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Teaching Children about Stranger Danger

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March 12, 2012

It’s blatantly horrifying. Seven-year-old Brittney Baxter was standing in the toy aisle of Wal*mart when she was scooped up by (allegedly) Thomas Woods, who covered her mouth and attempted to take her. While we can wage a debate as to whether she should have been alone in the toy aisle of Wal*mart in the first place, the one thing that can be conceded is her parents prepared her well for such a moment.

“They [Brittney’s parents] always tell me to scream, kick, and then get away and go tell somebody that you trust,” Brittney said. And that she did.

Cameras caught the entire incident and show Brittney kicking and being subsequently put down quickly, after which the scene shows her standing there yelling for help. Knowledge is power and in this case, knowledge saved her from a situation too scary to even contemplate as a parent.

Surprisingly, there is a resistance in some parents to response to teaching Stranger Danger to their children. “It causes them to learn about scary things too young.” “It encourages them to live in fear.” “Teaching them about bad people is robbing them of innocence at too young of an age.” are some of the concerns voiced.

There is validity in the concerns. What parent wants their child to be robbed of innocence at a tender age or to become a child who sees a boogey man behind every bush? And yet, we have to again consider the phrase, “Knowledge is power” and knowledge, in this day and age, is a vital necessity for our children.

There are ways to teach stranger danger without a loss of innocence or instilling a fearful heart into a child. Of course, some children are worry-warts and fearful by nature but as a general rule, most children are matter of fact about things and will take a lesson in what to do if a stranger tries to take them in stride as much as a lesson in their ABC’s–especially if it’s approached in a non-scary way.

Here are some ideas for teaching stranger-danger.

  • Don’t threaten them with scary stories in order to strike fear into them. The time to bring up stranger danger is not when a child is misbehaving. Teaching stranger danger should not be desperate attempt to scare a child into behaving.
  • Don’t harp on it all the time. If stranger danger is the first thing a child hears about every morning and the last thing they hear about every night it will rob their innocence as it invades the normal, every-day beauty that makes up childhood.
  • Do matter-of-factly introduce the subject to your child by saying, “Do you know what you would do if anyone ever tried to grab you. . . “ or “If anyone ever said to you, ‘Do you want a piece of candy, it’s in my car?’ or ‘I have a puppy in my house, do you want to see him?’  See what their answer is then, either spin off of what they stated if it’s along the appropriate lines or take the opportunity to introduce the options of what they can do.
  • Do practice what they should do regularly. Role-play different scenarios with your child in a way that is playful and yet, helps drive the point home because of the practice.
  • Do find books that are specifically geared towards teaching this topic to younger children without doing so in a fearful way, such as the Berenstain Bears Learn about Strangers.
  • Do live in awareness but don’t live in constant fear. Children pick up on fear even when it’s not voiced. There is a balance between blissfully ignorant of people with evil intent towards children and seeing evil in every stranger.
  • Do follow gut instincts. If someone is making you or your child feel uncomfortable, put distance between you and that person. If a warning bell sounds off in your head, pay attention to it. Use common sense and trust your intuition.
  • Do be proactive. Teach your children to do the same. It could make all the difference in their world.

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