Learning About Strangers – Educating Our Children Without Scaring Them

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What provoked this “talking to strangers” conversation with my children?  It was months ago when a high risk pedophile moved about a mile from our family.  The man charged had kidnapped a child and harmed him.  As a community we were scared and upset.  We started petitions to help tighten Vermont laws that allowed these offenders into our state and neighborhoods.  They faded.  We posted pictures of him around town and at the beginning of nearby trail heads.  They were taken down.  It was two weeks ago, that he and two of his housemates showed up at our multi-family garage sale.  I knew it was him in my heart, but suppressed the urge to speak up.  How could this sex offender be on my private property?  After we all identified him our anger grew.  We had ten children of varying ages running around the house and felt violated.  I needed to start educating my children about talking to strangers.  However, I didn’t want to scare them or make them think they couldn’t talk to people we didn’t know.

I started the conversation with Avery, my five year old daughter, by asking, “what is a stranger?” and  “who can you go somewhere with?”  We went through our family and friends and who she was allowed to be with if I was not present.  The discussion led to the difference between safe and dangerous strangers.  I gave her examples that policemen, teachers, firemen,and  managers of a store were examples of safe strangers.  These were adults that she could go to if help was needed.  We then talked about what a “gut feeling” meant.  I told her that our minds and bodies know when something is wrong.  We need to trust and listen to ourselves.  This meant that if we feel something is different or harmful about a person or a situation then we need to leave or sound our alarm (our voice) and let those around us know that we are in a dangerous situation.  It was actually a pretty light conversation eventhough I was sweating and my heart was pounding the entire time.  How could I already be having this conversation with my child?  She just started kindergarten.  I had her repeat these actions and thoughts back to me so I knew that she understood.   Over the next couple of weeks, I’d randomly bring things up and see what she thought or listen to her response.

Later on, I reached for our good time friends, the Bernstein Bears.  Their book is called: “The Bernstein Bears Learn about Strangers.”  Brother and Sister bear are such old friends and always there to drive home any point in a fun and helpful way.  This story gives a great lesson about strangers.  My favorite is when Mama and Papa Bear cut open a beautiful, red apple only to find it worm eaten and unedible.  Everything is not always as it appears and this is the same for strangers.  This book helped in a very kid-friendly way.  If you didn’t want to purchase the hard or soft copy then consider the kindle version or download the book onto your computer.

There is so much more to say.  I hope these tips have shed some light and can help pave the way to starting these conversations with your children.  It’s never too early…

Tips for helping your child understand a “bad” stranger:

1- Anyone that makes them feel unsafe or uncomfortable.  We say that the person creates a “YUCKY” feeling inside of our bodies and minds and makes us feel funny.

2- They can be pretty or ugly looking, it doesn’t matter.  Their looks do not make them safe.

3- An adult that your child does not know will never ask them for help.  My daughter loves dogs.  I gave her the example of being at the playground and a stranger coming up to her and asking if she’d help them go look for their dog.


Tips for helping your child understand a “safe” stranger:

1- Let your child know that if they are lost its okay to approach “safe” strangers, such as; policemen, teachers, and people who own local business’ like a restaurant.

2- They should always ask for help in a public place.

3- Point out safe strangers to them in your community so, that they understand who they are.


Understanding a Dangerous Situation:

1- Suspicious Behavior.  If an adult asks them to disobey their parents or do something without permission.

2- If an adult asks them to keep a secret.

3- If an Adult asks them for help. A good scenario is; ” Can you help me find my dog?”

4- No, Go, Yell, and Tell Rule. It’s okay to tell an adult “NO” if they make you feel uncomfortable, run away as fast as you can, yell and scream as loud as you can, and then tell your parent what has happened.


Empowering your Children to understand their Kid Power:

1- Trust your instincts.  If a person or situation makes you feel funny then you need to leave right away and go find a parent or adult that you trust

2- Letting your parents know where you are at all times.

3- Pointing out together safe places; paths, sidewalks, and trails.  These are places to run to if you are in danger.

4- Be Assertive.  Yelling and screaming “No” as loud as you can will alert others that you are in danger.

5- Play in Numbers.  Always have a buddy!

6- The rules are different if you are with an adult who is taking care of you rather then being on your own. When they are on their own, their job is to check first with the adult in charge before letting a stranger get close to them, talk to them, or give them anything. (this is for an older child that could be left alone)

7- Do not give personal information to a stranger or to someone who makes you feel uncomfortable

8- Know and understand your family’s safety rules for answering the door, being on the phone, and playing on the internet.

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