Stranger safety is a term we're hearing less and less of, and for good reason. That doesn't mean that you should avoid talking to your kids about strangers, just that you should approach it differently.
Why the Term Stranger Safety is Out
Stranger safety and stranger danger were commonly used terms in the past, but currently individuals and experts working with the idea of stranger safety are pushing the use of other terms instead.
The reasoning behind this change is because many experts working in child safety matters have realized that the term stranger is far too vague. A resource that explains this new way of thinking in great detail is the Safe Side DVD. The famed Julie Clark of The Baby Einstein Company and John Walsh, well-known host of America's Most Wanted, created this DVD. Mr. Walsh is also is the father of Adam Walsh, a child abducted and murdered in the 1980s.
The Safe Side DVD is an excellent award winning DVD about stranger safety, created especially for kids. In this DVD the term stranger is never used; a decision covered in the parent educational materials included with the DVD. Instead of saying stranger, a term a child may not grasp, the DVD focuses on talking about "Don't Knows (strangers), Kinda Knows (like dad's boss or a regular grocery clerk), and Safe Side Adults" (i.e. adults a child knows very well and trusts, like a parent or chosen teacher).
A child may not understand the word stranger, but they absolutely will understand knowing someone they love vs. not knowing someone, vs. sort of knowing someone. If your goal is to discuss strangers with your child, this DVD is the best place to start. It offers tips for both children and parents in a super entertaining way, and explains how you can word the discussion in a way that kids will not only understand, but also remember.
Basic Starter Safety Tips for Kids
If you want to start discussing stranger safety with your child, here are some points you can start with.
Basic information: Your child should at the very least know his full name and one parent's full name and telephone or cell phone number.
Whom it is always ok to go somewhere with, or who is in their safe circle: This is a very important point. To keep your child very safe, it's best to have few people in this category. A small child can't keep track of ten adults, but they can remember that only mom, grandpa, and Aunt Jane, are allowed to pick them up from day camp. Make sure you stress that even if they sort of know someone, like a librarian, it doesn't make it ok to go somewhere with them. If the adult is not one of the few in the child's safe circle, they should always ask before going somewhere with that adult.
Not to play games: Games are fun, but a game of hide-and-seek is never smart in a public place. Teach your child that playing around like this is dangerous. If you're out with your child, your child should be with you at all times.
What to do if you get separated: It's important that your child know who will help them if they do manage to get lost in a public place. But whom should they ask for help? For kids it can be hard to tell who works at a store vs. who doesn't. It's also hard for kids to recognize officials, like police officers and security guards, and some kids are afraid of uniformed individuals. The best thing you can teach your child is as follows: If your child is lost, tell him to find another mom who is with kids, and tell her that he's lost his mom or dad. Another mom will help a child, and will know how to safely find the child's parents, something a child may not be able to manage on their own. Another mom is also the safest stranger your child is likely to encounter if he's lost.
What to do if a don't know adult (or stranger) approaches them: If someone approaches your child, the best thing your child can do is yell, "This isn't my dad!" or "This isn't my mom!" Next they need to get away from the stranger and quickly find a trusted adult. Teach them never to try and fight an adult; they won't win. Not fighting is an especially important point in today's world where kids in movies (think Spy Kids) fight adults easily. Teach them that movies are movies and not to fight, but to instead yell and run.
Adults NEVER ask kids for help: Being overly polite can get your child hurt or abducted. Teach your child that manners are not necessary if they don't know an adult who asks them for help. Teach them that adults never ask children they don't know for help, and that it's perfectly ok to yell "no" and run to a trusted adult.
Further Resources for Stranger Safety
There is a lot to stranger safety; far too much to cover in a short article. Seriously, the Safe Side DVD mentioned above is one of the best resources ever. Other good resources include:
- Berenstain Bears Learn About Strangers: A book that's not too scary, but discusses good points.
- Safety Procedures for Picking up Students From School
- Kids Safety on the Internet: Kids can run into strangers online too. Internet and MySpace Safety are important.
- Is a Stranger and What Should I Do?: A book that also covers strangers in terms of people your child doesn't know.
- Children's Summer Safety Tips: Covers summer safety points, like not opening doors to strangers, and more.
- McGruff's stranger safety website - loaded with facts and games for kids.