How to Talk to Strangers
Not all strangers mean danger
If your child got separated from you in public, would they know how to seek out a stranger for help or would they wait until they were approached? Children should be taught how to talk to strangers so that they know how to get help when they need it. Teach your child to seek out an employee with a name tag or mother with other children as someone who can help them if they are alone or afraid. Children should be taught how to flag down a helping adult without ever leaving their lost-spot.
Reasons why JWRC does not recommend teaching the "stranger danger" message to children:
- Children often have a specific mental image of what a "stranger" looks like and if the person they meet does not fit that image, (i.e. coming out of an alley wearing a black trench coat) they may not connect that lesson to the person.
- Children who are abducted or abused are almost always hurt by someone that they already know – either a relative or acquaintance.
- Children are confused when they are told not to talk to strangers and then are expected to communicate with people they don't know (school bus driver on the first day of school, parents new friends, etc.)
Teach children to trust their intuition
- Talk to children about how a person might make them feel, instead of how children might know the person. If someone gives you that "uh-oh" feeling for any reason, get out of the situation and go talk to another adult. Keeping telling until someone helps you.
- Certain behaviors – getting in a car, accepting gifts, leaving with someone, having someone take your picture – are behaviors that should always be checked first with the person taking care of you. Children should also be taught that adults ask other adults for help. If the person offering a ride or asking for help will not allow the child to check first, the child should be taught that it is okay to say no to an adult. If this happens, they should say no, get away and tell someone.
- Teach children the difference between surprises and secrets. Surprises are fun – a surprise party, a surprise gift; these things are okay to not talk about for a while. Secrets are different. Children should also be taught that there is never a good reason to keep a secret from their parent. If you are ever asked to keep a secret from your parent, that is a signal to talk to your parent immediately about that person.
- Remind children that most people in the world are good people who want them to grow up safe and strong. They should be prepared, not scared, to talk to strangers when they need help, feel scared or are lost.