“There has been a lot of talk online about child abduction and stranger danger lately and I am starting to feel really anxious about my children’s safety. I want them to be aware of the dangers out there but am not sure how to approach the topic without scaring them. Do you have any suggestions?” Jodi (mum of two 6 & 9)
Great question Jodi!
Having come across similar content online recently myself, I can certain understand your concerns. There are few things conjure fear into the hearts of parents as stories of childhood abduction and stranger danger. They heighten our anxieties and fears and increase our level of concern regarding the vulnerability and safety of our kids.
Fortunately, the risk of childhood abduction and stranger danger is much lower than our emotions would have us believe! In reality strangers pose a much smaller risk to children’s safety and wellbeing than people they know in some way.
This sad fact highlights the importance of keeping the danger of strangers in perspective and having broader conversations with children about keeping themselves safe that reflect an accurate perception of the risks.
While it is certainly important to teach our children how to interact with strangers appropriately and be cautious about the type and amount of information they share with those they don’t know well. It may be even more important to help them develop the awareness, skills and confidence to make smart decisions and keep themselves safe across a wide range of situations.
Below are some general tips for talking with your children about personal safety.
Tips for Parents:
Set your focus and calm your nerves
Conversations about personal safety should help children develop their confidence and competence rather than raise their levels of fear and anxiety. Try to take a calm, confident and matter of fact approach with a focus on helping your child develop personal safety skills that will enable them to be more responsible and independent.
Use clear, simple and age appropriate language
How much information we share and the way we present it really has to take into account the age and temperament of the child, as well as anything pertinent in the child’s current situation.
- Discussions about personal safety should evolve and mature as their levels of freedom and unsupervised time increases.
- Discuss scenarios and situations that your child is likely to be in.
- Let your child’s temperament guide the focus of your discussions. For example, if you have a child who is likely to tends to follow the crowd you may want to emphasis the importance of trusting their own judgment and thinking for themselves. Whereas, if you have a very outgoing child you may want to emphasis the rules for interacting with people you don’t know well when you are not with a trusted adult.
Focus on Safety rather than Danger
Help your child identify potential risk factors but concentrate on what your child can do to keep themselves and their friends’ safe when they are not with a trusted adult.
Establish a solid set of Safety Rules
Establishing a clear set of guidelines and safety rules for when they are not being actively supervised will ensure that you child knows what to do to keep themselves safe and will give them the confidence to make smart decisions.
Be sure your child knows that there are a different set of rules and expectations for their behaviour when they are with a trusted adult and when they are on their own or with other children.
Include a clear set of Dos and Don’ts
- Always use the buddy system
- Stay in well lit, populated areas
- Keep a safe distance (at least 2 arms lengths) away from vehicles and people you don’t know well
- Accept rides, go anywhere or provide assistance to people you don’t know well. If someone needs urgent help bring the situation to the attention of an adult who can help.
- Go anywhere with anyone without permission
- Never accept gifts, candy or other items from people you don’t know well without permission
Create a Circle of Trust
While it is easy to assume your child knows what a stranger is children are notoriously inaccurate when it comes to identifying who is and isn’t a stranger and who is or isn’t safe stranger to trust.
The Circle of Trust exercise is a really helpful tool that you can use with your child to help them identify and categorise people according to their relationships and guide their interactions with them
Help them identify Safe Places and People
Help your child identify safe people and place they can go for help if they need it.
Ensure they know what to do if they feel uncomfortable or in danger
While we hope that it will never come to that, it is important that you talk to your child about what to do if they ever feel uncomfortable or in danger.
Make sure they know:
- That they should always tell you if something or someone is bothering them
- That it is ok to stand up for themselves, even if it means saying no to an adult, yelling or running away
- That they should never be too embarrassed, shy or scared to stand up for themselves or ask for help
- That they know how to identify people and places that can help them
- That they have your contact details and that they will not get in trouble for calling you even if you are busy or they were doing something they shouldn’t have at the time.
Teaching children to be aware of their surroundings and to follow basic safety rules will go a long way to helping them feel confident and keep themselves safe.
;0) Jen – The Kids Coach
If you have a question about your child’s social or emotional development please send them to email@example.com and they may be featured in my next Ask The Kids Coach submission!