Stranger Safety: How to Protect without Scaring
As kids get old enough to be unsupervised in public, and start socializing with people outside your home and family, it's important to teach them about strangers and being safe while being independent.
What to Talk About
- A surprise is the only secret that's okay to keep. Keep telling your kids you love them no matter what, and maintain healthy communication. Your kids must understand that you are a safe person to tell anything to, without fear of getting in trouble.
- What's a good touch, what's a bad touch. Kids need to know the correct names for their private areas and that only the doctor is allowed to touch them at the hospital or clinic.
- A stranger is not a good or bad person, just someone you don't know. They can say hello politely to strangers, but they do not have to say anything else unless a trusted adult is there.
- "Nice" is different than "good." Teach your child not to accept gifts or rides from people they don't know, even if the person (stranger) tells them otherwise. Teach your child to ask permission from the adult taking care of them.
- Make sure kids know their full name, address and phone number. It is also important to teach your child not to make this information available online without your permission.
Make a Plan
- Point out safe areas and people kids can trust, at different places in case they're lost or need help. These people can be store employees, uniformed police, school teachers, etc.
- Have an emergency plan for public places. Say, "If we get separated, go find an adult or someone at a desk or register first, tell them your name and phone number, and don't move from there until I come get you."
- Teach kids to stay at a safe distance. They should say, "No, thank you," if someone offers help in a public bathroom. Older kids at home alone should not open the door to strangers and when answering the phone, should say, "Mom can't come to the phone right now." If an unknown car drives up, have your child step back from them or go inside a nearby building.
- Walk away, use your voice. Kids have the right to run away, scream and shout if a stranger is truly bothering them: "Help! This is not my daddy!"
- Some families use special code words. Choose a secret word that only you and your child would know, only to be shared with trusted adults. If your child asks an adult for the word and they don't know it, that means the child should not go with the adult.
- Repeat the plan. Sometimes the plan may be different depending on where you are, or what the occasion is (vacation spot, Halloween), so remind your kids.
- Practice. Use role plays and "what if?" situations to help your child remember what to do.
Reminders for You
- Don't use scary statements. "Someone might take you away forever!" is unhealthy, but "I just want to make sure you know how to stay safe," is better.
- Address parents, not kids you don't know. If your child sees you talking to unknown children, he/she will think it's okay for unknown adults to talk to him/her. If you do talk to unknown kids, keep a physical distance.
- Avoid putting your child's name openly on their clothes or backpacks for strangers to see.
- If your child does not want to give someone a hug, don't force. Your child must learn to trust what feels comfortable to them.