One of the more frightening aspects of being a parent is ensuring your child’s safety.
We all need to have the talk about strangers at some point, and you might think that soon isn’t soon enough. However, what you say to them and how receptive they are about it will depend on their age.
We’re going to discuss how to talk to your kids about strangers, and when it’s the right time to do it.
When You Should Talk About Strangers
Babies and toddlers don’t understand what a stranger is. They don’t know who is harmless or not because they don’t yet understand the concept of safety to this extent. You can teach them about basic body safety, but they won’t be ready for a conversation about strangers.
At the age of four, they might have heard about strangers, but because children this age lack good judgment, they shouldn’t be unsupervised in public.
Kids who have already started school might still assume that it’s safe to interact with a friendly adult. These schoolchildren are more likely to be unsupervised in public, such as walking to school or playing in the street with their friends. This is the most critical time to start giving them clear direction on how to interact with strangers.
Although stranger abductions are very rare, it’s still essential for your kid to know how to stay away from a potentially dangerous situation. Besides, the ability to talk to adults will be beneficial to their social development.
How to Talk About Strangers
Start With Basic Safety
Begin discussing basic safety measures with your preschooler (ages two to four). Tell them to stay close to you or hold your hand in a public space. Of course, the bigger thing to educate them on is what to do when strangers are near by and you aren't there.
Introduce the Topic of Strangers
You can start discussing the concept of strangers at around four years old. Tell them that a stranger is anyone they don’t know.
Give them examples so that they can learn to distinguish the people they know from those they don’t, like pointing out a random man in the street.
Clarify Who They Can Trust
Children need to understand that not everyone they know can be trusted. They might be under the impression that their friend’s mom is a harmless adult because they’ve seen her a few times on the soccer field.
Have them know that only certain adults can be trusted, like their parents, grandma and grandpa, and authority figures like their teacher, a security guard, or a policeman. Point out these people who wear specific uniforms. You can even make a list.
Try to have this conversation without frightening them. You don’t want your kids to have nightmares about the bad man that’s going to take them away.
Make Some Rules
If your kid can’t find you in a public space, they need to know where to go and what to do. For example, tell them that they should go to the cashier and wait there for you if you get separated in a store.
They should know that it’s okay to say “I’m not allowed to talk to strangers” if they’re approached by one. And if they’re still too young to be left unsupervised, that they shouldn’t speak to strangers at all if you’re not close by.
A child isn’t very aware of concepts like manipulation, so you must teach them not to trust anyone who says they know you or your partner. Even if they do recognize them, they shouldn’t assume them to be harmless if they’re not on the list of people to trust.
You need to make it clear to your kids that they should never get in a car or walk off with anyone that isn’t on the list either, no matter what they tell them.
You can role-play these scenarios. For example, demonstrate how to step back and keep their distance if a stranger approaches them when they’re alone or if a car pulls up to ask for directions.
Children learn behaviors and thinking patterns through repetition. Don’t overstate it, however, that could scare them unnecessarily. Bring it up on appropriate occasions, like before going to a theme park.
What About Staying Home Alone?
First of all, you need to establish at which age it would be appropriate to leave your kids at home alone. Some states have a law that specifies an acceptable age to leave a child at home.
There is a general consensus:
- Under seven—shouldn’t be left at home.
- Eight–12—can be left at home for a few hours during the day.
- 13–17—can be left unsupervised and also overnight, depending on their level of maturity.
There is the possibility of your child coming into contact with a stranger when they’re home alone. This could be someone ringing the doorbell or calling on the phone.
If they’re still under the age of 10, they shouldn’t open the door for anyone. When they’re a bit older, they can tell the visitor, “Dad can’t come to the door right now,'' while staying behind the closed door. If there’s a package to be delivered, they can tell them to leave it outside or to come back later.
A child that is older than seven will most likely be mature enough to answer the phone. They need to know not to give away information such as your address. Again, they can say, “Mom can’t come to the phone right now.”
They don’t even need to answer if they don’t want to. In that case, if you plan on calling home, make sure they can identify you via caller ID.
Strangers on the Internet
It’s rather frightening to think that our kids are more likely to interact with strangers online than in real life. Since being online is such an integral part of our lives now, it can’t be avoided.
There are several ways for you to monitor what your child is doing:
- Keep any tablets or cellphones that they’re using in a common area.
- Turn on parental controls in the browsers they’re using.
- Download an app that monitors their online activity. FamilyTime and Qustodio are some of our favorites and are available on both Android and iOS.
Don’t allow them to create social media accounts if they’re not older than 12. And when they do, make sure they know the importance of not sharing personal information.
Stranger Than Fiction
We’ll go above and beyond to ensure the safety of our kids. Talking to them about strangers is a conversation that needs to happen.
Of course, not all strangers are bad, and they will come to realize that. But there’s an overwhelming amount of media coverage on missing children, and it’s just not possible for us to be around them 24/7.
Instilling cautious behavior towards strangers will help keep them safe. They must understand the potential danger that strangers pose and know who they can trust. Not only for when they’re young—it can keep them safe their entire lives.