangerous and try to abduct your child? No, but it’s important that your child knows what to do if he or she feels uncomfortable around someone he or she doesn’t know.
Encourage Gut Instincts
Rather than telling your child to avoid every adult that he or she doesn’t know, it’s important to talk to your child about feelings and how to safely act on them. Even children of a very young age are capable of having a “gut instinct” or something/someone that makes them feel “icky”. Explain to your child, of any age, if he or she is approached by or is with someone that makes him or her feel “icky” to finding a trusting grownup (like you or a teacher) and tell that person that something doesn’t feel right. Before you second guess or disregard your child’s feelings, think about how some people may make you feel, instincts are always right on, but they are often right.
Strangers and “Safe Strangers”
Some strangers are bad, some are good. If you lump all strangers into one group, your child may assume that a stranger is villainous, scary, and ugly looking. As adults, we know that even dangerous strangers can look like a Mom or Dad, he or she may smile and be friendly. It’s important to tell your child about “safe” strangers and that those are the type of people that can be trusted if he or she is lost or is being followed by a someone who is making them feel uncomfortable. A “safe” stranger may be a police officer, a postal worker, a librarian, or teachers. When you are going around town, point out “good” strangers.
How to Avoid Dangerous Situations
Most “safe” adults know that they shouldn’t approach a child and ask them to help him or her find a lost dog or even invite them into their home. Unfortunately, some well-intentioned adults don’t. It’s always good to be overly cautious and teach your child to avoid dangerous situations involving people he or she doesn’t know. For instance, if your child is walking alone, tell him or her avoid anyone that pulls over and tries to talk to him or her or offer a ride. Children should never enter a home of someone they don’t know nor should they accept gifts or food from a stranger. Always make a plan with your child, such as heading to a safe place, and know of your child’s whereabouts.