Talking about this unpleasant subject can seem awkward at times. How do you tell your child there are very real dangers out there without making him or her paranoid? For children who tend to be anxious, it can be even trickier. But there are some approaches that may help communicate your message without making things sound too scary. Here are some tips.
At your local library, ask the librarian or do a search to find books on stranger danger. Look through them and choose ones you think are most appropriate for your child. The books can help introduce the subject, and good ones can present the issue in gentle but effective ways.
A Practical Approach
Experts note that children feel empowered when they have tools and a plan at their disposal. When you talk about the possible dangers of strangers, end the discussion with a practical plan. Some aspects of your plan may include the following:
- If a stranger approaches you and asks for help - i.e. directions, money, etc. - leave immediately and find an adult to help. If the need is legitimate, the stranger will be glad for an adult to help.
- Have a secret code word or phrase that you only share with your child and people you trust. When approached by a stranger, teach your child to ask for the secret code. If the stranger does not know it, walk away.
- Don't leave your surroundings, friends, and family. A stranger might try to lure your child away from an outdoor birthday party, play date, sibling's soccer game, or other event. Teach your child to be aware of her surroundings and not walk away alone or with anyone who is not an approved guardian.
Caution, Not Fear
Your child is probably going to want to know what a stranger would do to him, or why he should be cautious around them. There's no need to go into sordid detail; just tell your child that some strangers are mean, and because you don't know which ones are the mean ones, you have to be cautious around them all. It's not necessary (and could even be harmful) to scare your child as a means to keep him safe.
Keep It Simple
Keep directions and instructions about strangers simple. In fact, some sources suggest not really getting into the whole "stranger" thing, but just telling your child that you must know where she is at every moment; you or the designated caregiver must be able to see her at all times.
This includes the bathroom in public places, too - molesters and pedophiles claim they molest many children by luring them into a public bathroom. If the child in your charge is the opposite sex, take him or her into your gender's bathroom.