Ways to protect your kids beyond creating fear and anxiety

While stranger danger may rhyme well, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for keeping your kids safe. A blanket fear of every adult your child doesn’t know can make her become fearful and anxious. It can also kill the opportunity for her to learn how to be a good citizen and care for others in need. Besides, according to the Child Advocacy Center, 90 percent of children who have been sexually abused were not hurt by a stranger, it was someone they knew.

So what’s a parent to do? You want your child to be safe from predators and you know he’s too young to understand that a wolf might be underneath a kind and friendly mask. You empower him with knowledge and the strength to say no. You set rules that keep him safe. Then you hit the replay button on these lessons over and over again. 

Predators don’t look like the boogeyman

Most predators do not look scary—they appear friendly and fun. They offer gifts or favors. They ask kids for help. They tell kids to keep secrets. They brush off a kid’s concern of asking mom or dad first. Teach your child it’s not the stranger part that makes a person dangerous—in fact, let him know that most people are good people—it’s what that person is asking or suggesting. Dangerous people are tricky people.

It can be hard to grasp this concept especially for little ones, so set a simple rule of saying, ‘I have to ask my mom first,’ before your child can ever do anything with any adult outside of the classroom or off the sports field. They have to ask first, period.

Role playing safety situations can help young kids practice saying ‘I have to ask first,’ or simply ‘No!’ and running away. You can be the tricky adult and offer for him to see your new puppy and encourage him to come around the corner and he can have fun practicing his new ask-first mantra and assertiveness skills.

A part of keeping young kids safe is helping them identify their internal feelings when they are presented with a strange opportunity from an adult. You can define this as an ‘uh-oh” feeling and share times you had such a feeling when you were a kid. Help your little ones practice identifying this danger feeling throughout the day when crossing the street, encountering animals, meeting strangers at the park or grocery store, and so on. 

Private parts are private

As young as age 2, talk with your child about private parts, teaching the appropriate names for her genitals and reinforcing that no one gets to touch them without her permission and that only mom, dad and the doctor are ever allowed to touch them and only for bathing or keeping her healthy. Let her know she alone is the boss of her body.

In general, encourage your child to be assertive, even to adults. While kids do need to learn respect for adults, they also need to learn that they can say no when something doesn’t feel right.  

When a stranger is needed

Another reason you should throw away the stranger danger concept is that at some point your child may need help. Almost every child gets lost at least once in his or her lifetime. When this happens—or another emergency—he needs to know who to ask for help. Teach him to find a mom with kids and ask her for help. Let him know moms know how to handle these things best and so he needs to look around and find one. Then, make sure as early as possible he knows your real name, not just mommy or daddy, and your phone number.   

Lastly, don’t be concerned that talking about tricky people will only prove to make your child feel scared. In fact, talking and role-playing what to do actually empowers kids as they feel their now equipped to handle the situation.  

With all good parenting, instilling important lessons takes time. Repeat these lessons often. No doubt they will stick with your kids much better than the old stranger danger mantra.