“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, during their daycare and preschool years.
First, teach your child about basic body safety. Let your child know that they have the right to decide who they want to touch and when. If they don’t want to give someone a hug hello at church, playgroup, or at their childcare center, do not force them to do so. Let them know that the same is true for other peoples’ bodies, and if someone asks them to stop touching their body, they should comply. Tell them that if anyone touches their private areas or touches them in a way that makes them uncomfortable, they can tell you right away, and that they will not get into trouble for doing so.
Talk to your child about the concept of strangers. Ask your child if they know what a “stranger” is, just to find out what they already know. Tell them that a stranger is someone they don’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 okay to say hello to a stranger, it is not okay to stay close to a stranger, to follow that stranger, or to do something a stranger tells them 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, lost, or if they need help, there are people they can trust even though those people might be strangers. For example, if they become separated from you in a store, tell them that it is okay 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 your 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 with your child, especially when you introduce them to social situations like daycare, playgroup, preschool, pre-K, and summer camp.