Many parents can relate to the overwhelming feeling of terror that begins to set in when they notice their child appears to have wandered off, or in some cases, has been taken.
The world can be an uncertain place, and introducing the concept of stranger awareness to your child may help keep them out of harm’s way. Here are a few ways to introduce the discussion and begin talking about the subject with your child.
1. Define Stranger
Have a conversation with your child to discover what the word stranger means to them. Then, correct any misconceptions and let them know what the word means to you, keeping this simple and non-threatening. Let your child know strangers come in all forms and they don’t always look mean and scary – many can be helpful and friendly. But, it is important to be cautious when being introduced to new people.
2. Safe Strangers
Be aware of how you discuss “stranger danger” – it could teach them not to ask strangers for assistance when they need help.
Let your child know there are “safe strangers” – well-trusted grown-ups you designate to have this title – like police officers, firefighters and teachers. Pointing out examples of them while in public will help reinforce the idea of who is, and who isn’t, a safe stranger.
3. Trust Instincts
Teach your child to trust their instincts. Kids are smarter than we give them credit for. If something feels off to them, or an individual makes them feel uncomfortable, let them know it is okay to walk away as fast as possible and to tell you, or an adult they know, what they are feeling.
4. Family Code Word
Use a unique code word or phrase with your child and one they will remember. It is vital your child understands what to do if a stranger approaches them and makes them feel uncomfortable. In this instance, the child can ask for the code word, and if they don’t have it, teach them to walk away and find another adult they know nearby – or yourself.
5. Give Examples
Give your child examples of when a stranger may seem bad. These vary from when a stranger asks the child to disobey the parent or a stranger asks for help and claims they are lost. Other basic topics to include in this conversation include: not accepting food, cash or toys, not going in a car with a stranger or when they notice a stranger is following them.
6. Keep Distances
Tell your children to always stay at least one adult arm length away from a stranger they are talking to in the case they need to get away from them.
7. Safe places
For older children, advise them not to hang around parks, schoolyards or deserted places after hours. If they are unsupervised, remind your children to look out for one another when they are without an adult.
8. It’s Ok to Yell
Empower your child to be loud when needed.
Let them know it’s okay to speak up and tell an adult when someone has made them uncomfortable or to yell, “You’re not my mom!” then turn and run.
9. Keep no secrets
Let your child know if a stranger asks them to keep a secret, no matter what they say, to always report it to you or an adult they know. Reassure them it is ok to tell you anything, and be sure to listen and respond calmly.
Since 2007, the South Dakota Child Identification Program (SDCHIP) has helped more than 21,000 parents be prepared in the instance that a child does go missing. The CHIP is offered in 20 states and is considered a growing trend among young parents, according to Jack Welker, West River Coordinator for the South Dakota
Child Identification Program.
“The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children recognizes Comprehensive Masonic CHIP as one of the most complete child recovery and identification programs in the nation,” Welker said. “We are helping parents protect their children; if they have to go to AMBER Alert, they would have the information ready.”
The identification chip is free of charge and includes tooth print impressions, DNA cheek swab, digital still photo, fingerprints and a video-imaged interview. For more information and to see when the next free event will be held, check out sd-chip.org.
The web is full of information that can be helpful to parents when talking to children about strangers. For example, Kidsmartz.org highlights role-playing skills, what to do if the child becomes lost and who to turn to for help. Another site, Childrensmn.org, includes tips on when kids should call 911, neighborhood safety and proper street safety.
It is never too early to talk to your children about ways to stay safe. But, be mindful to keep the information and examples you share with them age-appropriate in order to help your child be more prepared when they encounter a stranger. Establishing specific rules with your child in an educational, non threatening way will help them stay safe without scaring them.
By Priscilla Borrego