It’s scary to think of your child being snatched off the street, or lured away by a sweet offer, and there’s no doubt that ‘stranger danger’ has a rhyming ring to it.
However, in reality, more than eight in 10 crimes against kids are committed, not by a stranger, but by someone they know.
Thankfully, there are ways to build protective behaviours in your child and help keep them safe. Here’s how to teach kids stranger danger and arm them against known and unknown threats.
1. Start child safety lessons early
Long before your kiddo walks themselves to school or hangs at the mall, you need to teach them about personal safety.
From early childhood, this means having open, age-appropriate chats that educate and empower. Your child needs to know that they can talk to you about anything, and nothing is too secret, gross or confusing to share.
They also need to learn to trust their instincts and recognise the feelings and actions that ring alarm bells.
For your young child, this means understanding the difference between positive and negative feelings, and learning about ways their body might tell them it’s feeling unsafe (e.g. with sweaty hands, tummy butterflies, goosebumps or a racing heart).
While you’re having the body talk, make it clear that your child’s body belongs to them. Distinguish between their public and private parts (using correct names, not euphemisms), and draw a line between safe touching (e.g. when a doctor asks before inspecting their chest) and unsafe touching (e.g. when a grown-up’s touch is unwelcome and secret).
A tricky thing about teaching stranger danger for kids is that youngsters are raised to respect and trust adults. We’re not above the law, though, and your child needs to know that it’s ok to say, “No” to an adult who makes them feel uncomfortable, unsure or unsafe. They won’t get in trouble and should tell you, or another trusted adult, straightaway.
It can also be tricky for littlies to understand the difference between a safe and unsafe secret, so it helps to use real world examples. For instance, if you’re keeping Dad’s birthday present under wraps, you could explain that this is a safe secret because it will give Daddy a nice surprise.
2. Set out clear rules and responses
As well as teaching your tyke about their feelings, body and voice, it’s important to put rules in place to keep them safe and identify adults they can rely on for help.
Rules-wise, your child should know to:
- Check in with you before engaging with a stranger
- Make sure you (or another care-giver) always knows where they are, and
- Never go anywhere with a stranger.
In time, they can memorise your mobile number, and the Kids Help Line hand cut-out is a great way to identify ‘safety helpers’ your child can count on.
Family outings are an opportunity to practice safety skills and talk through ‘What If?’ scenarios, and if your child feels unsafe or unsure, they can:
- Run and talk to a trusted adult (e.g. you, a grandparent or educator)
- Ask a safe stranger for help (e.g. a mum with kids if they lose you at the playground)
- Go to a safe place (e.g. a local shop or centre security if they lose you at the mall), or
- Scream, “Go away! I don’t know you!” if they’re followed or grabbed by a stranger.
3. Remain alert
It’s important that your child leads a full life, with opportunities to gain independence and have fun with people who aren’t you, but this doesn’t mean stepping back from their social, educational and extra-curricular activities.
Make sure you know who they’re interacting with (including online), and if you’re worried about an adult’s actions, don’t stay mum. Trust your instincts and take your concerns to an appropriate person.
If you notice a change in your child’s headspace or behaviour, it’s important to talk things through with them, because ignorance isn’t bliss, and as well as listening to your child, there are lots of resources to learn from – starting with the Daniel Morcombe Foundation and Bravehearts.
While you’re teaching stranger safety for kids, make sure you cover cyber safety for preschoolers, and choose a child care centre that takes your tyke’s safety seriously.
As Australia’s most trusted child care comparison site, Toddle will point you in the right direction.
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