Telling your kids about 'stranger danger'

OK, with all the media circus about the two young girls aged 10 that recently went missing (presumed abducted) here in the UK, I decided it was time to have a little chat with my kids to reinforce their ‘stranger danger’ awareness.

My daughter is 6¼ and my son 3½; both of them have above-average language and cognitive skills, so I don’t feel it was too early.

So we had a little chat about the girls that went missing and how nobody knows where they are and what happened, or even if they are still alive.

Then I asked a few questions; if an adult that they didn’t know walked up to them while they were playing outside, would they offer their names when asked? would they engage in discussion; what would they do if the adult asked them to go somewhere? (their answers were not ideal, as far as I could judge, so I offered a few gentle suggestions)

Then we tackled what would they do if somebody tried a little harder to get them to go somewhere; they were a bit more certain with this and said they would run home and make lots of noise and fuss if they were pursued.

I suggested that if anyone grabbed them, then no holds were barred; they should kick, bite, scratch, poke(eyes), scream, elbow; the lot - if someone is trying to take you away, it’s OK to hurt them - it was this that I wondered about ; is this the ‘right’ advice (as dictated by people in the know)? - I can’t really see how anyone could defend a contrary view.

So does anyone have any suggestions as to how this topic can be addressed properly with kids without scaring them unnecessarily, but still ingraining some sensible guidelines?

I’m just reading my post and I see I skimmed a little lightly over the facts of the recent abduction; this was certainly not out of disrespect or disinterest.

Point out random people you do not know in groceries stores, on car rides, and so forth. Pick out a goodly number of grandmotherly types, scary looking teens, businessmen, young women, etc., and ask your kids with each one: “Is that a stranger?” You may be surprised - most kids think a little old lady is not a stranger, because she isn’t scary LOOKING to them. I did this with my daughter, and told her that if she does not know their names, they are strangers.

Remind the kids that while you expect them to be polite to adults, this does not extend beyond the superficial. Remind them that people looking for lost puppies should place lost and found ads, NOT approach kids for help. Make a game out of having a secret word, just in the family, and tell the kids that anyone who doesn’t know the secret word does not have your permission to give them rides, candy, or whatever.

If you’re still not confident that they won’t wander off with strangers, hire someone who is a stranger to them to try to lure them. This will be HIGHLY traumatic, but if your kids are hard-to-reach, it’ll teach them a lesson they’ll never ever forget.

I hesitate to mention this, but feel I must: please remember that most people who do horrifying things to kids are not strangers to those kids. You really have to stress to children that anytime ANY adult makes them feel worried or uncomfortable or frightened, they are absolutely required to run to Daddy or Mom and tell, and keep telling.

I had thought about this (not considered, just thought about), but I just have this sneaking suspicion that it might actually be illegal.

Keep in mind that stranger abductions are very, very very rare (thankfully), and that ‘family friend’ molestations aren’t But on to your question

I’ve actually given this quite a bit of thought. I remember being a child, and things that made sense to me then included “you can’t go there w/o an adult. An adult is 16. Stuart’s 8, Bruce is 8, 8 + 8 is 16, so that makes it ok”. I recall my son believing that if he and I wore matching shirts, that people wouldn’t be able to tell us apart.

So, I’d avoid the word “Stranger”. For example “Stranger” doesn’t include the ice cream man. (tho it should). Often doesn’t include the nice man looking for his puppy (that ruse worked on the girl in CA).

I’d talk about not going anywhere (not just cars) unless the ‘grownup in charge’ is aware and ok’s it. (grown up in charge = parent; their teacher while at school, **their ** babysitter while w/them , etc.). This is important 'cause if you just say cars or house or whatever, then that opens the door to "well, getting in that wagon would be ok, or going into the garage or park would be ok

That if some one/anyone wanted to talk to them, that the grown up in charge should be right there, too.

That if anyone wanted to take their picture, play a ‘special game’, give them a present, needed their help, tell mom/dad ASAP.

that secrets cannot be kept from mom/dad.

The danger isn’t just from strangers. The Van Damme child was allegedly abducted by a neighbor who wasn’t a stranger.

I had exactly the same conversation with my son a couple of years ago when he was three. It would be almost impossible to do this without scaring the child a little, I’ve got a horrid feeling I overdo it though. When I last mentioned it, I tried to emphasise that it was extremely unlikely it would happen but that it’s better for him to be prepared. Hopefully it got through, he did promise me he would “lock the 'formation in his brain”!

We had the old public information ads when I was young, remember “Charley says…”? I haven’t seen anything like this for years; I suppose it’s such a “hot” topic now that it’s not necessary.


Originally posted by LifeOnWry
If you’re still not confident that they won’t wander off with strangers, hire someone who is a stranger to them to try to lure them. This will be HIGHLY traumatic, but if your kids are hard-to-reach, it’ll teach them a lesson they’ll never ever forget.

