Stranger Danger and Personal Safety
Posted on October 25, 2017 by CHS
The term “stranger danger” has been used for many years to teach children to protect themselves from potentially dangerous people. This has been taught to children by schools and parents across the United States, but there are still children who go missing every day. There are several reasons why this program may not always be effective for children.
First of all, “Stranger Danger” can be a difficult concept for children because their definition of a stranger may be different than an adult’s. Secondly, according to research by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the concept of “stranger danger” may even prevent children from calling out for help or asking for assistance from nearby people who are strangers. Finally, research also indicates that children are most often abducted by a family member or someone they know instead of a stranger.
You can teach your child to protect herself by talking about personal safety and practicing safety skills on a daily basis. Start by talking to your child about safety. Explain to her that a parents’ job is to keep their child safe. Then talk about how it is important for her to learn to recognize when someone or something is not safe in case she is by herself. Children do not need to live in fear of danger, but they do need to be prepared to take care of themselves. The following are tips and ideas for talking with your child and practicing safety skills.
Strangers and Friends
- Talk with your child about the difference between strangers and friends. Ask her to describe what the word stranger means. Let her know that a stranger is anyone that Mom or Dad has not introduced to her. When you introduce an adult to your child, make the role of that adult clear to her. For example, “This is my friend, her name is Mrs. Smith.” Make sure your child knows that an adult is only a friend if you introduce her/him that way.
- Teach your child to run away from adults who are asking her to get in their car, look for a lost pet, or come with them for a special treat. Let her know that if someone tries to make her go with them when you are not there it is okay to yell, bite, hit, or kick them to get away.
- Remember that strangers are not always people your child will meet in person. Many children experience their first contact with strangers online. Always monitor your child’s online activity and practice internet safety. Visit the Common Sense Media website to learn more about online predators. You can also read our blog on Internet Safety.
- Keep in mind that sometimes our own actions as adults contradict what we tell children to do and this can be confusing. For example, a parent may say, “Don’t talk to strangers,” then have a conversation with someone while in line at the grocery store. Let your child know that it is okay to talk to a stranger if a parent is with her, because they will keep her safe.
- Make sure your child understands that you want to know about anyone or anything that makes her feel uncomfortable or hurts her. Think of things your child might not like such as a particular food or recurring event. Discuss the “uncomfortable” feelings she feels in those moments. She might refer to it as feeling sick to her stomach or being scared. Let her know that those are the feelings we get when something does not feel safe. Teach her to trust her instincts and ask for help.
- Develop a secret code word with your child. Explain that if you cannot pick her up from school, she can only leave with an adult who knows the secret code word. After the code word has been used once, make sure you change it. If your child is old enough to walk to school, then teach her to always walk with a group of friends and stay together.
- Make sure your child knows what to do if you are in public and become separated. Unless the situation is dangerous, she should stay exactly where she last saw you so that you can re-trace your steps and find her. You might also give her a whistle to carry that she can blow to alert you. If you are going to visit a crowded place, take a photo of your child before leaving so you can remember exactly what she is wearing in case you need to describe her.
- Spot the Helper Game: Teach your child to look for the helpers. When you are out in public, ask your child to identify the people she would go to if she got separated from you and needed help. Potential helpers in public are police officers, fire fighters, store clerks, or security officers.
- Spot the Danger Game: Ask your child to spot something dangerous and something safe. Playing these simple games helps her learn to recognize safe and dangerous situations.
- Explain to your child that no one has the right to touch her body without her permission, except for medical professionals who are helping her in an emergency or conducting an exam. Show her that she has control over what other people do to her body. For example, if she says her tummy hurts ask, “Is it okay if I look at your tummy?” If she is greeting a family member or being introduced to someone and does not want to shake hands or give them a hug, do not force her to touch or be touched. Allow her the option of smiling and waving instead.
