Children meet strangers throughout their childhood in a variety of situations. Most strangers children meet are kind, caring people, but not always. It’s important for parents to talk openly to their children about strangers and explain what to do if they are worried.
Strangers are people that children or families do not know very well or do not know at all. It is difficult to tell whether a stranger is a good person or not just by looking at them, particularly for children. Cartoons often portray bad people as looking scary and ugly, but your child needs to know that this is not necessarily the case in the real world.
People that help
Not all strangers are bad people, and it is important to emphasise this when teaching your child about strangers. Police officers and fire fighters are examples of good, helpful strangers who are easy for children to identify because of their uniform. It can be useful to point out strangers whose job it is to help others, e.g. a shop assistant or an office receptionist.
Encouraging children to approach these specific strangers if they are ever worried will help them deal with any tricky situations that might arise in the future. Giving your child clear rules of what to do if you get separated in a public place will also help them feel more confident in a scary situation.
How to recognise a tricky situation
A good way to help your child recognise a tricky situation is to teach them to be wary of certain circumstances. This will not only help them deal with strangers but also those people already known to them, but who might have bad intentions. Help your child by talking in advance about situations in a hypothetical way as this can build up their confidence to recognise tricky situations and feel confident to take action. Some useful scenarios to discuss could include:
- A stranger stops your child and asks if your child wants a lift home.
- A woman who lives in your street, but that your child has never spoken to, invites your child into her house for a snack.
- A nice-looking stranger approaches your child in the park and asks for help finding the stranger's lost dog.
- Your child thinks he or she is being followed.
- An adult your child knows says something that makes him/her feel uncomfortable.
Having a plan
Planning for tricky situations will help your child recognise one and feel confident about taking action. Remind them that it is okay for a child to say ‘no’ to an adult and walk away.
It can be useful to practice ‘No, Go, Yell, Tell’ with the above scenarios, i.e. tell your child to say ‘no’, run away from the person, yell as loudly as possible and tell an adult they trust straightaway.
Make sure your child knows it is always okay to tell a trusted adult what happened, regardless of what a stranger might have said to them.
It’s important your child knows how to recognise and deal with tricky situations with strangers; however, when talking about strangers remember that despite sensational media coverage, stranger abductions are extremely rare.
The NSPCC’s Staying safe away from home will help you teach your child to keep safe when they’re away from you.
Think U Know shows 5-7 year olds how stay safe online.