Child hesitating to take hand“Stranger danger” is a term many of us first heard in our own childhoods, and it’s a concept parents still need to teach to their children today. However, the conversation should not be black and white. Discuss the various aspects of how children can keep themselves safe, starting as early as the age of two.

First, teach your child about basic body safety. Let your child know that he has the right to decide who he wants to touch and when. If he doesn’t want to give someone a hug hello, do not force him to do so. Let him know that the same is true for other peoples’ bodies, and if someone asks him to stop touching their body, he should comply. Tell him that if anyone touches his private areas or touches him in a way that makes him uncomfortable, he can tell you right away, and that he will not get into trouble for doing so.

Talk to your child about the concept of strangers. Ask your child if she knows what a “stranger” is, just to find out what she already knows. Tell her that a stranger is someone she doesn’t know, and that strangers are not necessarily bad; they are simply people we don’t know. Then, tell your child that while it is OK to say hello to a stranger, it is not OK to stay close to a stranger, to follow that stranger, or to do something a stranger tells her to do.

Finally, discuss strangers your child can trust. This can become a little bit confusing for young children, but they should know that if they become separated from you, or lost, or if they need help, there are people they can trust even though those people might be strangers. If they become separated from you in a store, it is OK for them to approach the person at the cash register to ask for help. Otherwise, they can normally trust mothers who are with their own kids, and of course, police officers and teachers.

This subject can be a tricky one for parents to wade through. It is important for children to know about safety and stranger danger, but it is also imperative not to scare children. Most strangers are kind and helpful, and we don’t want our children to be afraid of the world around them. Walking this line will be essential in your conversations.