How to Warn Children about Strangers

8 of 10 in Series: The Essentials of Talking to Children about Sex

Talking to your children about strangers can be almost as hard as talking about sex. The tricky part is that you want your children to recognize the dangers posed by strangers, without being so scared that they won’t leave your side. But if you know how to talk about strangers with your kids in an age-appropriate way, you can rest easier knowing that your kid is well-prepared.

Give the speech about strangers in pieces and repeat it often. Kids don’t really comprehend too much new material at one time, and they usually must hear it more than once for it to sink in. Also, children can grasp more mature concepts as they get older. Although saying “Don’t accept candy from a stranger” may be enough for a 4- or 5-year-old, a slightly older child has to be told that it isn’t just candy that he or she should turn down, but also any favor, including money or a ride home from school.

Personal privacy

Teaching your children about privacy is critical. Make sure that all your children understand that not only are they allowed to maintain their privacy at home, but they absolutely must maintain it outside the home, especially when around strangers. Now you don’t want to frighten your children, but you do have to make sure that they understand that unless Mommy or Daddy says it’s okay (such as when the child goes to the doctor), no one is allowed to touch their private parts. The fact that child molesters are out there is very sad, but they do exist, and you have to teach your children to be extra careful.

Telling kids to tell an adult

As important as telling children what they shouldn’t do is telling them what they should do if a stranger approaches them improperly, which is to run away and immediately tell an adult. The first part, not doing certain things, is easier for a child than the second part. Why? Because if they experience sexual abuse or sexually inappropriate requests or behavior from a stranger, kids will often put it out of their minds or, if they sense that they may have done something bad, actually try to hide it from you.

Because you want your children to tell you about anything, you must be very careful to let them know that you won’t punish them if they report that something occurred. Passing this reassurance along isn’t easy, and, once again, he best way to do it is to repeat the message several times until you’re relatively sure that your child understands.

If a child reports something out of the ordinary to you, don’t overreact. The child will sense that something is wrong, and that may shut off communication at a time when you need your child to tell you as much as he or she can. Try to remain calm and matter-of-fact while you dig for information.

Organizing with other parents

Having a network set up before trouble happens rather than waiting until afterward is always better, which is why you should organize with other parents and nonparents on your block right now. Again, this isn’t an issue to get hysterical about — a child abuser isn’t hiding under every rock — but being prepared in case one does show up is certainly a good idea.

The organization you set up can be quite simple. It can consist of one meeting at which everybody agrees to watch out for each other’s children, and you put together a list of names and phone numbers, including cell and office numbers. The most important aspect of this organization is that if any adult on the block sees something going on with your child that he or she thinks may be suspicious, that adult will know, ahead of time, that he or she has your permission to investigate, as well as the means to communicate with you.

Members can also form a committee that is responsible for checking your state’s registry of convicted sex offenders and reporting the findings.

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The Essentials of Talking to Children about Sex

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