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How to Teach Your Little Sherlock about Stranger Danger

Little kids notice everything, don’t they?

Whether it’s the emotion on your face, the placement of the kitchen chairs, or the number of dried strawberries in her sister’s cereal, your kids (if they’re anything like mine) wake up and are already paying attention.

They really are tiny detectives, analyzing everything around them.

And this fact bodes well for you when it comes to talking about stranger danger.

It’s a tricky conversation to have isn’t it?

In thinking about having this conversation with my own preschoolers, I tried to sort through the balance of giving them a healthy amount of caution while also making sure they aren’t terrified of every stranger they meet.

Enter the magnifying glass.

Your kids are already paying attention, remember?

So, as you begin to have conversations around stranger danger, empower your kids and focus your conversations on all the things they should be noticing and analyzing when they are interacting with unknown people.

Here are a few tips to help you get started.

Stranger Danger Tip #1:
Define Your Terms

A good detective never overlooks the obvious, right?

Similarly, you need to start by teaching your kids what exactly a “stranger” is.

In kid friendly terms, this could be something like: A stranger is a person you don’t know.

Or, it could also be as easy as teaching her to ask herself this question: “Do I know this person?”

I find books to be incredibly helpful teaching tools when I introduce things to my kids because it gives them a visual to attach to a (sometimes) difficult concept.

When it comes to teaching your kids what a stranger is, The Berenstain Bears can help (like they so often do) as can this book meant to teach kids caution as far as strangers are concerned.

It’s also important, though, to teach your kids that not all strangers are bad. Should a child find herself in a situation in which she needs help, she might need to reach out to a stranger.

This article contains some really helpful tips in this regard. Her most important suggestion: Teach your kids the difference between safe strangers and “tricky” strangers.

She explains this simply: “If a safe adult needs help, they’ll ask another adult. Tricky people ask kids for help.”

Again, put some concrete visuals with this concept. This book about a dragon or this one about some vigilant kids will help further this conversation. If DVDs are more your jam, this is another great option.

And then keep having conversations. Remember, we want our kids to pay attention, but when it comes to strangers, we have to teach them what to pay attention to.

Stranger Danger Tip #2:
Encourage Your Child’s Sleuthing Skills

They have the head knowledge when it comes to strangers. Now, they have to know what to do with it.

So, grab your magnifying glass and help him practice paying attention. Have conversations about the people you meet on your morning walk or your various afternoon outings:

  • I noticed our neighbor was sitting on her front porch as we walked by. Do you think she is a safe stranger?
  • That lady over there has a few kids in her cart too! Do you think she would be a safe stranger in case you needed to ask for help?
  • What if you got separated from me in the museum? Who do you think you could ask to help you?

Conversations about strangers don’t have to be scary! You’re practicing making observations and staying aware of surroundings which are all important life skills anyway.

The key is consistency.

You can’t bring up the topic of strangers once and expect it to stick. Revisit it often and treat it as a natural part of your conversations.

Stranger Danger Tip #3:
Develop a Getaway Plan

She knows what a stranger is. She knows to pay attention to the people around her.

And she also needs you to teach her how to recognize and handle a dangerous situation should it ever arise.

This article from the National Crime Prevention Council contains some extremely helpful suggestions.

First, make sure she is aware of the warning signs of suspicious behavior:

  • An adult asks her to disobey his parents.
  • An adult asks her to keep a secret.
  • An adult asks her for help.
  • An adult makes her feel uncomfortable.
  • An adult seems to be following her.

Then, should she find herself in a dangerous situation, teach her to “No, Go, Yell, Tell.”

  • Say, “No.”
  • Run away.
  • Yell as loud as she can.
  • Tell a safe adult what happened.

Again, remember: consistency. The more you continue to read books and talk through hypothetical scenarios with your kids, the better prepared they will be should they ever have to respond in some kind of dangerous situation.

Safe Words

Something else to consider is a “safe word” — a word that only the members of your family or those permitted to pick her up or take her somewhere would know.

If a child is unsure about whether to trust a stranger, she can ask for the safe word and then respond appropriately.

Empower and Encourage
Your Little Sherlock

Your kids are paying attention.

And, once they know what to look for when it comes to “stranger danger,” it’s important to remind them to trust their instincts.

Say things like…

  • If you ever feel weird or uncomfortable while you’re talking to someone, you are allowed to get away as fast as possible.
  • If you’re talking to a tricky person, it is okay to say, “No!” and run away.
  • If something seems wrong about the way an adult is talking to you, you’re probably right because you notice important things.
  • If a stranger offers you candy or wants to show you a dog but doesn’t know our safe word, you should run away.

Empower your kids and teach them to be assertive when something feels off.

It starts with a conversation, and it can start as early as today.

How have you introduced this concept with your kids? Do you have any additional tips or suggestions?

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