Last month, a kindergarten teacher thwarted a student’s abduction from a school playground. My son started kindergarten this year, so this report really hit home for me. My 5-year-old is in a new place, meeting new “strangers” and learning new social rules. And I want one thing to remain the same, always: I want him to avoid, stay away, and run away from “tricky people.” While this information isn’t just for back to school, it is especially appropriate now that the academic year has begun and your kids will be spending more time away from you.
Teaching “stranger danger” is not effective. Strangers are not the enemy. A stranger might save your child’s life or help them someday. Police and emergency personnel are strangers, yet we call for them and allow them to help us when needed. Store employees are strangers, yet a son watches as mom talks to the cashier at Target like she’s an old friend. That new neighbor is a stranger, yet a daughter sees her dad share his name, point to their house, shake hands, smile, and wave in passing.
Warning your child about “tricky people” is a more comprehensive means of teaching about abuse and abduction. I use the term body safety to describe all these areas of concern. A “tricky person” is an adult (male or female), older child, or same-age peer that tries to lure away or groom your son or daughter for abuse, in person or online. The person may either be known to the child (most likely) or a complete stranger (less likely).
I believe that parents are a child’s first and most effective teachers. As a parent, you are your child’s hero, protector, and ally. And you can prepare your children for the tricks of potential abusers and abductors with three strategies: teach, ask questions, and practice.
Teach your child body safety. This includes beginning with the appropriate names of all body parts, informing them of which places are “private,” and distinguishing between appropriate and inappropriate touch. Consider language and communication as well. Some parents forbid secrets, some explain the difference between “good” and “bad” secrets. Whatever you do, find regular times to go over these rules. In our family, we discuss the rules once a week during a bathtime.
Review your safety rules frequently. For example, frequently review your family code word–the word to be used, for instance, by a family friend who is picking your child up from school. You could also remind children to always ask mom or dad first (in person or on the phone) before getting into someone’s car, going away with anyone, or entering another person’s home–even if the child “knows” the person and has been to/inside the house before. Remind your son or daughter that “tricky people” will want them to break their family rules. Safe people will respect the family rules. For families with a non-custodial parent, go over what to do if that parent tries to “trick” them into going away.
It is also important to ask questions in order to clarify your child’s understanding of what you have taught and to review the information. Here are some questions you could use to help them understand who a “tricky person” might be and what to do in these situations.
Question: What are some things a “tricky person” might say or do to get you alone or to go somewhere with them?
- “Want some candy?”
- “I have balloons and toys in my car. Wanna come see?”
- “Can you help me find my son/daughter’s toy truck/doll?”
- “I lost my car keys, can you come help me find them?”
Try to use examples of toys or treats that your kids REALLY like; something that could lure them away by temptation.
Question: How will you know they’re trying to trick you?
- Because mom/dad aren’t ”right” beside me when they ask.
- Because they told me my mom said it was okay (mom/dad will always tell me directly).
- Because they’re asking me to keep secrets.
Question: What should you do?
Example Answer: NO-GO-TELL.
- Shout “No!” As loud as you can.
- Run away or get to a safe place with more people around.
- Tell a trusted adult (e.g., parent, teacher, etc.)
Question: What might happen if you go somewhere with a “tricky person”? (This question is best for older/more mature children. And it is a crucial one because children only understand rules in terms of rewards and punishments. At their level of moral development, many children cannot fathom the consequences of being alone with an abuser or being taken away by an abductor. We have to help them understand this as best as we can for their age/maturity level.)
Answer(s): Some adults or older children might want to hurt you or take you away from our family. (Use age-appropriate parental discretion here.)
Role play is an effective practice, because it may increase confidence in responding to an abuse or abduction situation. When I practice body safety with my son, we take turns pretending to try and lure the other away. We use different voices and facial expressions to keep it interesting, and the process requires thought as he plans his responses and actions. When it’s his turn, he likes asking me the questions and enjoys trying to “trick” me (and he rarely passes up an opportunity to yell, “No!” and run in the house!).
I hope my children never need these skills, but if the need arises, I have done my best to prepare them, and I hope that they will be ready.
QUESTION: What has been your approach to teaching your children about “tricky people”? Is it time to revisit the topic with them?
CHALLENGE: Take time this week to talk to your child about “tricky people” and how to stay safe. Review your family safety rules.
Edited by Becky Fawcett and Sarah Monson
Image from author with graphics by Anna Jenkins.
Article originally posted on September 21, 2015.