It’s a big world out there! (So how do we teach our children to be safe?)

As our little ones gain independence, parents are tasked with teaching them how to be safe out in the world.

Parents find themselves teaching the concept of “stranger danger” to children early, but we know that all strangers are not dangerous, and not all people who pose a threat to children are strangers. In fact, a staggering 90% of children who have been sexually assaulted know their perpetrator in some way.

It’s still important, though, to teach our children to be wary of strangers and understand the warning signs of potential assault, abuse, or human trafficking. According to the Office of the Attorney General of Washington, D.C., children account for approximately half of human trafficking victims. So how do we teach our children to stay safe against known and unknown child predators?

Tricky People

We like how the experts at Safely Ever After are working on rebranding “strangers” as “tricky people. The concept is that it’s not how well a child knows a person, it’s what that person says or does that makes them “tricky.” For example, a tricky person might tell a child to keep a secret, ask for help, or do something else that makes them feel uncomfortable. Patti Fitzgerald, founder of Safely Ever After, offers the following red flags for identifying tricky people in your child’s life:

Teaching Kids to Be Safe

The most important step in keeping your children safe is to talk to them, often and early. Here are some tips to help you talk to your children and empower them to stay safe.

  • Start early: It’s never too early to start talking to your child about safety. Start talking to them about safety from a young age, so that it becomes a normal part of their daily routine.
  • Use age-appropriate language: Use language that your child can understand. Avoid using complex terms and phrases that may confuse them.
  • Explain what a “tricky person” is: Explain to your child that not all strangers are bad, but they should be cautious around “tricky people” who may try to deceive or harm them. “Tricky people” may ask them to keep a secret, or offer them treats, gifts, or money.
  • Teach the “no, go, yell, tell” strategy: Teach your child to say “no” if someone asks them to do something they are not comfortable with, to “go” away from a dangerous situation, to “yell” for help, and to “tell” a trusted adult about what happened.
  • Practice role-playing scenarios: Practice different scenarios with your child so they can learn how to respond in different situations. For example, you can practice what to do if they get lost in a public place, or if someone tries to grab them.
  • Talk about body boundaries: Teach your child about appropriate and inappropriate touch. Use proper names for parts of their bodies. Explain to them that no one should touch their private parts and that they have the right to say no if they feel uncomfortable.
  • Encourage open communication: Create an open and safe environment for your child to talk to you about anything. Let them know that they can come to you if they ever feel scared or uncomfortable about something.
  • Don’t scare them: While it’s important to teach your child about safety, it’s equally important not to scare them. Use positive language and avoid using scare tactics that may cause them unnecessary anxiety.
  • Revisit the conversation: Safety conversations should be ongoing. Revisit the topic regularly to ensure your child understands and remembers the information.

Strangers are a part of all of our lives – we interact with them in the world every day – and most strangers are good people. By teaching your child to recognize the red flags of unsafe (or tricky) people, you are empowering them to safeguard themselves as they grow. And as parents, we will be there by their sides to protect them too.