Recently, a worried parent wrote, “My five-year-old daughter talks to everyone, even though I have tried to teach her the difference between talking to someone she knows and to someone she doesn’t. She believes that, if she knows the person’s name, it is okay for her to talk to them. Can you help?”
Many kids are confused about when a stranger becomes someone you know, especially if you have learned each other’s names. A research study of the Kidpower Everyday Safety program conducted with schoolchildren 8 to 9 years old found that most replied “No” to the question, “Can a stranger know your name?” After their Kidpower training, most gave the correct answer.
In our workshops, we guide students to think about this by asking, “How could a stranger know your name?”
They usually answer, “From my name on my shirt or backpack.”
We then ask, “Suppose Pedro is at the park and his mother calls out loudly, ‘Pedro, it’s time to go home!’ Would everyone nearby in the park Pedro’s name?” As the children nod “yes”, their understanding grows.
From a young child’s perspective, knowing what a stranger is and what the rules really mean can be complicated. Caring adults can accidentally make this more confusing by stating an absolute rule, ‘never talk to strangers,’ and then directing children to talk to strangers, such as to order food in a restaurant or to answer a new doctor’s questions during an exam.
At Kidpower, we teach adults how to:
- Use and explain the word ‘stranger’ on an everyday basis in a way that is accurate, not fear-based. We explain that most people are good and that a stranger, whether or not you know each other’s names, is just someone you don’t know well.
- Coach children to learn the difference between being ‘together’ and ‘on your own’
- Teach and practice the Kidpower Stranger Safety Rules for being ‘on your own’
When a child is together with an adult in charge, the adult might ask the child to say “hello” or “thank you” to a stranger – or even tell the child to stay with this person or to accept food from this person. Why is this safe? Tell your child, “Because you are together with your adult!”
The rules are different when you are “on your own.” For a young child, this could mean being even just a few feet away from a parent in a store, but the parent is looking at something else, such as what fruit to buy, or is texting.
Because you are now “on your own,” your safety plan is to move away and check first with your adult if you are approached by anyone you don’t know well.
Kidpower’s Stranger Safety rules for when you are on your own are:
- Move away and Check First before you let a stranger get close to you. (In a busy store or street, there might be lots of strangers around, which is why it is important to Stay Together with your adult.)
- Move away and Check First before you talk with a stranger. (As long as they follow the other rules, children nine and older can talk with a stranger but not give personal information.)
- Move Away and Check First before you take anything from a stranger, even your own things – and before you give anything to a stranger. (You cannot be close enough to take or give and still be out of reach.)
- Move away and Check First before you go with a stranger – and also before you go with someone you know.
We teach kids to follow their Stranger Safety Rules around anyone they don’t know well, and that even if they know each other’s names, it is not the same as truly knowing this person. We tell them, “If you are not sure about whether or not you should follow the Stranger Safety Rules with someone, Check First by asking your adult.”
Since most of the people who harm children are not strangers but are people they know well, we teach them, “Check First with your adults before you change your plan about WHERE you are going, WHO is with you, and WHAT you are doing.” We coach students in a role-play, such as to practice checking first before going to a neighbor’s house to see baby kittens, even if you have been to the neighbor’s house many times before.
For older children who are going out on their own without an adult to Check First with right away – and for all of us for the rest of our lives – the safety rule is to Think First before getting close to someone we don’t know well, talking with this person, or taking something from this person- and to let others know if we are going anywhere with anyone.
Kidpower Safety Comics for Adults With Kids Ages 3-10 are inexpensive and provide an entertaining and positive tool you can use to discuss and practice Checking First before talking to a stranger – as well as many other skills for being safe with people. When you go to Amazon, you can easily preview this in order to see what it looks like. https://www.kidpower.org/store/safety-comics/#younger
Kidpower Safety Comics for Older Children show how to be safe with strangers as well as other important personal safety skills for children who are becoming more independent. https://www.kidpower.org/store/safety-comics/#older
Here is more information about Kidpower for young children and other resources, including our free PuppetPower videos: https://www.kidpower.org/who-we-serve/young-children/
Our Stranger Safety Resources show how to protect children from kidnapping without making them fearful:
Kidpower Everyday Safety Skills Research Study: http://www.prweb.com/releases/kidpower/research-efficacy/prweb10641948.htm