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Drew: Protecting your child from stranger dangers

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By Samuetta Hill Drew

As humans we will encounter various types of strangers throughout our lifetime. So, understanding who strangers are and the best way to deal with them is an important topic for parents to teach. This article will begin by exploring some of the basic safety tips to start teaching “stranger danger” to your child, with next week’s article concluding by expounding on additional safety tips.

A child’s age should NOT be the determining factor whether to start teaching them the importance of how to remain safe in their environment from strangers. The child’s age DOES determine the best approach and the type of discussion. Remember a preschooler doesn’t really understand the term “stranger” and is not able to fully understand the difference between who is safe and who is not. So, what you would say to a preschooler is vastly different than what you would say to a first grader or teen. Therefore, you begin with an age appropriate conversation about basic safety tips first, especially with the younger ones and reinforce it as they grow. Remember your goal is always regardless of age to empower your child not scare them to death.

Start your conversation with your younger children by asking them “do you know what a stranger is?” Allow them to respond. This provides you a great teachable opener because now you understand the extent of what your child knows or does not know about who a stranger is.  Now you can provide them this simple and accurate definition of a stranger –  that it is “someone you do not know” –  and then begin to clear up any misconceptions. Your conversation should include telling your child about good and bad strangers because all strangers are not bad.  You should provide examples of a good stranger such as a teacher, doctor, fireman, police officer, etc., as well as the bad ones. Emphasize to them the difference between the two. Younger children often learn and understand better by role play.

Another important basic safety tip for younger children continues by teaching them to stay close to you when out in public so not to get separated. Typically, this conversation needs to be reinforced as the child grows older because they want some level of independence to wander in a store more or play outside. A very young child usually stays with their parents when in public. As a parent you know your child’s overall personality. Research studies have shown that by first grade human beings’ basic personality traits have been determined. Therefore, you know if your child is naturally fearful and cautious or outgoing, friendly and adventurous. This will help guide and shape your conversation with your child. Establish some safety family rules if you become separated in a public place, such as find a store clerk (someone who stands by the cash register) and ask them to page me while you remain there until I come. If you’re not in a store you may tell your child to find another person with children and tell them that you have been separated from your parents. TEACH them not to ever leave or get in a car with a stranger.

Two and three years old is not too young to know the correct terms for their genitals and that it is NOT okay for most people to touch them there. They should understand it’s their body and no one, regardless of who they are, have the right to touch them. Teach them they have the right to say “NO” and tell you immediately, so as the adult you can handle the matter. It’s very important they feel comfortable telling you because you want to protect them from harm by anyone, regardless who the person is or is not.

One of your major goals, as a parent, is to teach your child how to Keep an Eye on Safety.