“Mommy, you tell me when you see a bad stranger, okay?”
I laughed a little when 2 yr. old Jada said this to me one day while we were at the grocery store. I had just started warning my precious little girl about “mean” people in this world. If only we could simply look at somebody and know if they were good or not.
Simple, innocent thinking like this from a child is precisely why it is so critical that we warn them of the dangers in this world, and the evil people in it. I urge you dear mothers, if you haven’t done it yet, don’t put it off any longer. Your children need to know how to protect themselves from those who are out to harm them. Don’t be afraid that you might scare your child, or worry him. It is time that you arm him/her with life saving knowledge using these practical tips.
- Have a heart-to-heart. This needs to be a sit down, face-to-face, serious conversation. A casual mentioning of strangers will not suffice. Your child’s age will determine the tone of the conversation, and how deep you get with it. I would suggest starting at age 2 ½-3 yrs. old, depending on their maturity level. This is how I would go about it:
Baby, I want to talk to you about strangers. Do you know what a stranger is? A stranger is somebody who you do not know well. Now, there are lots of people in this world who are strangers to us, we do not know them, and some are good, and some are bad.
Most people are good, but there are some people out there who are bad. Bad strangers will try to hurt you. Sometimes bad strangers try to take children away, and keep them and do bad things to them. I want to tell you about bad strangers to teach you to be careful around people who you do not know.
Bad strangers don’t always look mean. Sometimes they act very nice. You can’t tell if they are good or bad just by looking at them. Bad strangers are tricky! They will act nice to you, but they are really mean. Sometimes they will try to trick you to get you to go with them. It is very important that you stay close to Mommy or Daddy while we are out, so that you don’t get lost from us. If you do get lost, you need to find a store worker, or a police officer right away and ask for help.
- Role Play. This is where you give your child some scenarios of what a “bad” stranger might try to do to get your child to go with them. It is really important to equip your child with the right responses for certain situations, and there is no better way to teach them than through practice and role playing. It’s just pretend now, but if it ever happened in real life, they would be able to recall their practiced responses. Do this often to keep it fresh in their minds.
Now, remember, bad strangers will try to trick children. They want to get you away from your Mommy and Daddy so they can take you. They might act really nice to you and say something like, “Hello little girl. What’s your name? Do you like candy? You do! Well, I have some in my car, you want to come and get some candy?”
Let me tell you something… you should never talk to strangers unless you are with a grown up who you know. You should never take candy from a stranger, unless your Mommy or Daddy says it’s okay first. And you should never, EVER go to the car of a stranger! This is their trick! If they can get you to their car, they will put you in it and drive away. I may never see you again! Now, let’s practice what you should do if a stranger comes to you.
Here is where you roll play. Make up a few scenarios to lead your child through. Don’t act creepy. Don’t put on a mask or try to make yourself look mean or different. Strangers look like everybody else, your child needs to know that. Pretend to walk up to your child and begin a conversation:
You: “Hello. What’s your name?”
Child: “My name is Sarah.”
You: “Hi Sarah.” “How old are you?”
Child: “I’m three.”
You: “Oh! Wow, you’re a big girl!” “Well, Sarah, would you like some candy?”
Stop!! This is where you correct your child. Tell them again how they should never take candy from a stranger. Give them the correct response:
Child: “I have to ask my Mommy or Daddy first.”
Now begin another scenario.
You: “Hi little girl. Do you like puppies?”
You: “Well, I have the cutest little puppy in my car. Would you like to see him?”
Obviously this is another big stopping point! Tell your child that if somebody invites them to his/her car, they should never go alone. Give your child the correct response:
Child: “I have to ask my Mommy or Daddy first.”
Become a little more aggressive in your approach as a stranger.
You: “Oh, come on! He’s really cute! I’m sure your Mommy wouldn’t mind. We’ll be right back!”
Child: “No thank you. I have to ask my Mommy first.”
Now, without acting it out (you don’t want to scare your child), talk to them about the possibility of a stranger trying to grab them and forcibly take them away. Tell them that sometimes bad strangers will pick a child up and try to take them.
Sometimes a bad stranger will try to take you away by picking you up, or grabbing your arm and forcing you to go with them. Do you know what you should do if that happens? If somebody tries to take you away from me, I want you to fight them with all of your strength! Do you understand me? You kick, you scream, you yell “Mommy!!”, you hit, bite, and fight as hard as you can to get away. Do not let them get you to their car. If they get you into their car, I may never see you again. And baby, if I lost you my heart would break! I would cry and cry. I don’t want to lose you, so I need to teach you what to do if a bad stranger tries to get you, okay?
Now remember, most strangers are good. But there are some bad people out there who want to do harm. The best way to keep safe is to stay close to me always, never run off or get too far from me. If you aren’t close, a bad stranger could grab you and run away with you. And if you get lost in the store, you find a worker to help you. Never, ever go with somebody out of the store. Okay?”
Make sure that you practice and talk about this often. Make up different situations to better equip your child. What you teach him has the potential to save his life! Some other scenarios you can practice:
“Can you help me look for my lost puppy?”
“Your Mommy told me to come and get you.”
“Would you like to make a little money helping me?”
“Your Mommy is out in the car. Come, I’ll bring you to her.”
Talk to your child about what his/her reaction should be for each circumstance. And I can’t say it enough, practice, practice, practice. Don’t let your child forget this very important lesson. Remind them often when you are home and in public. I have to warn though, this should not be used as a behavior tool. If your child is misbehaving, and wandering off, don’t threaten him that a stranger is going to take him away. This is an issue of disobedience that requires a disciplinary action. Teaching your child about “Stranger Danger” is a life lesson, not a disciplining method, so don’t confuse the two. You wouldn’t want your child to take this warning light heartedly.
- Question and Answer Time. Ask your child if they have any questions, and answer them the best that you can. Next, take your turn asking questions. Quiz them about what they are going to do in different situations. Reinforce what you have just discussed. And make sure to give lots of praise for correct answers! Encourage your child, and give him confidence in knowing that now he is able to better protect himself if suddenly found in a compromising situation.
I hope that I have provided you with a good starting point to begin teaching your child about how to better protect him or her self. If you have a personal story about a “bad” stranger in your own life, or if there has been a recent news story about a child being kidnapped, don’t be afraid to share these with your child to better demonstrate the reality of this danger.
Here is a link to help you find some more “Stranger Danger” lesson plans and activities to do with your child.
*On a side note, I have also started telling my daughter that if she gets lost and can’t find a police officer or a (preferrably female) store worker, she should find a mommy with children and tell her that she is lost. I have no doubt that another mother would protect my lost child like her own. I know that’s what I would do.
I am also suggesting that if she was ever being physically taken by a stranger, that she should not only fight with all her might, but yell, “You’re not my Mommy (or Daddy)!” so that people don’t mistake her for an unruly child simply misbehaving.
I’d love to hear any suggestions, or personal stories about how you have talked with your children about this subject!