Stranger Safety

All parents want their children to be stranger smart, but it takes more than just telling your child "never talk to strangers" to make sure they really know what to do in a situation where they are on their own or approached by a stranger.

Openly discuss strangers. Don't assume your child knows what a stranger is. Make sure your child knows that a stranger is anyone your child doesn't know. Stress that even if someone seems friendly that doesn't mean that person is safe. Let your child know that adults shouldn't ask children for help or give them things. Make sure your child knows, however, that certain strangers are safe and can be trusted, such as firefighters, police officers, and security guards.

Never say "never talk to strangers." If your child is lost or an unknown adult is making her uncomfortable, she may have to talk to a stranger. For instance she may have to ask for help or ask the stranger to leave her alone. If you teach your child to never talk to strangers, when in a situation where she must do so, she may panic and not know what to do. Rather, establish rules and guidelines with your kids and practice hypothetical situations.

Establish rules regarding conduct around strangers. There are rules that should not be broken under any circumstance such as never letting a stranger into the house or never go anywhere with someone without permission. There are rules to never be broken. Explain to your child why these rules have been established.

Establish a network of trusted people and places. Make sure your child knows who they can talk to if in trouble. Certain classes of strangers, like police officers, security guards, and store clerks are safe. Certain places, like churches, synagogues, schools, and the police departments are also safe places to go in case of emergency. Make sure your child knows the places to avoid too, like deserted areas and parking lots.

Plan what to do if separated. Have your child memorize the phone number they are most likely to reach you. Have him know that he should ask someone he can trust for help and stay where he is.

Let your child know it's ok to say "no." Children sometimes think they shouldn't say "no" to an adult. Make sure your child knows that in some situations, like when they are approached by a stranger, it's necessary to say "no."

Have your child trust his intuition and take action. Establish a NO-GO-TELL policy. If someone tries to touch your child or makes him uncomfortable, he should say "no," go away quickly, and tell someone he can trust about what happened.

Don’t forget internet, door, and phone safety rules. Make sure your child knows never to answer questions from strangers over the phone, at the door, or over the internet. Come up with a generic response she can give. Block inappropriate content, especially websites where your child can talk to strangers such as chat rooms, on your computer.

Practice hypothetical scenarios. Make sure your child knows what to do in a number of hypothetical situations through practice. Ask your child, "What would you do if…" and discuss an appropriate response. Make sure and handle situations involving manipulation too, such as "What would you do if someone you didn't know came to school to pick you up and said I sent them?" The more you talk about strangers, the more your child will be prepared to handle the situation if it ever arises. This will instill confidence about stranger safety in your child, and confident children are much les likely to be targeted.

Safety in numbers. As your child gets old enough to go out on her own, institute the buddy system and make sure she is out with peers. Always have her tell you where she is going, with whom, and when she will be back.