*Originally posted by Mangetout *
**I had thought about this (not considered, just thought about), but I just have this sneaking suspicion that it might actually be illegal. **

I don’t know if it would be illegal - certainly it’s not recommended, and would have to be used only in a case where a child was completely not getting the point.

You know, I wonder if you could even enlist the cops to help? You could maybe call them and see what they would recommend.

I’ve too issues with heavy warnings against strangers :
First, as already pointed out, children are way, way more likely to be victims of neighbors, members of the family, etc…than strangers. So warning them about strangers should be very secondary to finding a way to teach how to handle a worrying situation involving someone they know.
Second, there could be cases where asking an adult stranger for help would be the sound thing to do. I’d bet such situations would be far more common than situations where there’s a risk of being abducted. If a children had received too much warnings about strangers, he’s likely not to seek the help of an adult when needed. Though it makes sense for a parent to be suspicious about a stranger approaching their kids, it’s unlikely that in the reverse situation (a kid approaching a random adult), the person would happen to be a potential abductor. I don’t think all confidence in adults (other than parents) should be destroyed in children’s minds. It’s more likely to be harmful than to prevent a crime, IMO (especially taking in consideration my first point : the stranger is less likely to be a danger than the neighbor, uncle, etc…).
Logical questions follow : for people who warn their children about strangers, do you tell them that if they think they’re in danger or in some diffucult situation, they should nevertheless seek the help of an adult, stranger or not? What do you tell them about adults who aren’t strangers (family members, teachers, neighbors, etc…)?

I’ve had this talk with both of my kids, my son gets it, but my daughter is a little immature. I remember hearing that it’s better to teach a child to yell “FIRE, FIRE!” as loud as they can rather then just screaming. My daughter has been practicing that in the house. I still don’t think she understands strangers too much though, so I really keep an eye on her.

I always had those videos that taught kids what to do when certain things happened. They were Whinny the Pooh and his gang but, they were people in costumes, not the cartoon. I remember it showed kids all by themselves with strangers approaching them, and then it would pause and say what should you do? Those videos creeped me out when I was little, if I saw one now I’d probably shudder with disgust. The point of my story is that personally, I think you’re better off telling your kids yourself, I’ve always resented the fact that my parents taught me with videos and books rather than with there own mouths and actions. And my parents were around enough and had plenty of time to do so.

Go ahead and tell your kids to go no-holds-barred, of course, it could get them hurt rather than help the situation. Of course I am FAR from “in the know” as far as these things go.

** dragongirl ** I thought you only yelled fire if you were getting raped or robbed. I don’t know how I would react if I saw a parental-looking person carrying off a kid yelling “fire.” I’d react better if the child was yelling “kidknapper” or maybe even calling for the parent of the sex of the abductor such as , child being carried off by a man “I want my daddy” or something.

I dunno, I hope I helped more than hindered.

I’ve read that a child being carried off should yell “This is not my mother/father!”

The fire thing I have heard because it seems some people are more likely to want to look at that situation than hearing someone yell help.
You are very right to teach your children you feel they are ready. Recently I had a chat about this with my son and the two neighbor kids (they brought it up). They were talking of the avoidance of strangers and having concerns of what to do if for some reason they were lost. I told them to seek out any business (store, hotel, whatever) and look for a uniformed employee for help. They still didn’t really feel safe asking others for help. I let them know that a lot of businesses have cameras and hopefully the employees will be on tape helping them.
With my own child I have discussed the fighting of an adult. One of my favorite things is to teach the kids to grab on to Anything they can as it makes them harder to carry away and get into a car. I even demonstrated with my son. I went to grab him and he quicking grabbed my bedspread, shucks did that make it harder for me to get him. The local news told me this one as if a child grabs their bike they become too difficult.
Once the person has grabbed my child is when I have told him to directly fight the person. Also to scream.

ps, I Love the shirt comment wring, that is so sweet!!!

Another important thing to teach your children is that it is okay to say no to an adult. Do not “force” your child to kiss Grandma if they don’t want to, it’s important that your child know they have boundaries to be respected too.

On the stranger issue, it’s a fine and scary line. I have come to the aid of numerous lost kids and have twice run into children that would just cry harder when I offered help. Now, while I can admire the fact they didn’t want to come with me and everything, teach your child who is “safe” (mall security, police, maybe a shopkeeper), or at the very least have a spot to meet up if you get separated.

What worked for me was justing walking past them adn saying, “OKay, I am going to go and find your mommy. Wait here or you can walk behind a few steps.” It was all I could think of.
As for what your child should yell, “This is not my mommy/daddy!” is what is suggested. “I want my daddy.” will be yelled everytime your child has an owie and you are not around.

“Fire!” is instead of Help or Rape.

(Poysyn, who followed a woman and child out of walmart to her car to take down the license plate after the kid yelled “I want my daddy.”)

