You are delighted that your child has grown to become more outgoing and confident. But now it’s time to make her aware of “stranger danger”.
You’ll probably feel troubled that just as her confidence is on an upswing, you have to inform her that some adults could pose a potential danger to her.
The challenge facing you is how to encourage her to be sensibly wary of strangers, without making her totally paranoid and fearful.
Get the basics right
Explain to her that not all adults are nice to children. Choose your words carefully, using terms that you know she understands.
She may ask: “What will happen to me if I do go with a stranger?” Resist the temptation to terrify her with gory tales about children who are kidnapped and assaulted, then murdered.
True, that would frighten her, but perhaps to such an extent that she would be afraid to cross the threshold of the front door ever again.
Instead, give a basic explanation, such as: “A stranger might hurt you.”
Point out that she can’t always tell who is a “nasty stranger” just by looking at them; some may appear friendly and generous.
However, there is no point in telling her not to ever talk to strangers when you are away from home, because that would be impossible – she wouldn’t be able to chat with shop assistants, or to relatives of a friend who happens to be with her.
Just make it clear that she shouldn’t go away with a stranger.
Give some practical examples. Tell her: “Don’t take the hand of someone you do not know when you are in the street or park.”
“Never take a sweet from someone you don’t know when you are not at home.”
“Never go into a car with a person you do not know.”
Specific examples like these help cut down ambiguity in your child’s mind. Give these reminders regularly. Let her ask as many questions as she wants.
When she needs help
Talk to your child about what she should do if she, say, gets separated from you at the shopping mall. Make sure she can recite her name and address when asked.
Tell her if she looks around and cannot see you at a shop, she should go to the nearest cashier.
She should tell the person “who collects the money” that she is lost – and then wait with that person until you come for her.
Or tell her to go directly to the first shop she sees, if she is not in one, and to speak to the person at the till. If she can’t find a shop, she should approach a policeman or someone in uniform.
In addition, discuss privacy. Emphasise that nobody has a right to touch her unless she is comfortable with it, stranger or otherwise.
She will understand that a cuddle or hug from you is perfectly acceptable – but not 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 immediately if anybody does.
Advise her that there shouldn’t be secrets between you, even if an adult asks her to keep quiet about what was done to her.