A group of children were shown a photo of a man in a suit. The teacher gave the children a scenario in which they must choose whether or not they should trust the man and leave with him. You would think…hope…that most of the children chose to walk away, but sadly this was not the case. With an overwhelming majority opting to trust him, it highlighted a worrying gap in our children’s knowledge of Stranger Danger and how they perceive danger.
In this instance, the children had completely forgotten about the scenario they were in and focussed their attention on the fact that he wore a suit “just like a teacher”.
This is where teaching Stranger Danger often goes wrong with parents. Instead of teaching our children about the circumstances they might find themselves in, we are teaching our children to look out for “bad people” – y’know, the one with the creepy eyes or the one inviting your children to go and see their “puppies”. When statistics show that many abductions are committed by family and friends of the victims, we are potentially putting our children at risk.
In my job, I teach Stranger Danger to primary aged children. I thought it would be useful to put together a helpful list to teaching Stranger Danger effectively.
8 Important Lessons for Teaching Stranger Danger
- Establish who a child can trust – It is important to not scare your children into feeling like they can’t talk to anybody that they don’t recognise. Discuss with your child which strangers they can trust – policemen, teachers, other servicemen, officially uniformed people. It is also useful to let children know that it is okay to talk to a stranger in a safe environment.
- Discuss where to seek help – If your child feels like they are in danger, they should know where to look for help. The number one rule is to seek help in public places where there are lots of people around. If there isn’t anybody else around then they should run until they come to a busier area or are able to run into a shop or similar public building.
- Help them to identify suspicious behaviour – The last thing you want is your child screaming blue murder because the little old lady in the park dared to make conversation with them. Help your child to recognise inappropriate behaviour. Discuss with your child that no sensible adult would ask them to follow them, help them or visit somewhere without a parent or guardian.
- Teach them to trust their instinct – Let your child know that if they are uncomfortable then they should remove themselves from the situation. Tell your children that even adults should respect their personal space and it is okay to say ‘no’.
- Let them know that *sometimes* it’s okay to hit an adult – As parents, we teach our children to have respect and to not hurt others. However, we should make children aware that sometimes it is okay. If they are grabbed then they should be taught to scream, bite, kick, scratch or whatever else it takes to get away.
- Teach them the importance of being where they say they’ll be – We’ve all done it. You tell your parents you’ll be in one place with no intention of staying there. Encourage your child to update you regularly and to always inform you if their plans change. If your child owns a mobile phone then make sure that they always charge it before leaving the house.
- Safety in numbers is key – Stress how important it is to stay with friends and not wander off alone.
- Use passwords – For younger children, establish a password that you can use. This is useful if your child is often picked up by different people. This way, the child can be confident that this has been arranged by their parents. It is also worth saying that any decent school would not allow your child to leave with somebody they are not familiar with. If this is the case, you should always inform the school and not rely on a password.
Don’t forget to also teach your children to keep safe online too!