Just wanted to squeeze this in: Actually, I believe the “yell FIRE” advice is considered outdated, applied to a time when in order to help someone your only option was to try to physically stop the crime. Nowadays, when the vast majority of people are quick to call in any suspicious circumstance on their cell phones, yelling fire if you are being raped or otherwise in trouble may actually hinder attempts to help.

A few other things I’ve heard–

Grown-ups do not need help.

If you’re lost or need help, find a woman with children with her. These are the most likely to help you and keep you safe, statistically.

You might want to talk about ‘trusting your tummy’ or something similar–if someone wants you to do something that makes you feel weird inside, refuse, yell no, run away…

The code word is a pretty good idea, but it needs to be something weird and offbeat enough to be unguessable. ‘Peanut butter’ is not going to be helpful, but perhaps ‘jabberwocky’ or ‘cockroaches!’

Just the other day I read that one of the most common first moves for a child molester to make (whether adult or child) is to get the prospective victim to urinate in front of them. Anyone have any other info on that?

As for yelling “This is not my mommy/daddy!” one small caveat - kids in general can be real stinkers sometimes. A friend of mine tried to haul her tantrum-throwing 4-year-old out of a store, only to have the kid yell at a passing security guard that the lady pulling him was not his mommy.

The guard rushed up and said “Ma’am, I’m sorry, but I have to ask you. Is that your child?”

The mommy, very harried and completely out of patience, handed the squalling beastie to the guard and said, “Nope. Not anymore.”

The child yelled, “MOMMY!!! Don’t leave me!”

Now obviously, this was a rare situation - not only will most kids not do this, but most parents won’t react the way that particular mom did. But do be sure your child knows that if they BS about this or make a game of it, there’s gonna be trouble, too.

On one of the morning news programs last week, there was some segment done where a bunch of parents let some cops test their kids. And the kids FAILED miserably. This was AFTER the parents had spoken to them (not immediately) about what they should do if a stranger approached. Made the officers and parents sick.

Anyway - one of the experts on that day said that it isn’t enough to just tell your kids a couple times about what to do, you have to tell them about once a week so it will stay fresh.

I’ve been teaching my 5 yr old since she was about 3 about strangers and people that she already knows. We do talk about this pretty frequently. Pretty much every time we go somewhere we review the rules.

For instance - to help combat the potential for sexual abuse - we’ve been drumming into her head that 1) no one is allowed to see or touch her privates EXCEPT mommy, daddy, grandma and her dr and only he is allowed to do it if whoever took her to the dr is standing right beside him; 2) she can tell anybody to stop touching her if she doesn’t like it, including mommy, daddy and grandma; 3) whenever we go somewhere (or she’s with another adult - aunt, uncle, teacher on field trip) she is never to go off anywhere by herself, wander out of sight OR ,especially, talk to anybody she doesn’t know without asking the adult she’s with first. I don’t care how rude it appears. She’s a vulnerable child and the offending adults ought to know better.

Why is that some adults feel like it’s ok to approach a child without at least acknowledging the guardian first? I hate that. I know that there are people that know her via her other family or school - but if I don’t know you it is imperative that you get my attention before attempting conversation with her. How do I know you’re not some freak who I should knock the **** out?

I’ve had to crack down hard on some friends, family members and daycare providers for encouraging the use of the word secret.

As a child victim of sexual molestation this is one tactic used by my molester to keep me quiet. I am absolutely adamant that she understands that keeping secrets from me is a huge no-no.

I try to re-word things to make them a surprise or something, so that she can still have the fun of making things to surprise me but know that if it’s anything that is bad she has to tell me. And if someone wants to give her candy or something they are never to say “Don’t tell mommy/daddy.”

You are all right, the yelling fire thing is outdated. I guess I’ll be working on “this is not my mommy/daddy” with the kids.

More information on keeping kids safe is here.

Hey, uh, speaking of “fighting ignorance” and all that, why would yelling “fire” ever be preferable to “help/rape”?

When I was a child, my mother used to play games with me like “find the employees” in a store by matching up the store name and logo with the uniform or lanyard or whatever so that if I were lost, I’d be able to indentify non-law-enforcement acceptable adults to go to. (Of course, I never ever got lost.) I was always taught strongly to stay put and tell a policeman or security guard or somebody who worked there.

I was also always told that if somebody ever tried to make me get in their car to hold onto my bike. (Imagine how hard it would be to cram a kid and a bike into the back seat of a car without anybody noticing.) I was told that the only time it was okay to hit and bite and claw was if a stranger grabbed me, but only if it didn’t mean letting go of my bike. :slight_smile:

I got my molestation advice from TV, however. “If anybody touches you in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable, go tell your parents or another adult.” Maybe my mother didn’t feel comfortable talking about it? At any rate, I think it stuck for everybody of my generation in the same way. (Not to mention, I want to be a junkie when I grow up!)