As a parent, keeping your children safe and healthy will always be a major concern. When it comes to teaching young kids about stranger safety, there are so many different topics you can cover with them. Today, we will focus on the basics, and point out some useful resources to turn to if you want more specifics.
How should you start introducing stranger safety to young kids?
Once your little one is old enough to understand the subject, you can start introducing little things about how to be safe around strangers, here and there. Teaching younger children about stranger safety is something that will happen over time. As quoted in the Globe and Mail, Tracey Warren of Child Safe Canada says, “teaching safety isn’t an event, it’s a process.” Even having your child learn to say their full name, and your name, is a great place to start. These things will be important to know if they ever get lost and have to find a trustworthy stranger to help them. Then, once they have names memorized and understand when it’s okay to share them, they can learn your phone number or address. Little steps like these are perfect for slowly getting your young ones to understand how to be safe around strangers.
5 Tips for teaching preschoolers about stranger safety
1. You don’t need to scare young children into being safe
Even if your desire to teach your children about safety in their early years stems from fear, there is no need to tell them scary stories in order to keep make them ‘safe aware.’ Momtastic points out that focusing on possible dangers related to strangers can cause anxiety for young children. When it comes to stranger safety, what’s important is that your little ones can remember and utilize key safety practices.
For example, it might not be the best approach to tell your young one that they shouldn’t take candy from a stranger because they could try to hurt them. Instead, focus on telling them to only accept things from their parents, teachers, babysitters, or another adult you tell them to trust. This way, they know the safety practice, which is the most important part.
2. Teach kids to trust their instincts from an early age
A helpful tip from current child development expert and author Besty Brown Braun, is that the most important thing to teach young children about stranger safety is paying attention to their feelings while they’re around certain people. Braun says that, even from the age of two, kids can understand that if somebody makes you feel uncomfortable, you don’t need to be with them. If they learn to trust this instinct, your young children can practice telling a trusted grown-up whenever this happens.
But, we should balance this statement with a word on children’s stranger anxiety. Young toddlers can experience stranger anxiety even around family members. And this is a common part of their development. Definitely pay attention to your child’s fearsome queues. But, also keep in mind that just because a two-year-old doesn’t want to be with someone, that doesn’t mean that person is ‘dangerous’ (especially without very good reasons to be suspicious).
Also, as Kid’s Health points out, “ most child molesters and abductors are regular-looking people, and many go out of their way to look friendly, safe, and appealing to children.” However, that article goes on to clarify that it is valid to teach kids to trust that inner sense within.
It may be confusing for a child to know when they can trust someone, and when they can’t, given these seeming contradictions. So, that brings us to our next point…
3. Be specific about who your children can trust, when teaching stranger safety to kids
It’s important for children of all ages to know who they can trust, even if they don’t immediately get feelings of being unsafe around strangers. So, sometimes, you just need to be more specific.
As a parent or early childhood educator, it’s good to get started on this ‘stranger safety’ lesson as young as possible. Practice constantly reminding your children which adults are safe to trust. Expert on stranger safety, Noni Classen, while interviewing for a Globe and Mail article, suggests that you “make a list with your child of who [their] buddies are.”
Also, another principles is to teach children to follow the “buddy system.” This means never being alone when they’re not at home, and sticking closeby to someone they trust. While you’re at it, try teaching them about their “safe places” too. That way, they’ll know where to go, or who to turn to, if they are ever in trouble.
4. Teach kids in early childhood when it’s okay to talk to strangers, and when it’s not
Although it’s common for kids to hear the phrase, “don’t talk to strangers,” Kid’s Health points out that sometimes kids do need to talk to strangers. Letting an adult know that they are lost, or scared, can be part of keeping them safe, too.
So, instead of giving young children mixed messages, try clarifying the instances when it’s ok to talk to strangers. For example, you might tell them that when you are with them, it’s okay to say hello to someone if they want to. It is also important to tell your little ones what kinds of strangers could help them if they somehow got lost. For example, a police officer or a security guard will probably be a safe person to ask for help.
5. Use resources from places like Child Safe Canada to get teaching material on stranger safety
Child Safe Canada is an excellent resource for educating your children of all ages about topics relating to stranger safety. They have lots of information on their website, including safety tips and alerts. You can also check out the Canadian Centre for Child Protection and Safety 4 Kids. These resources can help further strengthen the advice above when teaching kids about stranger safety.
Don’t forget to take it slow when teaching a child about the dangers of some strangers!
As we mentioned above, you don’t have to tell your little ones all of this information at once. Start with one or two things, and gradually reinforce them as you introduce more. This will help your children build up their safety skills early on, and without feeling pressure or too much confusion about who to trust, and who not to. If they’re still learning how to say their name and address, it may be wise to hold off adverse reactions if you do see them talking to strangers in an unsafe way. Be calm, and try to explain why they shouldn’t do so in that instance. Then, continue finding ‘teachable moments’ until they are at an age where you, or their preschool teacher, can sit them down to explain all of this in a properly planned lesson.