The earlier you start talking to your kids about safety and stranger danger, the better off they will be. This is a given. At the same time, the younger you start teaching your kids about safety, the more carefully you have to tread. After all, you don’t want your kids to be scared of everything all of the time, do you? Of course not! You want them to be aware and careful but you don’t want to make them afraid to leave the house.
Here are some tips to help you walk that fine line a little bit more steadily:
Boogie Monsters are a Bad Idea
It’s true that there are lots of “bad guys” out there who look just like the “good guys.” But one of the worst things you can do is convince your children that the world is filled only with bad guys who want to hurt them or take them away. If you teach your kids that all strangers are bad, says the National Crime Prevention Council, they will be less likely to ask for help when they need it, like if they’re bullied or if a person who scares them is following them. If you aren’t there to take care of things, you want your kids to feel comfortable asking a nearby, safe-seeming, adult for help.
Show Them Who to Trust
This can be difficult because not every stranger has a badge or a “this is a good person” uniform like the police, fire fighters, crossing guards, etc. do. Help your kids identify “safe” strangers by teaching them to look first for someone they know and recognize and then, if nobody they already know is around, approaching another parent (recognizable by nearby kids) or going into a store or other public place (like a library or school) and asking an adult there for help.
Teach Them How to Ask for Help
There are good ways and not so good ways to ask for help. The best thing you can teach your kids is to approach a safe adult and to tell them what’s happening and then ask that person to let them use their phone so that they can call you to come and get them. Everybody has a cell phone these days. Make sure your kids know your phone number–as well as the phone number for your workplace and the phone numbers for a couple of other safe adults (like aunts, uncles, grandparents, family friends, maybe a teacher) and, of course, 911.
When teaching your kids their phone numbers, addresses, etc. Teach your kids not to readily give those out, especially if they are asked by someone they aren’t sure is safe.
Have a Password
The password is a secret word that only you and they know and it is what will help them figure out if that stranger who promises that they are acting on your behalf is really someone you have deemed safe. If the stranger doesn’t know the password, your kids will know not to trust that person and to seek other help immediately. It’s also important to make sure your kids understand that they shouldn’t help someone who is trying to guess the password or to give them any hints about their “closeness” to it. It’s an all or nothing word.
No Go Yell Tell
It’s also important that you teach your kids exactly what to do in a situation that seems unsafe, like if a stranger tries to convince them to get into a car, follow them somewhere, give up information or try any sort of food or drink. Teach them to say “No!” in a strong voice and then to run away, yelling as loud as they can and to tell a safe adult what happened as soon as they find one.
Safety at Home
It’s also important that your kids know what to do if something dangerous happens at home, like if a stranger breaks in or a fire breaks out. Setting up safety plans and evacuation routes is imperative for helping your kids stay safe during an emergency, says a post from the Texas ADT home security blog. Speaking of home security, it’s also important to make sure your property is secure from intruders. You can use new security cameras and monitoring systems to deter would-be burglars or preserve evidence of a break-in.
You should also help your kids find (or build) hiding spaces in closets if an intruder breaks in and where to meet outside (and how to get there) if a fire starts inside of the home.
Finally, practice all of these things with your kids. Role play a few scenarios in a safe space so that your kids can practice No Go Yell Tell, escaping from a fire, hiding from an intruder, etc. This will help your kids build confidence if they do ever have to deal with an unsafe situation…and it might make all of the safety talk seen a little less scary.