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How to Talk to Kids about Stranger Danger

Updated on April 29, 2017
Deborah-Diane profile image

Deborah is the mother of four grown daughters, seven grandchildren, a retired educator, and former Girl Scout leader and school volunteer.

Parents Need to Discuss Stranger Danger When Children are Young

Some psychologists believe you shoud talk about stranger danger when they are ages 3-5.
Some psychologists believe you shoud talk about stranger danger when they are ages 3-5. | Source

Teaching Stranger Danger to Children

Most parents are very protective of their children, striving to keep them safe from dangerous toys and risky sports. However, many neglect to keep their children safe from a danger which is all too real … adults who may want to harm them.

As soon as children are old enough to attend pre-school or have frequent play dates in the homes of their friends, you should begin to talk to them about appropriate and inappropriate touching. Some psychologists suggest you should have the first discussion of this topic sometime between the ages of three and five. After the initial conversation, you should repeat it once or twice a year, especially when your children begin spending more and more time with other adults.

Tools to Help Teach Your Children about Strangers

For generations, many parents used the Grimm’s Fairy Tales as a way to bring up the subject of Stranger Danger. The stories of “Little Red Riding Hood” in which a little girl spoke with a strange wolf in the forest, or “Hansel and Gretel” in which children ate candy at a stranger’s house have long been used as terrifying tales to frighten children into good behavior. In fact, some historians believe these tales were originally told to children as a way to keep them close to home and away from strangers. In other words, they were intended to terrify children. Anyone who has ever read the original versions of these stories will know just how frightening they were.

However, today we realize that stories do not have to have violent endings or horrible creatures like wolves and witches in order to give children the information they need. Gentle stories, such as the short book, “The Parrot Trap: A Children’s Story,” can be very helpful in bringing up the subject of stranger way without terrifying your child.

One of the things I like about this particular book is that there are notes for parents at the end, including discussion questions and suggestions to help parents talk about Stranger Danger with their young children in an age appropriate way.

Although the children in "The Parrot Trap" eventually come to realize that they are in danger, nothing bad actually happens to them. No big bad wolf eats them; no witch throws them in an oven; no woodcutter threatens to cut out their heart. (What where they thinking when they wrote the Grimm's Fairy Tales, anyway?)

The milder tone of this book is intentional, because the goal is to discuss the topic without frightening your kids. Parents can talk about what the children in this story did right and what they could have done better. This story also had the advantage that you do not have to tell your children about the horrible things that could have happened to the kids in the book. Parents can simply say that the woman who tries to kidnap one of the children in the story may have just wanted to take him home to be her little boy. This is far kinder than "Hansel and Gretel" where the witch plans to eat them!

Another intentional aspect of this story is that the "stranger" who tries to abduct the little boy is not some scary man in a trench coat ... which is what many children imagine when they think of a stranger. Instead, the potential abductor is an attractive, young, friendly woman. Children need to learn to be cautious whenever they talk to a stranger, no matter what that person looks like.

Whatever books you choose to share with your child, a short story can be a useful tool in talking to your child about stranger danger. The important thing parents need to know is they can discuss these topics with their children in a thoughtful way which will help protect their children and empower them, without terrifying them.

"The Parrot Trap" was Written to Help Parents Start the Conversation

The Parrot Trap: A Children's Story
The Parrot Trap: A Children's Story

This short story is much less threatening and scary than some of the Grimm's Fairy Tales. It puts children in a modern day setting where a pretty woman becomes overly friendly and tries to snatch one of them. It is designed to overcome some of the stereotypes many people have about "scary old bad men" being the only type of person children should avoid. It also has discussion questions at the back to make it easier for the parents to start a conversation with their children. My children enjoyed this short story when they were young, and it is still available to children today.

 

What to Say to Keep Kids Safe

When you discuss Stranger Danger with your children, what should you say to them? Here are some suggestions to get you started:

* Tell your children that strangers are not usually scary looking people. In fact, people who want to hurt them can seem nice at first.

