Dr Richard C. Woolfson
You spend a great deal of time preparing your child positively for the outside world. And then you have to warn her that there is also a downside to it, namely, that some adults pose a potential danger to her. The reality is, however, that if you haven’t already taught her that she must be wary of strangers, now is the time to start.
Make the rules about stranger safety very clear. Stress that she must never go off with a stranger for any reason. Explain this carefully, to avoid confusion. For instance, there is no point in telling her, “Don’t talk to strangers when you are away from home”, because that would be an impossibility. After all, this would mean she shouldn’t talk to, say, shop assistants. Make it clear that she shouldn’t go away with a stranger.
Give practical examples. Tell her, for instance, “Don’t take the hand of someone you do not know when you are in the street or at the park”, “Never take a sweet from someone you don’t know when you are not in our home”, and “Never go into a car with a person you do not know.” The more specific examples you can think of, the better, because that helps cut down ambiguity in your child’s mind. Give her these reminders regularly.
In addition, talk to your seven-year-old about privacy and emphasise that nobody has a right to touch her unless she is comfortable with that touch. She will understand that a cuddle or hug from you is perfectly acceptable, but that it is not acceptable when it comes from someone she doesn’t know (assuming you are not with her). Explain that nobody should touch her genital area and that she should tell you if anybody does.
Your child might ask you what she should do if he is outside and is lost. In this situation, she may have to seek help from a stranger, and yet you have just told her that this is something that is potentially dangerous. Tell her to get help from someone in uniform, like a policeman or a traffic warden for example. If she is unable to find a person in uniform, she should ask a woman for help (especially a woman with children), rather than approaching a man. Of course, these suggestions cannot guarantee your child’s well-being, but they are more likely to push her towards safety.
A potential difficulty your child might face is that you have probably raised her to respect adults, to do as she is told, and to speak quietly when talking to grown-ups. That’s good, except that dealing with stranger safety is one instance when these rules don’t apply. If a stranger offers your child a sweet and asks her to enter a vehicle, for instance, it may not be enough for your eight-year-old to refuse, as the stranger can be very persistent.
But if she yells loudly, “No, no!”, your child will feel confident because he has taken a positive course of action, other people in the vicinity will hear her shouts and might come over to find out what is happening, and the stranger will beat a hasty retreat to avoid the stares of passers-by.
Practising this at home with your child is essential because she is probably not used to shouting loudly at an adult. Once you have role-played this scene with her a couple of times, she will be ready to use the technique in a real-life situation should he ever need to.
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