You’re at the petrol station and the man at the counter gives your child a lollipop. Reminding them to be polite, you encourage them to say thank you. As you walk back to the car a wave of panic hits – you’ve just encouraged your child to take lollies from strangers!
In our world there is a fine line in teaching your child manners, self-protection, and enjoying life without constant stranger anxiety. Follow the tips below to introduce Stranger Awareness with your kids.
When to start
From age 3 children begin to have more interactions with strangers. From the lady at the checkout asking their name, to the teenager chatting at their brother’s soccer game.
How to start
Focus on ‘Safe People, Safe Places’ as recommended by the NSW Police Force and forget the ‘Stranger Danger’ focus which can create anxiety. Look for natural opportunities to start the conversation. If you witness a situation where police or ambulance are involved, here’s an opening to talk about Safe People, Safe Places. If you’ve just had an experience with a stranger at the shop or park this is a great time to chat – a casual conversation in the car is a good start, with children more open and willing to ask questions from the security of the back seat.
What to say
Strangers can be annoying, intrusive and dangerous. They can also be helpful and friendly – lifelong friendships have begun with two strangers talking at the footy game or at the school gate. Let your child know that most strangers are good.
Talk with your child about when a stranger might seem bad, such as:
- A stranger asks you to disobey the instructions of your parent or person in charge.
- A stranger asks you to go with them to help find their dog.
- A stranger offers you a toy or treats when your parents or person in charge is not with you.
- A stranger asks you to go in the car with them.
- A stranger seems to be following you around.
- A stranger says they’re lost and asks you for help.
Empower your child to act
Encourage the, to speak up and show them they can rely on you and other adults to listen to them. Tell your child if a stranger is making them feel unsafe they can keep safe with these 4 steps:
- Don’t answer their questions.
- Yell No, Go away, I don’t know you and run away from an adult stranger. Assure them they will not get in trouble for yelling and running from an adult in this situation.
- Run to a safe place. Tell them safe places including certain shops, restaurants, police stations, teachers, beach lifeguards. Show them the safe places in the neighbourhoods you regularly visit.
- Once at a safe place, tell them to tell an adult that they are scared of a stranger and ask them to call the police.
Practice Safe People, Safe Places
Talk with your child about the Safe People, Safe Places message when out and about. When you visit the library, beach or park ask your child what she would do if a stranger came up to her, and walk through your Safe People, Safe Places steps (although may be don’t practice yelling in the library!).
Teaching your child most strangers are good, and how to stay safe around the minority that aren’t, will help your child flourish as they feel safe to engage with their community.