If you caught our colleagues’ report on Dateline last night, you might be thinking about Stranger Danger with your kids today. It’s a common parent lesson, teaching your child who they can trust and who to stay away from. Parents often think the number one threat to their child is a stranger. But statistics show that children can be at greater risk with people they recognize than with those they do not. According to the Child Rescue Network, 82 percent of all abduction scenarios involve a family member. Children should not be scared to interact with people that they know and are familiar with, but if put in a situation in which they may be in danger, they must recognize what to do and how to get help. Parent Toolkit expert and psychologist Dr. Michele Borba, offers these tips for parents to help teach their kids about staying safe:
Give permission to say no.
Studies show that kids under the age of nine rarely say “No” to a sexual offender because they were told “to obey adults.” So give your child permission to yell NO! Tell your child, “If someone tries to touch you in places your bathing suit covers, makes you feel at all afraid or uncomfortable, say ‘NO!’ “It’s important to let your children know they won’t get in trouble for saying “no.”
Help your child practice a “strong” voice.
This helps children in situations that might be threatening as well as help them stand up to peer pressure. It could be like the voice you use when asking them for the 10th time to clean up their rooms. Teaching your child how be assertive with their tone of voice can help peers and adults know they are serious.
Establish a family secret code.
Choose a memorable code like “Geronimo,” to give only to family members or trusted individuals responsible for your kids in your absence. Then tell your child: “Never leave with anyone who can’t say our family’s secret code.” You can also create a texted code (like “111” or “123”) to be used by the child to contact you if they feel in danger.
Recognize suspicious adult behavior.
Instead of scaring (and possibly even confusing) your kids with the “Stranger Danger” approach, a more effective strategy is teaching kids to recognize suspicious adult behaviors like;
- Asking for help: “I need help finding my child. Please help me!” “Can you help me look for my puppy?” Explain to your child that strangers shouldn’t ask kids for help.
- Offering treats: “Would you like some candy?” “I have a skateboard in my car. Would you like it?” “I’ll let you have one of my kittens (or pet my cat), if you will sit on my lap and watch this video.”
- Feigning an emergency: “Hurry! Your mom was in an accident. I’ll take you to the hospital.”
- Flaunting authority: “I think you’re the kid who hurt my son. Come with me and we’ll go find your parents.”
- Pretending to be an official: “I’m with the F.B.I. and this is my badge. You must come.” (Tell your child to call you or find an adult they trust ASAP to verify the situation.)
The secret to these discussions is bringing up the topics in a relaxed way just as you would talk about other safety concerns like using cross walks or pool safety. The best time to start these talks is when your kids are young! Don’t forget to practice and rehearse these with your child. It isn’t enough to tell them, practicing will help your child really remember and learn these strategies so if they need them, they can react. You are laying the groundwork to not only prevent abuse but also get the crucial help a child might need just in case.