* Let them know that no one has the right to touch them anywhere which would normally be covered by a swimsuit, except for their parents and doctor. If someone else does touch them, you want them to tell you.

* Tell your children that if they ever feel afraid or threatened by someone, they should run away, scream, say no, and tell you about the situation as soon as possible. Assure them that they will not get in trouble, even if it turns out the person was not really trying to hurt them. Better safe than sorry!

* Let them know how much you love them and you want to hear about the scary things that happen so you can talk about the situation together. They won’t get in trouble for being honest with you.

As always, reassure your children that you love them and want to keep them safe. This will help them feel secure and loved, no matter what happens.

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    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Valuable information Deb! I can't be said enough times in today's world.

    • Deborah-Diane profile image
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      Deborah-Diane 4 years ago from Orange County, California

      Thank you, BillyBuc. I always appreciate your thoughtful comments. Just today a teenage girl escaped an abductor who had held her for two years. I honestly believe we can't start too soon to talk about this!

    • ALUR profile image

      ALUR 4 years ago from USA

      As a mother of three daughters and an imagination for the dark side(you can see in some of my hubs) it's always on my mind to educate. Thanks for this hub and also remember often the"stranger" can lurk behind a face of the friendly family and ones we know...I learned that from a video that warns us to simply say that anyone without YOUR authorization is not permitted to touch, take or give anything: use a passcode only you and your kids know to decipher good from evil. I use one and change it every month or so...

    • Deborah-Diane profile image
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      Deborah-Diane 4 years ago from Orange County, California

      Thank you, Alur, for your additional words of advice. Yes, the "stranger" can also be someone that kids know, and someone that their parents trust. Having a passcode is an excellent idea!

    • Mrs Jil Manning profile image

      Mrs Jil Manning 4 years ago from Sussex, England

      Always useful to remember to talk to youngsters about this. I especially like the part about encouraging children to talk about scary things, and that they won't get into trouble for being honest...so important.

    • Deborah-Diane profile image
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      Deborah-Diane 4 years ago from Orange County, California

      Thank you. We always stressed to our own children how important it was to tell us things. They would not get in trouble for letting us know about things that were going on in their lives.

    • shel-connors profile image

      shel-connors 4 years ago from Ohio

      Such a good topic to write about! Thanks for the info!

    • Deborah-Diane profile image
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      Deborah-Diane 4 years ago from Orange County, California

      Thank you for your comments. I know parents hate to discuss Stranger Danger with their kids, but it really is a very important topic!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I just dropped by to tell you that I am mentioning you in my hub tomorrow....you might be surprised about the subject matter. :)

    • Deborah-Diane profile image
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      Deborah-Diane 4 years ago from Orange County, California

      Thank you! I'll look forward to seeing what you have to say! :))

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I have you in my hub this weekend....a thank you of sorts. :)

    • Deborah-Diane profile image
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      Deborah-Diane 4 years ago from Orange County, California

      Thank you for your support. I hope that as many children as possible are given good information about avoiding dangerous strangers!

    • Deborah-Diane profile image
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      Deborah-Diane 4 years ago from Orange County, California

      Thank you, billybuck. Discussions about Stranger Danger are very difficult for most parents. We want our children to be cautious, but we don't want to terrify them!

    • rajan jolly profile image

      Rajan Singh Jolly 4 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar,INDIA.

      Very important point to be discussed with one's kids as soon as they as possible. Danger is lurking everywhere and in all forms and increasing! Great reminder.

      Voted up, useful and shared on G+1.

    • Deborah-Diane profile image
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      Deborah-Diane 4 years ago from Orange County, California

      Thank you for your comments. I agree that this is a sensitive topic that should be discussed with children as early as possible. Unfortunately, we have to teach children that not everyone is nice. Sad, isn't it?

