When I was in kindergarten, we watched a filmstrip (yes, this dates me) about "stranger danger." It starred a horse who kept saying, "Neigh, neigh, from strangers stay away." Because it was a horse talking and all, I didn't think much about it in my daily life when I encountered a stranger. What I took seriously was my parents' rule: I was to look out the peephole before answering the door, and not to open it for anyone I didn't know.
Following this rule involved dragging the step stool over, but I did it without fail. So consistently thorough was I that I didn't even open the door for my dad when he had a kidney stone attack in the yard and came crawling to the door. He was on his knees, so I couldn't see him. And mind you, this was before cell phones.
Not Talking to Strangers Is Unrealistic
Now I have a three-year-old son, Olin, who races down the sidewalk on his balance bike and cuts into the schoolyard way ahead of me, disappearing into the maze of young bodies, their parents watching from scattered sideline vantage points. It's fenced in, so I can track Olin easily — once I find him. On any given day, we know some of the regulars here, but the rest of the people hanging out I've never seen before. I like to give Olin some space here, and I feel safe doing so. Once he fell down, and a nice woman who was closer to him at the moment helped him up. Another time, he started to slip from some monkey bars, and someone's father caught him mid-air. I was grateful for these strangers and their small gestures of friendliness and help.
Olin doesn't tend to talk to strangers of his own accord, but he does like to stare at people, especially older kids doing dangerous skateboard tricks or playing a pick-up game of basketball. And he's very social, so I think a conversation about strangers will be important to have, and soon. As Mary Beth Sammons points out in a RoundUp article (How to Talk to Your Kids About Stranger Safety), it's not practical to expect your kids to never speak to strangers, but we can teach them how to do so.
In our household, language is the key to the kingdom. Expressing yourself well can get you TV time, another 15 minutes on the playground, or a change in the CD we're listening to — not as a reward for anything other than communicating effectively.
There's not always a one-to-one correspondence between what Olin says and what happens, but he has learned that verbal communication is much more effective than crying, throwing things, or yelling. I think this model can be applied to the issue of stranger safety. I'd like to teach my son to talk to someone he doesn't know with that same sort of budding sophistication. It starts at a young age!
My Stranger Safety Rules
So, what are the ground rules? Here are mine, simple enough that they need no explanation, even for my preschooler:
- I need to know where you are at all times. If you're with a babysitter, the babysitter does, too.
- If someone you don't know talks to you, ask him which kid he's with.
- Tell him that your mom (or babysitter) is _______ (right over there).
- Do not leave or get into a car with anyone you don't know.
- If a stranger starts asking you lots of questions, ask me (or your babysitter) to come over.
- If anyone touches you, or tries to get you to go somewhere, yell for help!
What stranger safety rules have you shared with your kids?
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