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It’s a sad reality: Kids are at risk. Whether they’re home alone, walking to school or out in the community, our children are vulnerable to the unfortunate dangers of strangers (or, in most cases, people they already know). There are some simple measures and reminders we can teach children to help them become more independent citizens while learning to protect themselves.
Look beyond strangers. Stranger danger is rather misleading, since attacks or abductions are often carried out by someone the child already knows-a relative, neighbor or acquaintance. Rather than pinpointing who’s “off limits,” focus on who is trustworthy: a security guard, policeman in uniform, mom with children, store worker, or school teacher.
Focus on the positive. Rather than using too many real-life examples and scaring children so much that they become fearful of anyone new they might encounter, it’s important to focus on positive ways kids can become more independent, confident and in control of themselves and their surroundings.
Build body awareness. Confident children who know they are in control of their bodies will be better equipped in the event that something does happen. Remind kids that they are strong-that they can fight back, run fast or scream for help should they ever need to.
Ask for help. Sometimes kids are shy or unaware that they can acquire immediate help. They freeze in fear or become paralyzed in uncomfortable situations. Regularly review the actual steps involved in getting help: 1) Running to a safe place. 2) Looking for someone in uniform or a trusted adult. 3) Memorizing a parent’s phone number for quick recall. 4) Calling 911 from the nearest phone.
Practice healthy habits. Part of staying safe is developing a simple, predictable routine and smart daily habits. For example, there’s safety in numbers: Kids should know to always stay with friends and in places where there are lots of people.
Here are a few things parents can do to further support new “stranger danger” education:
1. Take your child’s photo and fingerprints regularly, and store in a safe spot.
2. Consider giving approved friends and family a secret “password” that your child can use to ensure they are going with a trusted person.
3. Get involved in the community or your child’s school so you’re more aware of what’s going on around you and who lives in your neighborhood.