At 21 months, we are working on teaching her immediate obedience. She must learn the foundation of obedience before the lessons about strangers will take full effect. But I read an interesting blog post this morning from Handprints on the Wall, and it's something I do want to remember in a year or so, when I do begin teaching Ellie how to act with strangers. The complete blog post is here, but I want to reproduce some of what she says below:
Your children need to know how to protect themselves from those who are out to harm them. Don’t be afraid that you might scare your child, or worry him. It is time that you arm him/her with life saving knowledge using these practical tips.
- Have a heart-to-heart. This needs to be a sit down, face-to-face, serious conversation. A casual mentioning of strangers will not suffice. Your child’s age will determine the tone of the conversation, and how deep you get with it. I would suggest starting at age 2 ½-3 yrs. old, depending on their maturity level. This is how I would go about it:
“Baby, I want to talk to you about strangers. Do you know what a stranger is? A stranger is somebody who you do not know well. Now, there are lots of people in this world who are strangers to us, we do not know them, and some are good, and some are bad.
Most people are good, but there are some people out there who are bad. Bad strangers will try to hurt you. Sometimes bad strangers try to take children away, and keep them and do bad things to them. I want to tell you about bad strangers to teach you to be careful around people who you do not know.
Bad strangers don’t always look mean. Sometimes they act very nice. You can’t tell if they are good or bad just by looking at them. Bad strangers are tricky! They will act nice to you, but they are really mean. Sometimes they will try to trick you to get you to go with them. It is very important that you stay close to Mommy or Daddy while we are out, so that you don’t get lost from us. If you do get lost, you need to find a store worker, or a police officer right away and ask for help.
- Role Play. This is where you give your child some scenarios of what a “bad” stranger might try to do to get your child to go with them. It is really important to equip your child with the right responses for certain situations, and there is no better way to teach them than through practice and role playing. It’s just pretend now, but if it ever happened in real life, they would be able to recall their practiced responses. Do this often to keep it fresh in their minds.
Now, remember, bad strangers will try to trick children. They want to get you away from your Mommy and Daddy so they can take you. They might act really nice to you and say something like, “Hello little girl. What’s your name? Do you like candy? You do! Well, I have some in my car, you want to come and get some candy?” Let me tell you something… you should never talk to strangers unless you are with a grown up who you know. You should never take candy from a stranger, unless your Mommy or Daddy says it’s okay first. And you should never, EVER go to the car of a stranger! This is their trick! If they can get you to their car, they will put you in it and drive away. I would never see you again! Now, let’s practice what you should do if a stranger comes to you.
Here is where you roll play. Make up a few scenarios to lead your child through. Don’t act creepy. Don’t put on a mask or try to make yourself look mean or different. Strangers look like everybody else, your child needs to know that. Pretend to walk up to your child and begin a conversation:
You: “Hello. What’s your name?”
Child: “My name is Sarah.”
You: “Hi Sarah.” “How old are you?”
Child: “I’m three.”
You: “Oh! Wow, you’re a big girl!” “Well, Sarah, would you like some candy?”
Stop!! This is where you correct your child. Tell them again how they should never take candy from a stranger. Give them the correct response:
Child: “I have to ask my Mommy or Daddy first.”
Now begin another scenario.
You: “Hi little girl. Do you like puppies?”
You: “Well, I have the cutest little puppy in my car. Would you like to see him?”
Obviously this is another big stopping point! Tell your child that if somebody invites them to his/her car, they should never go alone. Give your child the correct response:
Child: “I have to ask my Mommy or Daddy first.”
Become a little more aggressive in your approach as a stranger.
You: “Oh, come on! He’s really cute! I’m sure your Mommy wouldn’t mind. We’ll be right back!”
Child: “No thank you. I have to ask my Mommy first.”
Now, without acting it out (you don’t want to scare your child), talk to them about the possibility of a stranger trying to grab them and forcibly take them away. Tell them that sometimes bad strangers will pick a child up and try to take them.
“Sometimes a bad stranger will try to take you away by picking you up, or grabbing your arm and forcing you to go with them. Do you know what you should do if that happens? If somebody tries to take you away from me, I want you to fight them with all of your strength! Do you understand me? You kick, you scream, you yell “Mommy!!”, you hit, bite, and fight as hard as you can to get away. Do not let them get you to their car. If they get you into their car, I will never see you again. And baby, if I lost you my heart would break! I would cry and cry. I don’t want to lose you, so I need to teach you what to do if a bad stranger tries to get you, okay?”
Now remember, most strangers are good. But there are some bad people out there who want to do harm. The best way to keep safe is to stay close to me always, never run off or get too far from me. If you aren’t close, a bad stranger could grab you and run away with you. And if you get lost in the store, you find a worker to help you. Never, ever go with somebody out of the store. Okay?”
Go read the rest of the post on her blog. We do need to train and equip our children to know how to be safe with strangers. As soon as your children are old enough, please talk to them.
Here is another link to a site with activities and lesson plans for teaching children about strangers.