‘Stranger Danger’ is better referred to as a small part of teaching children protective behaviours as 85 per cent of danger or abuse to children occurs with someone known to the child or trusted by the child. The Protective Behaviours Organisations have undertaken work for many years to protect children from all dangers, and help them to be safe in all environments. As such protective behaviour should focus on stranger danger, predators, relatives or friends and Internet or online risks.
The aim is to teach children to be safe, to be aware of predatory strangers, and to be self protective. Teaching protective behaviours or ‘stranger danger’ is a delicate balance of raising awareness, without unnecessarily alarming children, or paralysing them with fear. It is equally important to emphasise that the majority of adults are caring, loving and responsible–not ‘bad people’, to globally fear.
As such, a typical child response that a stranger is a nasty, bad person shows their immature naivety or lack of understanding. A typical predator will likely be dressed in friendly clothes, be funny or ingratiating, and more likely nice, enticing, or bearing treats and offers. A stranger is any person that they do not know.
What to tell your child about a stranger:
- Tell your child not to listen to or be near a stranger–rather to move away or back inside.
- Tell your child to never ever go with a stranger–no matter what the stranger says.
- Share a code word with your child that is easy for them to remember and assure them that only a trusted adult will know the code word that you both share.
- Tell your child that strangers may make up sad stories, like looking for a lost pet, needing help with a sick child, or needing directions.
- Tell your child that strangers may offer treats, gifts or lollies for ‘helping’.
- Have your child make sure an adult they trust knows where they are at all times
- Encourage your child if they have to walk by themselves somewhere to walk near busier roads/streets
- If ever frightened tell your child to go into a ‘safe place’ like a shop, police station or school and NEVER get into a car with someone they don’t know.
Practice makes perfect
Having explained ‘stranger danger’ or protective behaviour you might breathe a big sigh of relief. However, let’s not relax just yet. Research shows that kids often can quote what mum or dad said very well, but when placed in the situation, they more often still give in.
- At home, role play certain situations with your child, such as pretending mum is sick and that a new person needs to take them home.
- Role play or practise a variety of strategies or other scenarios.
- Try a test in a safe environment at home, such as an unfamiliar friend at the front door trying to entice them outside to look at a sick, cute rabbit.
- Research shows that kids often ‘forget’ after a period of time. Thus a yearly family refresher course is very worthwhile.
Active, protective behaviour
- Teach your child never to wander off or go out of sight.
- Teach your child to always walk with and stay with friends–to never go alone.
- Teach and practice saying NO loudly and repeatedly, if they are unsure.
- Teach your child to yell HELP, as loudly and repeatedly as possible, until they are heard. Predators hate noise and attention.
- Teach your child to find a safe adult (a policeman or a mum with a stroller) or a safe spot (if they are fearful) such as a school, shop or safety sign. However, don’t tell your child that all uniforms are safe as some predators may be wearing a uniform.
A healthy balance
- Assure your child that most adults are loving, caring and trustworthy.
- Discuss good, safe and friendly people in the world, to avoid fear of all adults.
- Remind your child of helpful adults, like firemen, teachers, police, doctors, etc.
- Remind your child of ‘good’ adults in their world, who can be trusted.
- Protect them from over exposure to graphic news stories.
- Encourage your child to ‘tell’ if they even think they came across a stranger.
- Encourage your child to ‘tell’ if they felt scared, unsure or uncomfortable (‘yucky’ with any adult).
- Affirm that you will be happy and praise them for ‘telling’–that they won’t be in trouble.
- Affirm that you will listen and believe them.
Basic protective safety for parents
- Always know where your children are.
- Keep your kids within your sight or supervision.
- Be alert to other people around you, but not paranoid.
- Be alert to Internet threats–research shows predators are increasingly luring more mature children through the Internet, such as online, through forums, chat lines, and message systems.
- Always keep young children’s computers within your vision (not in their bedrooms), and under your supervision.
- Install a ‘Net-Nanny’ or Parental Control Software program on your computer.
- Teach your child to never ever give out personal or private information.
Non stranger danger
- Be alert to behaviour or interaction, from a relative or friend, that makes you or your child feel uncomfortable.
- Explain to your child, in age appropriate terms, where touching is not okay, such as touching mouths and areas covered by their swimming costumes.
- Be alert to overly ingratiating or endearing behaviour that can lead to separation of child and parent.
- Listen openly at any time your child ‘tells’ about feeling uncomfortable or ‘yucky’.
- Avoid blaming or being judgmental if your child ‘tells’.
- Be alert for a combination of warning signs of potential danger–the greatest indicator is a change in several behaviours. But be aware that these are only warning signs–they may indicate other concerns:
- a return to bedwetting, nightmares or disturbed sleep
- sudden onset of phobias, such as fear of leaving house or fear of dark
- increase in anxiety, withdrawal or mood swings at unusual times
- any genital bruising, unusual genital discomfort or repetitive urinary tract infections
- torn or missing under garments
- unusual aggression and/or violent or explicit drawings
- self harming or secretive, inappropriate behaviour
- resistance to being left with a previously trusted or liked adult.
Finally, keep ‘danger’ in balance. While being alert and pro-active with protective behaviours, remember that a child’s world is full of safe, wonderful and positive events.
This story on the Mamamia website lists Bruce Morcombe’s 7 tips to teach your children in light of his experience with the loss of his son Daniel. The article also provides links to a couple of other child safety websites.