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Our Favourite Ways to Teach About Stranger Danger

Knowing who to trust and who not to trust is an important lesson for our children. With some expert advice, we find out the best ways to inform your kids on strangers and using their instincts


No one wants to think about what can happen when your child talks to a stranger, and in many cases the result is nothing more than a harmless conversation. If fact, how often have you found yourself engaging with someone else's child at the park or on public transport? (Maybe making a face to cheer them up, or simply to elicit another infectious giggle.)

Unfortunately, not all strangers are alike, and it's important to be vigilant and provide your children with the information they need to stay safe. In a survey conducted by Child Abduction.org, 1 in every 100 children have experienced a stranger approaching them and asking them to come with them.

Parents are all rightly terrified of what might happen to their children, especially when there is a case in the news that gets a lot of attention. But it's important to remember that there are approximately 11 million children in the UK and there are an average of 11 cases per year where a child is harmed by a stranger. This figure has not changed since the 1950s.

Approaching the "stranger danger" subject

We asked Clare Scott Dryden, an expert from Childalert and KidStart, why it's important to discuss stranger danger with your children.

"Children only know what they have experienced or what they see as the norm. When children come from a loving home, with people around them who are patient and caring they believe everyone is like this. This is why it is so important to explain to children, in appropriate language for their age, that this isn't always the case. Children who come from a disadvantaged home or background equally need to be told that they don't need to accept behaviour that may cause them to feel unsafe or compromised."

In person and online

All children must be told that if anyone approaches them (not just a stranger) and asks them to go with them or to do anything out of the ordinary, they should first refer back to a known adult and to tell them what they have been asked.

This advice is relevant in person as well as online - it's becoming more and more important to impress on children that they should never give away information or agree to meet anyone over the internet.

What you can do

Encourage self-esteem from an early age. This means increasing their confidence and getting them to trust their instincts. Children who have good self-esteem will be more likely to keep safe.

There are two important things to give a child from an early age: confidence and the ability to trust their instincts. Children don't want to put themselves in danger, so encourage them to talk about the situations they are in, and talk about your own feelings and what they notice - for example explain why you're walking the long way home after dark, instead of cutting through the park.

Talk to your children about stranger danger in a calm tone of voice allowing them to listen and learn more receptively. Don't try to alarm your children or transfer your own fears on to them; children with good self-esteem are less likely to get into harm's way.

Talk to your kids in an appropriate language for their age and understanding. Different age groups understand danger in different ways:

  • 3-5 year old children are curious and may be naturally trusting. They also easily respond to attempts by adults to be kind or supportive. Toddlers and preschoolers do not grasp the short or long-term consequences of potentially dangerous situations. Remind them that they must not talk to strangers, accept sweets or disappear out of sight of an adult
  • 6-9 year old school children are more capable of understanding right from wrong. They are able to remember information and put it into practice but may get overwhelmed in a difficult situation. You can tell children of this age not to accept a lift with anyone they don't know, not to approach a car if someone shouts a question at them and not to play alone or in dark places. They should also know where the adult in charge is at all times and stay within sight
  • 10-13 year old children may over-estimate their ability to handle a bad situation. They may also feel they should not be scared and be nonchalant in their attitude to risk. It's important to remember that children of this age think they can look after themselves.

    While we don't want to stilt their independence, we need to reiterate time and again that they need to always be with 2 other friends and not alone, never to agree to do something for someone you don't know even if they 'pay' you in money or sweets, and always tell an adult where you are going. Children of this age should be encouraged to speak their mind to say NO if they disagree or feel uncomfortable with a situation. Encourage them to shout 'NO', and never be afraid or embarrassed to tell you what's happened.

How to talk about stranger danger

Deliver information in a way that is appropriate to age. Younger children will benefit from role play and repeated conversations. Parents of older children can discuss current events or real situations to educate them about danger.

Adapt these techniques to the age of your children

Talk: Have a discussion with your children about safety and strangers. It can be useful to find out how they define a 'stranger'. Parents are often surprised to hear that only ugly creatures in story books are considered dangerous.

Ask: After talking to children, it is important to ask them what they heard. This allows parents to correct misinformation and determine what needs to be reviewed or discussed differently.

Show: It can be helpful for parents to practice with children what they have learnt. This can mean going to a shopping centre and having your child ask for help from a shop assistant, or walking through the neighbourhood and watching as your child goes to a neighbour's house.

Know: Make sure children know who, when, where and how to get help. For example, they should know their name, address, and phone number; how to phone the police, dial 999 or 112 (Europe) or 911 (US and Canada); and make sure they know each day who will pick them up from school, and what after school activities are planned.

Monitor: Keep an eye on the media, especially when child abductions and murders are in the news, parents should be aware of what their children are watching or hearing. Help them separate out fact from fantasy. Be sensitive to any changes in your children's behaviour, especially sleeping problems and nightmares, and if necessary, seek additional guidance.

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