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“Don’t you think this is going too far?” asked a Parentpower workshop participant.
“Following the Kidpower safety rules would mean that a child eight years old or younger on their own passing a parent they didn’t know in a school hallway wouldn’t talk to the adult – because the adult would be a stranger! But, we want our kids to feel like school is a safe place. We definitely want them to feel safe with parents! Would you really expect a child to check first before talking in that situation?”
Adults and most kids know that a stranger is “someone I don’t know.” However, it’s normal to make assumptions about strangers, and assumptions can make it harder to teach, learn, and follow stranger safety rules.
One common assumption is that a stranger might be ‘dangerous’ because of their gender, size, clothing, hair, or skin color. Another common assumption is that someone is ‘safe’ because of their gender, size, clothing, hair, or skin color.
Here are three more common assumptions about strangers in schools:
ASSUMPTION #1: A child passing an adult stranger at school knows, or should assume, that the adult is a parent of another student.
Large school communities might have over a thousand parents and parenting people including foster parents, stepparents, parenting grandparents, and parenting siblings. Very small school communities might have over a hundred adults involved with parenting students!
Some of them will be people kids know. Almost all of them, though, will be strangers to almost all of the students.
Kids have no way to know whether an adult at their school is a parent. Trying to figure this out could distract them from following the stranger safety rules and putting safety first, ahead of anyone’s embarrassment, inconvenience, or offense.
It’s safer to teach kids to follow the stranger safety rules – and to teach the safety rules to all of the adults, too! Then, the adults are less likely to be confused or offended if a child does not talk to them – and more prepared to play their part in helping students learn skills to be safe!
ASSUMPTION #2: Even if he or she is a stranger, the parent of a child at the school is a ‘safe person.’
At Kidpower, we believe most people in the world are good. That means most strangers are good people. It means that most adults walking on school campuses are also good. However, we can’t tell just by looking at a stranger whether or not that person will make wise or safe choices.
The fact is, many people who do hurtful things to kids have children of their own, and most victims of child sexual assault are molested by people they know, including by parents in their community. Being a parent says nothing about whether or not a person will make safe choices with children.
These are not details we share with children. Instead, we can help them stay safe by teaching them very simple safety habits that keep people safe most of the time.
One of those habits for children ages eight and younger is, “When you’re on your own, Check First before you talk to people you don’t know.” The habit is easiest to learn if they are encouraged to follow it consistently.
ASSUMPTION #3: Adults at schools are there to help kids, so they must be ‘safe people’ for kids
For some, a school community feels like ‘family.’ It’s a joy to be part of a caring community – and, these positive feelings can also distract us from remembering that schools are full of people we don’t know who come and go for lots of reasons.
Vendors, volunteers, job seekers, substitutes, district administrators, people leading special activities are just some of the many strangers who visit schools. Sometimes it’s easy for someone to walk onto a campus and miss the official “check-in” process.
This isn’t a problem as long as the students have good safety habits that they have practiced with their families and with their teachers.
One of the best ways to help children feel safe at school is to help them be safe by building strong, lifelong safety habits. School communities are more prepared to do this well when parents and teachers communicate together about the skills they want children to learn.
When adults know and understand the stranger safety rules, they often feel good knowing that, just by walking with awareness, calm, and confidence and by choosing not to start a conversation when they pass a child on their own on a campus, they are helping the child learn and practice skills for staying safe.
Remember, too, that you can help kids “check first” in advance. For example, at a preschool with lots of adults who are strangers to the children coming and going all day, the safety rules might be, “Inside the class and yard, you can talk with anyone you want! Check First before talking with anyone outside the yard. ”
Then, practice with kids so they know how to follow the safety rules. The Mini Safety Lessons Course in the Kidpower Online Learning Center and 30-Skill Coaching Handbook are resources that can help you practice these skills with young children right away.
Published: March 9, 2012 | Last Updated: August 8, 2022