When I'm out with my young children, friendly strangers often approach us to
smile and say hello.Although I'd like my kids to be polite, I also want
to teach them not to talk to strangers. How can I avoid sending mixed messages? – Suzanne
"Don't talk to strangers" has been the rule for many parents for generations. But
sometimes it's a good idea for kids to talk to strangers. Who else will they turn
to if they're lost and need help?
So, instead of making a rule, it's better to teach kids when it's appropriate to
talk to strangers and when it is not. When your
kids are out with you, it's fine to let them say hello and talk to new people. You
are watching the situation and will protect them.
But if your child is alone and approached by a stranger,
that's a different story. Tell your kids
that if a stranger ever approaches and offers a ride or treats (like candy or
toys) or asks for help with a task (like helping find a lost dog), they should step
away, yell "No!" and leave the area immediately. Your child should tell you or another
trusted adult (like a teacher or childcare worker) what happened. The same goes if
anyone — whether a stranger, family member, or friend — asks your child
to keep a secret, tries to touch your child's private area, or asks your child
to touch theirs.
Most kids are likely to be wary of strangers who are mean-looking or appear scary
in some way. But most child molesters and abductors are regular-looking people, and
many go out of their way to look friendly, safe, and appealing to children. So, instead
of judging a person by appearance, teach kids to judge people by their actions.
It's also important to encourage kids to trust their own instincts. Teach them
that if someone makes them feel uncomfortable or if they feel like something's just
not right — even if they can't explain why — they need to walk away immediately.
So, what happens if your kids are alone and need to approach a stranger for help?
First, they should try to find a person in uniform, like a police officer, security
guard, or store employee. If there are no uniformed people, look for grandparents,
women, and people with children who may be able to help. And again, remind them about
instincts: If they don't have a good feeling about a certain person, they should approach
It's not possible to protect kids from strangers at all times. But it is possible
to teach them about appropriate behaviors and what to do if somebody crosses the line.
Keeping these tips in mind can help your kids stay safe while they're out and about.