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Drew: Protecting your child from stranger dangers

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By Samuetta Hill Drew

As I began researching this topic of stranger danger I realized many adults in my parent’s generation seemingly understood this topic well and how to identify, prevent and avoid certain situations which could possibly place their children in harm’s way. I don’t think my parents read a particular book or article about this topic but, rather used their own home training and what we in the South call “mother wit.” My parents, like most of my generation, were reared in a different time in the South where understanding and knowing your environment was extremely important for one’s safety.  I believe my generation and those behind me unfortunately have been somewhat guilty of another old Southern saying “throwing the baby out with the bath water.”  Hopefully, these two articles will help spark these critical conversations about knowledge and empowerment again about strangers.

Last week’s article introduced some best practices on how to help teach and empower your child about strangers in their environment.  These practices explored the possible best approach based upon a child’s age and personality. We will conclude this topic this week by sharing additional detailed teachable tips on this topic.

As a parent or guardian there needs to be clear guidelines about public restrooms.  A fairly recent national news story about a top public official reiterates the need for these types of guidelines. Usually by age 6 a child can independently go to a public restroom without the aid of a parent but, be vigilant.  Note the age may differ by household.  Your child should know you are standing right outside until they come out and if they need help just call for you.  Teach them to say “no” if a stranger offers to help them and say “No, thank you, I’ll do it myself” or “My mom/dad can help me.”

Teach them to judge strangers by their actions rather than their appearance.  Tell them how mean and scary looking people may not necessarily be wishing them harm.  Discuss with them how some bad strangers may look like a regular, nice person and may act kind just to manipulate them to go with them.  Emphasize it’s a person’s action which determines if they are bad such as a) pulling up beside them in a car and asking for directions, b) offering candy, toys, electronics in a secluded place such as their home or car or c) asking for help to find a lost pet such as a dog.  Role playing these types of situations along with others is great for smaller children.

Teach your child to follow their instincts!  How they feel about situations and strangers is important.  Continue to teach them to be leery of strangers who ask for help, invite them into their home or car, ask them if they can you keep a secret or just show signs of suspicious behavior.  This helps to empower your child to make good decisions.  Also teach your child to immediately tell you about any adult who makes them feel uncomfortable and you need to listen.  Children will not tell if they believe you won’t listen or believe them.  This is why open lines of communication between parents and children about all topics without judgement is important.  Your child’s safety should be your primary and secondary concern.

The National Crime Prevention Council’s advises to teach children to practice NO, GO, YELL, TELL.  This phrase means to tell your child to yell very loudly “NO!” if approached by a bad stranger, RUN away immediately and fast, YELL for help and TELL a trusted adult what happened.  These words can be taught to younger children also.

Where the entertainment industry makes child abductions much more prevalent than statistics show, but, you don’t want to be the parent whose child is included in the statistics regardless of the percentage, so help teach them how to Keep an Eye on Safety!