“Don’t talk to strangers” doesn’t work anymore. It used to be the cure-all of how to protect your kid. But if a child is lost, they will need to talk to a stranger. If your child ever wants to make friends they will need to talk to a stranger. In fact we talk to strangers all the time. It just doesn’t make sense to make an all encompassing rule of “never talk to strangers.”
Instead we need to teach children who is safe. They need to be on guard for manipulative or deceptive adults. who they can trust, and how to be safe. It has been found that a large percentage of abuse and assault comes from family, friends or acquaintances. That means that they are more likely to be harmed by someone they know than a stranger. We need to equip our kids in a new way.
Check out this website for more information on rethinking stranger danger, and this website for help concerning abuse. Here are some important guidelines for what to teach your child to help them be safe.
Teach kids to recognize tricky adults.
Tricky adults never need help from a child.
Tricky adults ask you to keep secrets.
Tricky people might be someone you love very much. Even people we love can do bad things, so never feel bad about telling the truth about people you love.
Tricky adults will lie. They might pretend to know your parents, to be someone important like a police officer, pretend there is an emergency, or act like they can boss you around. Always check with your parents before trusting anything a stranger says.
Tricky adults often seem very nice and friendly, give you things, or promise nice things.
Tricky adults will ask you to do something that might make you feel uncomfortable, and then they will tell you it is good or nice.
Mothers with children are safe. I tell my children that if they are ever lost and need help they can go find a mother with children. I give this caveat- go find a mother with children. Don’t go with a mother that comes to you. They can also trust a uniformed officer.
Create a code. Give your children a secret code word that can be given to trusted adults when picking them up. Teach your children to ask for the secret code word before going with the adult. This will help guard children against tricky adults who create false emergencies. If you need to send someone to pick up your child in an actual emergency, the trusted adult can share the secret code word and the child will know they are safe.
Name private parts what they are. No silly names. Teaching your children the proper anatomical names empowers your children with language to explain and understand. If they begin using silly names, you will know that someone has been speaking to them other than you.
Allow kids to say no. Even to Aunt Philomena. If kids are corrected for saying no to adults for unwanted affection, then their ability to understand boundaries is affected, and they may feel wrong for expressing discomfort for affection they have received. You don’t want to hug Aunt Philomena? You don’t have to. You don’t want to kiss Grandpa George? That’s ok.
Encourage your kids to show affection. Are you contradicting yourself, lady? Didn’t you just say kids can say no? Encourage your kids to show affection, but do not force them. By teaching your kids what healthy physical relating looks like and feels like you are enforcing a lifelong health of relating. Don’t put no-touch policies on your kids. Instead encourage the right kind of touch. Good touch fosters good touch. No touching philosophies encourages acting out, frustrated bodies, and incapable relating. For younger kids (e.g. 2-7 years), if you notice bad touching from peers, (such as aggression or unwelcome behaviors) counter the touch with correction and a better response.
Teach kids to respect no. Teach your child to respect others boundaries. If another child doesn't want a hug, encourage them when they listen, or affirm that they must respect that child's boundaries. This helps your child to recognize and resist abuse, and be an advocate for those being mistreated.
Trust your child when they express concern or uncomfortability. Listen to them. Ask them questions, and let them know they can share anything with you.
If your child has been mistreated...
1-I love you, and always will. 2-You are safe. 3-It's not your fault. The moment that a child shares an experience abuse, you must affirm your love for them, let them know they are safe with you, and that they have done nothing wrong. Often when a child has been abused they fear sharing what has happened, and wonder if they will still be accepted if a parent finds out. Abusers are manipulative. They often threaten harm if they tell what has happened. They also try making a child think that they initiated the contact, and therefore that they are responsible.
If they share an experience or you discover that they have been mistreated, ask questions to get as many details as possible and write them down. (E.g. What happened, who was involved, where was it, how often, for how long has this been happening, etc.) If the child is not in immediate danger, then wait until they are rested before speaking to the police so that they can speak clearly.
It is scary to consider your child being in danger. Worrying does not help, but being wise and teaching kids does. Above all be aware of your children and keep conversation open. Make the time to connect with them, and don't be afraid to ask hard questions.