It can be a daunting prospect, teaching your child about stranger danger. After all, it can extend to all corners of life and you do not want to install fear in your child at such a delicate young age. Pre-schoolers and young children are normally brought up in a caring and loving environment, so how do you go about initiating such a frankly, terrifying conversation? The truth is, it is not just one conversation but the start of an open dialogue between yourself and your child. Introducing this dialogue early is a great way to begin.
Firstly, no toddler is going to understand what a stranger truly is, so teach them simple body safety. This is telling them what their private parts are, naming them correctly and introducing the simple notion of consent. When your child reaches about 4 years old you can approach the topic of what a stranger is and extend on the rules of body safety by teaching them:
- Their body belongs to them
- A clear understanding on what is safe and unsafe
- There are no secrets and if an adult asks you to keep one share it with a parent or carer
- Speak out if someone touches you where they shouldn’t.
- If anyone makes you feel uncomfortable tell a trusted adult.
There are some excellent books geared towards children which teach them, in a simple way, about body safety and consent.
Encourage your child to express their feelings and talk about them with you often, so that they can identify what makes them feel uncomfortable, and how they can communicate that to you. During daily activities, talk about how you feel in that moment and ask them to label their emotions too. As well as this, it can be helpful to discuss the physical sides of feelings, such as feeling sick when they are nervous, so they begin to associate these with their emotions.
Children who are abused are often encouraged to keep it a secret by the perpetrator. This can mean that children feel they are not allowed to inform a trusted adult about what is happening. Teach them the difference between a “surprise”, such as a friend’s birthday party, and a damaging secret, where someone is touching them inappropriately.
Talking to strangers
Explain to your child what a stranger is. A stranger is a person that they do not know and cannot be trusted the same as they would a parent. Discuss with them how they should never go anywhere with an adult they do not know. A great way of introducing this topic is through roleplay. Act out with your child a scenario such as, an unfamiliar friendly mum coming to collect them from school without your child expecting them. Ask them what they should do and advise how they should react. One way would be to return into school to speak to a teacher first. Keep the role plays light-hearted but with intent as you do not want to lose your child’s interest.
Not all dangers come from a stranger
The term ‘stranger danger’ has come under fire in recent years as an outdated approach. Data shows that over 90% of child abuse cases are committed by someone known to them. Teaching a child that all strangers are possible dangers may turn off their safety radars for home and school. So, encourage them to be aware at all times by reminding them what is normal and safe behaviour and what is not.
Where to go if they feel in danger
If your child has been separated from you, for example, they need to know that they can approach a stranger for safety. If they are in a busy area teach them to find a member of staff in a shop or failing that, a mother with children to ask for help.
As the world moves forward at a rapid pace, stranger danger can be found anywhere and the internet is another place which requires a safety talk. Teach your child to never share any confidential information or pictures online. Keep an eye on friend lists for games and query anyone they do not appear to know. An Essex mum had an eye-opening experience when she queried who her daughter was playing with online.
“My daughter has been playing a well-known game with her school friends and when I looked over her shoulder I asked who the extra player was. She replied she did not know, none of the girls did. I immediately took this player off but it terrified me who that could have been and how they managed to just slip into the game without my daughter or her friends giving it a second thought.”
Online predators have become so clever at grooming children without their knowledge so keep conversations open, regularly check their devices and friend lists and encourage them to talk to you if anything makes them uncomfortable online.
The conversation about the possible dangers posed by strangers can feel like an overwhelming topic to approach. However, by starting to talk about both body and internet safety at an early stage will build the foundations of a healthy and open dialogue with your child.
by Karen Olney