Why You Need to Have Talk About Stranger Danger and Tricky Grown-Ups Often
I thought my son understood stranger danger. We’ve talked about it before. I remind him about stranger danger before he goes on summer camp field trips. I remind him about stranger danger whenever we’re going somewhere super crowded. He always says he knows, don’t talk to strangers.
A few weeks ago, he proved me wrong. We were at a museum with his best buddy. They were racing their newly purchased Hot Wheels down the handicap ramp while the mom and I were chatting. A man walked by and commented on their cars. They smiled and kept playing.
About 20 minutes later, we went back into the building to use the restroom before leaving. The man who they saw outside called them over. To my friend and my horror, both boys walked right over to him and started chatting. We raced behind them and pulled them away. When I later asked my son why he went to the stranger, his response surprised me. “He wasn’t a stranger. We saw him outside.” Um, yikes.
Clearly my stranger danger message needed work. In my son’s mind, a stranger is someone you’ve never seen before. Since he saw the man earlier, he didn’t consider him a stranger.
A Better Way To Have Stranger Danger Conversation
There is no wrong time to have the stranger danger conversation. Your kids will never be too old. Just last week I saw a middle school boy break a stranger rule. He was playing basketball alone on a Saturday morning at the middle school. Our YMCA uses their gym for the junior league games, so there are a lot of people on campus who don’t know their way around.
A 40-something year old man asked the boy where the gym was and rather than just pointing to where it was, the kid stopped playing and walked him to the gym. While this is polite behavior, it could have ended badly if the man wasn’t just a lost dad or uncle.
Be Specific About Who Strangers Are.
Don’t just say, don’t talk to strangers, discuss who falls into the category of stranger. I tell my sons that a stranger is anyone they don’t know and mommy and daddy don’t know. Explain that strangers can be men or women. They can be anywhere. Not every stranger is bad, but since we don’t know who is bad and who is good just by looking at them, we have to stay safe by never going somewhere with a stranger.
Who Are Safe Strangers?
While you want to make sure your kids know not to talk to strangers, you do want to make sure they know who to turn to if they get separated from you or a group they are with. I always tell my boys to look for another mommy. Most places we go are family-friendly, so there is bound to be another mommy around.
Other “safe strangers” are police officers, fire fighters or other teachers (if they are on a field trip and are separated from their class).
Who Are Tricky People?
Unfortunately, it isn’t just strangers that can harm our children. Some abusers are people who know our families or are part of the community. 90% of childhood sexual abuse is committed by someone the child knows.
So while you definitely want to talk to your kids about stranger danger, you also need to discuss tricky people. I give my kids an overview of what a tricky person does, but I follow up with questions an examples.
For instance, I say, what if your friend Joe’s mom needs help carrying something to the classroom. Is that OK? Yes. What if Joe’s mom wants to see what kind of underwear you have on. Is that OK? NO.
Tips for recognizing Tricky People
- Safe grown-ups don’t ask kids for help. Note, if they do, like in the situation above, there is no need to walk the grown-up to their destination – pointing is perfectly acceptable!
- Tricky people try to get kids to break safety rules or keep secrets from their mommies and daddies.
- Tricky people try to spend time alone with kids with no other kids or grown-ups around.
- Tricky people try to hug, kiss or touch kids in ways that they shouldn’t.
Child Safety Role Play and Tips
One of the best ways to learn is through practice. Obviously, you don’t want to put your kids in a dangerous situation, so the next best way is to give lots of examples and role play.
I used to work with the elderly and one of the best parenting tips a client gave me was to have the “hard” conversations in the car. Your kids will feel more comfortable expressing themselves since they can’t see your face. I do this all the time now.
Here are some questions I ask my son in the car:
- If your soccer coach wants to take you to the bathroom alone, should you go?
- What should you do if you’re on your camp field trip and get split up from the group?
- If someone comes up to you at aftercare and says your mommy told him/her to take you home, would you go with him/her?
- Would you go home with your friend’s dad without checking with me or daddy first?
- If a woman came up to you at the park and said she wants to take you to Disneyland, what would you do?
- If a man comes up to you and your friends on the playground and asks for your help finding his dog, should you go with him?
- Should anyone look or touch your private parts? What about your teacher? What about daddy’s friends? What about your doctor (our pediatrician always requests permission from us and our kids before doing an exam)?
You can basically go on and on with different scenarios. I usually do a few when my boys are going somewhere without me or when we are going somewhere super busy. Honestly, you can never have the stranger danger conversation too much.
Child Safety Tips
Ironically, while I’ve been having the stranger danger and tricky people conversation for years, in researching this post, I realized we’ve never actually laid out general safety rules.
I found these rules on Safely Ever After. They have a lot of great information on child safety.
- I am the boss of my body.
- I know my name, address, phone number and my parents’ first and last names.
- Safe grown-ups don’t ask kids for help. They ask other adults.
- I never go anywhere or take anything from someone I don’t know.
- I must check first with my parents before I go anywhere with a stranger or get in a stranger’s car.
- Everyone’s bathing suit areas are private.
- I don’t have to be polite if someone makes me feel scared or uncomfortable. It’s OK to say no to a grown-up.
- I don’t keep secrets. No adult should ever need me to keep a secret.
- If I ever get lost in a public place, I can freeze and yell or go to a mom with kids and ask for help.
- I will always pay attention to my Special Inner Voice, especially if the voice is saying “uh oh.”
While I don’t like to instill fear in my kids, I do think it is important to keep them informed. We go to a lot of public places and since my boys are four years apart, it can be hard to keep them together all the time. I want to make sure my 7 year old knows how to be safe. As he gets older, he’s not always with me, so he needs to have the knowledge and tools to remain safe.