General Safety and Handling Emergencies
Once your child has an understanding of safety, you can teach him how to be prepared for an emergency. Here are some skills to teach your child:
- Help him memorize his first and last name, address, and phone number.
- If he has a medical condition, make sure he knows the name of his condition, medication, and how to treat himself if necessary.
- Teach him basic first aid skills like washing scrapes and putting on a bandage, or applying pressure to a cut that is bleeding. KidsHealth provides information about first aid for kids on their website.
- Teach your child when and how to call emergency services (9-1-1). Explain that if he needs the police, fire department, or ambulance, he can call 911 from any phone and tell them what he needs. KidsHealth provides these tips for teaching your child how to use 911.
- Make a family plan for disasters and practice your plan once a month. Visit www.ready.gov for help making your plan.
Below you will find more resources for teaching your child personal safety every day. There are also resources for knowing when your child can be left home alone, and practicing Halloween safety. You can also read our Halloween Safety blog.
References and Resources in English:
- A Safe and Spooktacular Halloween by KidsHealth®: http://kidshealth.org/en/parents/halloween.html
- Educator guides for teaching children about stranger danger and how to use 911 (resources and activities for ages preschool through 12th grade) by KidsHealth: http://classroom.kidshealth.org/search?search=y&q=strangers&site=classroom&client=khc_q&output=xml_no_dtd&gsaRequestId=7457070404200936186&proxystylesheet=khc_q&filter=0&getfields=Subject
- Halloween Safety by Safe Kids Worldwide™ (Tips, posters, and resources): https://www.safekids.org/halloween
- Internet Safety by KidsHealth®: http://kidshealth.org/en/parents/net-safety.html?WT.ac=p-ra
- Leaving Your Child Home Alone by KidsHealth®: http://kidshealth.org/en/parents/home-alone.html?WT.ac=ctg#cathome
- National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (Tip sheets for teaching children safety, free child identification kit, and resources): http://www.missingkids.org/Publications/Safety
- Nine Social Media Red Flags Parents Should Know About by Common Sense Media: https://www.commonsensemedia.org/blog/9-social-media-red-flags-parents-should-know-about
- Plan for Disasters: http://www.redcross.org/get-help/how-to-prepare-for-emergencies/make-a-plan
- Teaching Your Child How to Use 911 by KidsHealth®: http://kidshealth.org/en/parents/911.html?WT.ac=p-ra#cathome
- The Facts about Online Predators Every Parent Should Know by Common Sense Media: https://www.commonsensemedia.org/blog/the-facts-about-online-predators-every-parent-should-know?j=5192754&l=512_HTML&u=78632979&mid=7000332&jb=307&utm_source=072817+Default&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=weekly#
- When Can My Child Use the Public Restroom Alone? By Kathleen Berchelmann, MD, FAAP: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/tips-tools/ask-the-pediatrician/Pages/When-can-my-child-use-the-public-restroom-alone.aspx
References and Resources in Spanish:
- Centro Nacional de niños desaparecidos y explotados (consejos para hablar con su niño de seguridad, tarjeta de identificación, y recursos. Haga clic en cada imagen para ver la opción en español): http://www.missingkids.org/Publications/Safety
- Consejos sobre seguridad en internet para niños de primaria por Common Sense Media: https://www.commonsensemedia.org/videos/consejos-sobre-seguridad-en-internet-para-ninos-de-primaria
- Enseñar a su hijo cómo usar el teléfono de emergencias (911) por KidsHealth®: http://kidshealth.org/es/parents/net-safety-esp.html?WT.ac=pairedLink
- Prepárate para desastres: http://www.redcross.org/cruz-roja/preparate
- Nueve peligros de las redes sociales por Common Sense Media: https://www.commonsensemedia.org/espanol/blog/9-peligros-de-las-redes-sociales
- Seguridad en la internet por KidsHealth®: http://kidshealth.org/es/parents/net-safety-esp.html?WT.ac=pairedLink