    • SweetiePie profile image

      SweetiePie 4 years ago from Southern California, USA

      One thing that I think people need to be careful with is the smart phones and tweens. A friend of my nephew was posting videos of them on Facebook, and YouTube, and my sister had to make the boy delete the account. I do not think the kids realize everything they post will be out there, and people with not so good intentions might use it to try to contact them.

    • Deborah-Diane profile image
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      Deborah-Diane 4 years ago from Orange County, California

      You are absolutely right about the danger from smart phones, social media and tweens. Few teens and tweens have the maturity to make wise judgements when using these services. Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

    • vespawoolf profile image

      vespawoolf 4 years ago from Peru, South America

      This is such important and pertinent information. It's sad we live in such a dangerous world, but open and direct education of children is vital from a very young age. All your advice is right on. I've voted this up and shared it.

    • Deborah-Diane profile image
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      Deborah-Diane 4 years ago from Orange County, California

      Thank you so much for sharing this information. We all want our children to be friendly and open, but young children often do not realize how risky this can be. I have tried to give parents tools for teaching their children about strangers without leaving them paralyzed with fear.

    • L.L. Woodard profile image

      L.L. Woodard 4 years ago from Oklahoma City

      You've handled an important topic in a useful manner. It's a delicate balance to advise young children to be wary of strangers but not overdo it at the same time. Keeping open the lines of communication between parent and child is so important for many reasons, with safety being a vital concern.

      Voted up and Shared.

    • Deborah-Diane profile image
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      Deborah-Diane 4 years ago from Orange County, California

      Thank you for your comments. I really appreciate them. I agree that it is important to keep open the lines of communication between parent and child.

    • Vinaya Ghimire profile image

      Vinaya Ghimire 4 years ago from Nepal

      You have shared some useful points. I will love to share your advice with my friends and relatives who are raising children.

    • Deborah-Diane profile image
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      Deborah-Diane 4 years ago from Orange County, California

      Thank you for sharing this information. Stranger Danger is a very difficult and complicated topic to discuss with our children.

    • moonlake profile image

      moonlake 4 years ago from America

      It really is hard to know exactly what to tell kids because you do want them to be able to run to a stranger if they are in danger from someone else. Voted up on your hub.

    • Deborah-Diane profile image
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      Deborah-Diane 4 years ago from Orange County, California

      You make a good point, Moonlake. We always told our children to run to a store, store clerk, crossing guard, security guard, or some other worker, as well as to police and firemen, if they were lost or frightened for some reason. All of those were their best options.

      It's sad that we have to teach our children about good strangers and scary strangers, but it is an unfortunate reality.

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 4 years ago from the short journey

      Such an important topic--so glad to see that others are highlighting your hub with comments. Discussions in the comments can be helpful, as already demonstrated here.

    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 4 years ago from North Texas

      Good advice, but in fact most children are in greater danger from people they know than from strangers. People children trust, their teachers, clergy, neighbors, their parent's adult friends, their own adult relatives including those they live with, are all more likely to abuse them sexually, and in other ways than strangers are. I learned this in my psychology classes at school and research and statistics support it.

      Sadly, an uncle, a teenaged cousin or neighbor, and even a father or step-father, are more likely to abuse a child than someone they don't know at all. Another serious source for abuse is Mom's boyfriend (many women are single moms nowadays). Some men pretend interest in a woman when really their true interest is in the woman's child(ren).

    • Deborah-Diane profile image
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      Deborah-Diane 4 years ago from Orange County, California

      You make an excellent point that children are often abused by someone they know ... and then they feel helpless to do anything about it.

      I'm so glad that people are talking about this, because they will also make an effort to make their children aware of these dangers, even if the topic is uncomfortable. I appreciate all the contributions that people are making to this important topic.

    • moonlake profile image

      moonlake 4 years ago from America

      When I was very young I went next door to ask the little girl I always played with to come out and play. Her Dad came to the door with his pants open and no underwear on. It shocked me as a child and I took off home. I didn't tell my Mom and Dad. I have no idea why I didn't. They ended up telling me not to go in that house because they didn't like the man. I was happy about that. Shared.

