- Where do I want to help keep my child safe?
- How can I keep my child safe?
- What can I do if my child gets lost in public?
- How can I educate, but not scare my child about keeping themselves safe?
As kids get older and spend more time away from parents, it is important they know how to keep themselves safe. The most common concern for parents is “stranger danger.” This refers to the idea that all people who are unknown can be dangerous. Although most parents are familiar with this term, many security experts think the word gives children the wrong idea. Oftentimes dangerous people appear nice looking and interact with children in ways that seem kind and welcoming. For this reason, teaching children how to recognize and avoid strangers while playing at a park, taking the bus, or walking home is essential for elementary aged children.
Why it Matters
While you want your child to stay safe, you also don’t want to create or increase anxious feelings when they are on their own. You can begin by talking about what a stranger is and isn’t. You can also help them distinguish between strangers that can help (fire fighters, EMTs, police officers, teachers) and those who might not be safe to talk to. People looking to do harm to children will often target those who are alone or look timid. Help them develop a buddy system for times when they are without an adult, like on the bus or walking home from school. You can also help them practice being assertive so that they can feel confident saying “no” or refusing to do something that an adult says. This video, called “What Would Your Child Do?” , helps to illustrate the importance of teaching your child these skills. Watch it and then read the Check In below to find more specific ways of helping your child stay safe.
There are many resources for helping children learn about and deal with dangerous situations. Below is a checklist for some things you can teach your child. Read through them and note the ones you’d like to include in future conversations with your child.
Teaching Children about Strangers
- Define and discuss what a stranger is
- Give examples of ways a stranger may get a child’s attention (puppis, candy, etc)
- Discuss which adults in their personal lives and community can be trusted
- Create a family word code (only people who know the code and use it can pick them up)
- Practice saying “no” forcefully/loudly to grown ups
- Teach them to trust their bodies/feelings
- Teach and practice being assertive (voice tone/volume, body language, words)
- Tell kids they can say “hello” to a stranger if they are close to you
- Teach your kids phrases they can use to alert others if someone is trying to talk to them
- Practice kicking and putting up a fuss if someone tries to touch them
Keeping kids safe while walking home or taking a bus
In addition to the list above,
- Implement the buddy system
- Discuss safety in numbers
- Have contact information for parents of other kids who take the bus
- Tell them to alert an adult/the bus driver if they notice strange cars/people around the bus stop
Keeping kids safe in public places (when you are with them)
In addition to the list above,
- Have discussions about strangers and getting lost before you go
- Discuss what to do if you get separated
- Have a meeting point
- Encourage hand holding
- Use an ID tag (with phone number only)
- Order kid ID tattoos
- Write your phone number on their arm or have them memorize it
- Add color to what they are wearing so you can see them more easily
- Take a photo of your child (what they are wearing) in the morning of so that you can show it to people if they get lost
Connect & Communicate:
As mentioned above, it is important to educate, but not scare your child when talking about strangers and dangerous situations. Some children may get hyper-focused on the “danger” part and that can increase their feelings of fear and anxiety. In addition, telling them to never talk to strangers sends a mixed message because there are times when it is polite or even necessary to do so. Therefore, it is important to talk about when it is and is not appropriate to talk to a stranger.
Defining a stranger: You can talk about people in your neighborhood, at school and in the community at large. Help them pinpoint the ones that are not strangers, the ones that are and the ones they should feel safe asking for help if they need it.
Discussing strategies: Ask them what they can do if they get lost or in trouble when they are on their own. Talk about places and people they may feel the most safe talking to. For example, a woman with children may be safer to ask help from than a man at the park on his own. Talk through some of the things they can do if they feel they are in need of help. This includes yelling, running, taking steps back if someone approaches them, and using a public place to get help.
Talking about consent in general: It is true that not all dangerous situations involve strangers. For that reason, it is important that children understand the importance of consent and appropriate/inappropriate touch with people in their lives who they know. Help them practice saying “no” to people in their lives they love and trust and remind them that no one in their lives should ask them to lie to their parents or keep secrets.
In addition to having discussions, there are some activities you can do and ways to prepare your child for being on their own or getting help when needed. Read through this list and see which ones you may want to do with your child.
- Discuss “What if” scenarios for being in public places
- Do a craft of making bracelets with your phone number and talk about safety while doing it
- Watch and discuss stranger danger videos
- Teach kids about the buddy system
- Buddy system activities
- Read and discuss books about strangers
- The Berenstain Bears Learn about Strangers
- Not Everyone is Nice
- Say NO and GO: Stranger Safety
- Never Talk to Strangers
- I Won’t Go with Strangers
- Once Upon a Dragon: Stranger Safety for Kids
- Teach Your Dragon about Stranger Danger
- Read and discuss books about consent
Contact & Collaborate:
Many schools have programs to help raise student awareness around strangers and dangerous situations. In addition to that, here are some ways that you can continue their learning at home.
- Find out what they teach at school and supplement the learning at home. Resources in other parts of this article will help.
- Find a social media site that offers tips and advice for keeping kids safe
- Get a group of friends or neighbors together and have a police officer come talk to them about strangers
- Create a community of parents in your neighborhood and/or school and start a group (online or via text) so that you have contacts and can share any suspicious information.
In case of an emergency, call local law enforcement first. You can also call National Center for Missing and Exploited Children: https://www.missingkids.org/HOME
Below are some additional resources to continue your learning on how to keep your child safe.
The Safe Side (organization): A collection of videos that teach children how to stay safe in many different situations https://www.thesafeside.com/
Talking to Children about Strangers (video): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OXiQn0KwDZ8
What to Teach Kids about Danger (article): http://archive.ncpc.org/topics/violent-crime-and-personal-safety/strangers.html
Better off Dad (podcast): Stranger Danger! https://podtail.com/en/podcast/better-off-dad/episode-two-stranger-danger/
Simple Families (podcast): Should I Encourage My Children to be Friendly to Strangers? https://simplefamilies.com/episode21/
PSP (podcast): Beyond Stranger Danger: 6 Wacky Tips that Can Save Your Child’s Life https://www.anxioustoddlers.com/psp-001/#.YoO-FBDMI-Q