Talk to children about the dangers of talking to strangers.

How to Teach Preschoolers About Stranger Danger

by Chelsea Fitzgerald

Teaching your preschool children about stranger danger is imperative whether you live in a crime-ridden metropolitan city or a laid-back and idyllic small town. The tone, words and examples you use are key to getting the message across without scaring them silly. You don’t want your little one to cower in a corner or underneath the bed every time someone rings the doorbell. On the other hand, you also don’t him running up to people he doesn't know and introducing himself.

1 Talk to your child about the definition of "stranger." Tell him that a stranger is anyone who your family does not know well. Be very specific when describing strangers. Explain that a dangerous person does not have to look scary or weird. Tell him there are plenty of mean people who look perfectly normal and trustworthy.

2 Ask your child to tell you about circumstances where it is acceptable to talk to a stranger or ask one for help. For example, make it clear that if she gets separated from you at a department store, she should go to one of the store clerks and explain what happened.

3 Help your child remember who the safe strangers are during your outings by asking him to show you examples. Explain to him that safe strangers are generally police officers, firefighters, security guards and people who are working like librarians or a waiter at a restaurant.

4 Teach your preschooler how to recognize signs that an adult is dangerous. Tell her that anytime an adult asks her to disobey her parents or a caregiver, this is a red flag that he is a probably a bad person. Explain that adults generally do not ask children for help -- they ask other adults for help. Make it clear that nice adults do not ask children to go somewhere with them without their parent’s permission. Also explain that a nice adult would never ask a child to keep a secret from her family.

5 Rehearse with your child so he understands how to react if a stranger approaches him. Tell him that mean adults know how to outsmart kids and make them do things they wouldn’t normally do. For instance, pretend you're a stranger and beg him to help locate your lost kitten. Plead with him and play on his sympathies by saying that the kitten may run into the road if the child doesn’t help find it quickly. Repeat the role-playing once a week -- or more often -- and use different scenarios each time. This ensures that your child truly understands what you are teaching him.

6 Instruct your child to tell a trusted adult anytime he feels uncomfortable around a grown-up or older teen who exhibits any red flags like trying to get him to do something he doesn't want to do, touching him in an inappropriate way, or saying bad things about people he loves. If there is no adult available, tell your little tiger to run away from the stranger as quickly as possible while yelling, “No, stranger!” A well-behaved child may be reticent about showing any type of disrespect to an adult. Explain that protecting himself from harm is crucial to you and the rest of his family. Tell him that he will never receive punishment for his actions if he felt he was in danger.

Tip

  • If you think it's unnecessary to warn your preschooler about stranger danger, think again. Many parents neglect to do this because they feel it will give the child nightmares and other fears. They believe they will never let their child out of their sight where he can encounter a dangerous stranger. Even the best parents can lose sight of their kids in a park, store, or crowded areas like a zoo. Children can get distracted easily, wander off, or might be enticed to leave the safety of their own backyards. Addressing stranger danger -- in age-appropriate language -- gives your child confidence. It's better to arm your child with the street smarts he needs rather than have regrets later.

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