    • Deborah-Diane profile image
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      Deborah-Diane 4 years ago from Orange County, California

      I think that children often do not tell their parents about incidents like this because they are embarrassed to talk about it. Sometimes they even think that they are the ones who did something wrong, or that they will somehow get in trouble if they say anything. Thank you for sharing your personal story.

    • sgbrown profile image

      Sheila Brown 4 years ago from Southern Oklahoma

      It is a horrible shame that we have to talk to our children about things like this, but it is a fact of life. It is also true that most abuse is by someone your child already knows. I like the idea of telling your child that no one should touch them anywhere a bathing suit would cover. Children are so trusting, people that take advantage of this should be put away for life! Voting this up, awesome and sharing!

    • Deborah-Diane profile image
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      Deborah-Diane 3 years ago from Orange County, California

      Stranger Danger is a very difficult topic to discuss with our children. We don't want to upset them, but we also do not want to allow them to be so naïve that they are vulnerable to terrible people. We walk a fine line in discussing this topic.

    • Careermommy profile image

      Tirralan Watkins 3 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      This is a very useful and needed hub. I try to talk to my 4 year old about not talking to strangers or letting people touch his private parts. Now that my youngest is three it's time for the talk, especially since they are in pre-school and among other kids and adults on a regular basis. This is a great topic for discussion.

    • Deborah-Diane profile image
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      Deborah-Diane 3 years ago from Orange County, California

      It's wonderful that you are having these discussions with your 3 and 4 year old children. It's a difficult topic, but very important.

    • WriterJanis profile image

      Janis 3 years ago from California

      This is a very important issue to discuss with kids. It's sad that our kids have to be aware of things like this.

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image

      Shyron E Shenko 3 years ago from Texas

      Deborah, this is great information, and I completely agree with you on this. I remember my sons they would talk to anyone but not get close or in a car with someone they did not know. I am thankful for that.

      I am glad my children are grown.

      Voted up +++ and shared

    • Deborah-Diane profile image
      Author

      Deborah-Diane 3 years ago from Orange County, California

      Yes, Stranger Danger is a problem that really worries most parents. It breaks my heart when I hear about children who have been taken and I want to do whatever I can to prevent it.

    • Tolovaj profile image

      Tolovaj 3 years ago

      This is very important and sensible topic. On one hand we have to teach children to be cautious, but on the other it is not good to be too scared. There is also the reaction of environment. Different people have very different personal boundaries and when a parent tries to teach his child staying within some limitations, some can be extremely offended when a child doesn't respond as they expected.

      I think classic stories for children can be great learning tool - for kids and 'strangers'.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Stranger danger will always be an important subject and you said it all here.

    • Lady_E profile image

      Elena 3 years ago from London, UK

      I love the title. Thanks for the useful tips.

    • Deborah-Diane profile image
      Author

      Deborah-Diane 2 years ago from Orange County, California

      Lady E - I'm glad you like the title of this book. Stranger Danger can be a sensitive topic and many parents do not know where to start. This articles gives them some practical suggestions.

    • ezzly profile image

      ezzly 2 years ago

      Excellent article , I think it's more important than ever for parents to be on the lookout for dangers that could face their kids !

    • Deborah-Diane profile image
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      Deborah-Diane 2 years ago from Orange County, California

      I think this book also helps empower children so they know how to be better prepared to be on the defensive when they are out in public.

    • Deborah-Diane profile image
      Author

      Deborah-Diane 2 years ago from Orange County, California

      Thank you, ezzly, for reading and commenting. I agree that it is more emportant than ever for parents to be on the lookout for dangers that could face their kids!

    • peachpurple profile image

      peachy 20 months ago from Home Sweet Home

      it is good to teach kids about strangers but they do scared when meeting new people

    • Deborah-Diane profile image
      Author

      Deborah-Diane 20 months ago from Orange County, California

      Yes, it is very important to discuss stranger danger with children so they know what to do when they encounter someone they do not know.

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