As Parents, we know this talk has to happen, but what, when, and how? What do I say to my child? When is my child ready? How do I even bring this up?
Here are some tips to help you navigate the important conversation between you and your child about strangers.
Start with “Body Safety”
Teach Your Child Proper Names of Body Parts
This includes your child’s genitals (you may explain these as parts under their bathing suit). Pet names may be alright for ‘private parts’, but make sure these names are clear enough for any adult to understand (teachers, grandma or another parent). It’s important to teach them these names so that your child learns that it’s not alright for most people to touch these spots. Aim to teach your child specific names for their genitals around age 2 or 3. Note: A child’s mouth is also a ‘private zone.’
My Body vs. Your Body
My body versus your body is a concept that your child should understand before talking about strangers — aim to have your child understand this around age 3 or 4. Teach your child where and when it’s okay for some people to touch them. For example, “Mom and Dad can help you in the bathroom. Uncle doesn’t help you in the bathroom, but can give you hugs. The bus driver should not hug you.” Think of all the different social circles your child has (family, school, extracurricular, health centres, church, etc.) and identify if it is okay for any of these people to touch them and when/how. Be specific with your child!
What is a Stranger?
Age 4 is a good time to ask your child if they know what a stranger is. Tell your child that a stranger is someone they don’t know. Be sure not to talk about a stranger as only a bad person, this can also be a good person! To help your child understand, try categorizing people in their life as: (A) people your child doesn’t know at all, (B) those they know a little, and (C) those who are safe. Check their understanding by quizzing them! Ask your child, Which category does mommy/teacher/bus driver belong to?
Identify ‘Safe Adults’
Identify your child’s ‘safe adults’. These may include Mommy and Daddy, grandparents, and uncle/aunt. These are adults who perhaps pick your child up from school or help them in the bathroom. Aside from ‘safe adults’, identify other adults your child can trust such as a teacher, school counsellor, sports coach, or maybe a friend’s parent. Again, be specific with your child! Use names to clearly identify safe from unsafe (maybe there’s a family member or friend who is unsafe).
It’s important to also point out authority figures — police officers, security guards, store employees…etc. These are strangers that may be able to help your child. Explain these people based on their dress or where they can be found (employee vest, police car, at the entrance/exit of the grocery store).
Outline some straightforward rules for your child to follow about how to deal with strangers in specific situations. With younger children, you may want to test them to see what they should do and then come up with a game plan on how to respond in each scenario.
– If your child loses Mommy or Daddy in the store: “Go to the part of the store where you pay for things, tell them your name, and wait there for me”.
– If your child is approached by a stranger: Your child should go to the person caring for them right away.
– If a stranger offers your child a treat: Your child should respond firmly, “No, thank you”.
– If a stranger comes up to your child or tries to touch them: Tell your child to stay away from them, turn around, go back to where you were, and get an adult.
– If a stranger touches your child: Teach your child to yell, “Help! This isn’t my Mommy/Daddy!”
With an older child, you may tell them that it’s alright to say hello to a stranger, but to not engage in more conversation when a safe adult is not around. Teach your child that it’s acceptable for them to say “I’m not supposed to talk to strangers” if approached.
Most importantly, share with your child that it is never acceptable to go anywhere with a stranger.
Don’t Forget About the Internet
In today’s society, interaction and communication does not stop. Remember that your child may still interact with a stranger online. It’s recommended that children aged 10 and under only use a computer or phone in common spaces where caregivers can monitor activity. Tell your child they must never give personal information over the internet (answering questions, filling online forms..etc). You can also set additional rules such as, “No accessing new websites without my permission”.
Let Your Child Practice!
Make sure your child understands who they can trust and what to do if approached by a stranger. Test them by playing the ‘what if’ game through role-play! Praise them for what they did well and show them what they could have done better.
Empower Your Child, Don’t Scare Them!
If you take one thing away from this, it’s to not instill fear of strangers in your child. Instead, teach your child confidence and the ability to speak up for themselves. Avoid statements like, “If you talk to a stranger, I may never see you again.” Replace those with “It’s important to not follow a stranger because I want to know where you are and that you know how to follow the rules”. Teach your child that they have a voice to explain to a stranger, “I don’t want to go with you” or “I don’t want to talk to you”. Children cannot avoid strangers, but they can learn how to remove themselves from these situations with your guidance and by learning how to use their voice and resources!
Looking for more guidance on navigating this conversation with your child? You may wish to speak to one of our TNPC therapists to help improve your communication and relationship with your child! Click here to book your free 20-minute consult!