Parenting can be a tough gig. You must teach your child to be wary of strangers without making them fearful of new people. So how can you find the balance and encourage your child to be safe around new people?
Teaching kids about stranger danger is essential to keeping kids safe as they grow up. You need to encourage your children to be cautious around strangers without giving them anxieties around new people and experiences.
Thankfully, stranger abductions are few and far between. Although sensational media coverage can make it seem that children are in constant danger from bad strangers, modern children are safer than ever, in terms of child abductions.
When should you teach your child about stranger danger?
There is no ideal time to teach kids about stranger danger; it is a concept they should grow up understanding in an age-appropriate way. Stranger danger is a basic safety principle that will help keep your child safer.
Many children are put at risk by someone who’s known to them; strangers, however, can still pose a threat to a child. When discussing stranger danger, it’s vital to avoid scary statements that will make your child unnecessarily anxious.
Although stranger abductions are extremely rare, it is helpful to teach kids the following elements of stranger danger:
How to identify a stranger
The term ‘stranger’ can be a difficult concept for young children to understand. Basically, a stranger is anyone you and your child don’t know. Strangers aren’t always creepy or dressed as the child catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Strangers can be friendly and charismatic and still present a risk to your child.
Teach your children that a stranger is anyone they don’t know. Just because somebody is friendly and makes them laugh in the park doesn’t mean the person is no longer considered a stranger.
If your children see you chatting comfortably with somebody, they might wrongly assume that person is safe. Start teaching your child the difference between a friend and a stranger as soon as possible.
Many parents begin by explaining the concept of tricky adults. A straightforward idea for children is that most adults would ask another adult for help. Only a tricky adult would ask a child for help because children are generally less able to help than other adults would be.
Explain to your child that an adult who asks kids for help might be a tricky adult. It might be someone who asks for help finding a lost pet, for example. Your child should steer well clear of adults like this.
It’s also important to teach your children that adults should never ask them to keep a secret. An adult they don’t know who asks them to keep a secret is a sure sign of trouble.
Some parents prefer the term ‘tricky adults’ to ‘stranger danger’ because it sounds less scary for younger children. Rather than presenting strangers as dangerous, it teaches your child to be wary of potentially tricky adults.
Accepting gifts from strangers
It’s important to teach your child not to accept gifts from strangers. This could be a packet of sweets, a portion of fries or a plastic toy. It doesn’t matter what it is; your child should learn to refuse gifts from strangers. You can model this by refusing sweets and other gifts on behalf of your child when they are younger. Children learn from observing, so we must always model good behavior.
Respect your child’s boundaries
Respecting your child’s boundaries, even from a young age, is essential. Please don’t force your child to kiss or hug anybody if they don’t want to. Don’t let people manipulate them into giving high fives or handshakes, either. It’s perfectly ok for your child to avoid physical touch with people they don’t feel comfortable with (or simply because they don’t fancy it at that moment).
Respect your child’s boundaries and prioritize your child’s needs over the wants of adults in your life who might seem offended when a kiss is refused.
Teach children to trust their gut instincts
Our gut instincts help keep us safe. Sometimes we know something isn’t right without being able to put our finger on why. This critical skill has been keeping people safe for generations. It’s important to teach your children how to trust their instincts.
If your child seems wary of a new person, respect this feeling, even if it’s about somebody you love dearly. Just because you are comfortable around a person doesn’t mean your child should be. Never force your child to be friendly; it’s ok for your child to warm up to people slowly. This process is the way your child figures out who is safe; it’s a crucial life skill.
You can help your children develop good judgment around strangers. Make sure your kids know they don’t always have to be polite. Modern society tells children to do what they’re told, not make a fuss and be polite but these skills won’t serve them well against a tricky stranger. Good judgement skills will help to preserve their personal safety for years to come.
Ensure your children know that if a stranger (or even someone they know) makes them feel uncomfortable, they can firmly say ‘No’ and walk away. If somebody makes them feel scared, it’s ok for them to yell and shout and run away to find a safe adult to tell.
Role play stranger danger
A great way to help children understand how to stay safe when they’re unsupervised in public is to role-play different scenarios. Stranger danger scenarios can help your child develop a script of what to say in various situations.. Role-playing many scenarios can help a child develop the confidence to talk to strangers and avoid difficult situations.
It will also give you peace of mind if your kids know how to handle themselves.
Identify safe adults
Teach your child how to spot a safe adult to go to for help, if needed. Police officers might be few and far between on modern streets but, uniformed shop staff and other public attendants are good people to go to in an emergency. Even a young child will benefit from recognizing who the safe adults are.
Have rules for answering the door
Young children should alert you if they hear the doorbell; they should never try to answer the door themselves. As they grow older, you might feel comfortable allowing them to answer the door alone. It’s important, though, to have simple rules to keep them safe on the doorstep.
Rules could include:
- A blanket ban on answering the door
- First, peeping through the window and only answering the door to people they know
- Never letting an unexpected visitor cross the threshold.
The rules you are comfortable with will depend on the area you live in, your anxieties, and your children’s personalities.
Stranger danger: age-appropriate approaches
How can you teach stranger danger in an age-appropriate way? Firstly, it’s crucial to tailor what you do to your child’s personality. Secondly, consider the child’s age and ability to interact with the wider world at each different stage of childhood.
Stranger danger for toddlers
Toddlers are supervised at all times. They don’t go to the park alone, walk to school by themselves or answer the door. However, it’s never too early to teach your toddler about safe and unsafe adults.
Teach your child to stay safe by holding your hand, staying clear of the road, and keeping close to you. Point out the passing police officer, local shop assistants, and other safe adults in the community.
Help younger children to find their ‘No’ and always respect it. Teach them to listen to other people when they say ‘No’, too.
Stranger danger for 4 year olds
Four year olds will usually be supervised; however, they might occasionally stray from your view at the park. Make sure your children know to stay close to you and also ensure you are always within view so you can see them, too.
Four-year-olds have not yet developed good judgement, so stranger danger education at this age is mostly about modeling good behavior around them. Be sure to point out police officers, shop assistants, the local security guard, and family friends who count as trusted adults.
Point out strangers but be sure to explain that being a stranger doesn’t mean somebody is a bad person; it’s just that you don’t know that person. Most people are good, but it’s challenging to work out people’s intentions when you don’t know them.
Stranger danger for 6 year olds
By age six, your kids might spend more time out of your sight at the park. They might visit a friend’s house for after-school playdates without you. Their world is becoming bigger, and so too can their awareness of how to stay safe.
You can introduce rules for children of this age to keep them safe. You can make sure they know what to do if they get lost in a public place – for example, some parents tell them to find a uniformed shop assistant to ask for help. You can help them memorize your contact details so you can be contacted in an emergency.
Stranger danger for 8 year olds
Around this age, your children will get a taste of freedom. This might come in the form of an unsupervised trip to the corner shop or being allowed to play on the street unsupervised. In addition, they might have sleepovers at friends’ houses or go on day trips with friends from school.
Role play is a great tool to help prepare your child for these new experiences. Make sure your kids know what to do if they are approached by a stranger. Try out different scenarios to see how your child might respond. In addition, it’s worth considering who your children are out playing with; are these friends likely to be as sensible as your children when it comes to stranger danger?
When they come back after playing out alone, your children will be excited to tell you about their day. Always make time to listen to them.
The line of communication between you and your children is invaluable when it comes to keeping them safe.