One thing my children dislike about me is how much I talk, and not only to the people I know but to strangers too! For instance, I compliment people’s outfits in the grocery store line-up. I say good morning on walks and chat with other moms at the playground. Often times, my daughter pulls at my sleeve, trying to rip me away from talking so much.
Making an effort to make these polite exchanges is just a part of who I am. However, what message am I sending my children if I’m always talking to strangers and then telling them they can’t?
For example, one time about 8 years ago, when my eldest daughter was about 3 years old, I recall sitting on the bench while she was in her swim class chatting with another mom. My daughter stepped out of the pool, water dripping down her legs, and with her arms folded across her chest, she quickly walked towards me and said in a curious tone, “Mommy, why are you talking to a stranger? You told me talking to strangers is bad.” In that moment, I couldn’t help but laugh. The other mom and I looked at one another and giggled. My daughter was absolutely speaking the truth. I did warn her not to talk to strangers, but this stranger was clearly o.k for me to engage with. After all, I’m an adult, I can talk to whomever I please. Our children, on the other hand, we teach them not to talk to strangers. Clearly, I was confusing my daughter.
This scenario made me reflect on the ways in which we teach our children about ‘stranger danger’. I had the conversation with my daughter, but I also inhibited her from talking to anyone we didn’t know. As a result, she gave me crap for talking to a stranger.
In hindsight, scaring our children was the wrong way to teach my children about stranger safety. First of all, I would always call it ‘Stranger Danger’.
Stranger danger is defined as the danger to children and adults, presented by strangers. The phrase stranger danger is intended to sum up the danger associated with adults whom adults/children do not know. The phrase has found widespread usage and many children will hear it (or similar advice) during their childhood lives.-wikipedia
When you attach the word danger to something, it’s bound to scare anyone! If we constantly scare our children into thinking the world is a dangerous place, we contribute to anxiety in children and in ourselves.
That said, here are a few ways we can teach our children about ‘stranger danger’ without scaring them:
1. Stop calling it ‘Stranger Danger’!
Like I mentioned above when we attach the word ‘danger’ to the word ‘stranger’ we automatically scare our children. Instead of using this term, try perhaps using the term ‘stranger safety’. As much as the world is a dangerous place, it’s also a safe place. And, not all strangers are dangerous! In fact, there are safe strangers in our community, and if we teach our children not to talk to strangers at all, we could potentially contribute to them being in a dangerous situation. Our children could be in a situation where they will need to reach out to a ‘safe’ stranger for help, like an officer, parent at the playground, or teacher.
2. Use teachable moments
Teachable moments pop up on a daily basis. Rather than sitting your child down, and saying, “Today, we are going to learn about the danger of strangers.” We can instead, bring up stranger safety in the moment. Some examples include while walking to school, we can teach our children about the strangers in our neighborhood, talking about the people we know, and the ones we don’t. We can bring up the stranger conversation after playing at the park, and even after making polite exchanges with strangers. For example, “Mommy, was talking to the lady in the grocery store line-up because we were in a safe place, with many other people around us, like store workers, and customers.”
3. Teach your children to trust their gut
We all have this awareness and sense that hits us in the gut when something doesn’t seem right. Teaching our children how to actively listen to this feeling in the pit of their stomach, will help them sense if something seems dangerous. Talking about this feeling is imperative because when we trust our gut we are more likely to listen to it. At the end of the day, we need to teach our children to look out for ‘strangeness’ in strangers and tuning into our gut will do just that!
4. Role Play
Role-playing different scenarios without scaring your children can help your child prepare when they are approached by a stranger. For example, you can pretend you are a stranger asking if the child would like a free iPad, or some candy, and then have your child role play back the best thing to do in that particular situation.
5. Use friendly songs
There is no doubt that children pay attention much easier to songs than they do to lectures. That said, find a friendly song that teaches children about stranger safety. Sing along with your child and then have a discussion afterward about what the song is trying to teach.
These are just a few tips on ways to teach our children Stranger Safety. In the end, we want to teach our children about the potential danger of strangers without instilling fear in them.
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