Stranger Danger Doesn't Work: What does?

Updated: Aug 5, 2020

Tips for raising safe, capable adults


At some point in time we all need help – and our kids will, too. If and when we need it, it’s immensely safer for us to select a person to ask for help rather than wait for someone to offer. There won’t always be a police officer nearby – or a firefighter. And let’s be real: how long can it take to find a store associate when you actually need assistance?


We can give our children life skills that are practical and greatly increase their level of safety by helping them get comfortable assessing human behavior and interacting with strangers.

1. Discuss how and when you choose to talk to strangers with your child.


Those little eyes are always watching. We tell them, “Stranger danger” and then talk to complete strangers every day – and almost always every single one of them is obviously not dangerous. Which strangers are you comfortable talking with and why? Share how you make that determination with your child either after an interaction or at the end of the day.


2. Leave your child to answer their own questions.


When a child is able to answer for themselves this allows experience in normal adult interactions. If they struggle or have anxiety these are things we can discuss and help with afterward. The more experience with these interactions the more they will come to understand abnormal and potentially unsafe circumstances or people.


3. Allow your child to choose their interactions with adults.


If your child is uncomfortable with any person – a stranger, an acquaintance, a doctor, a family friend, a family member – respect that. You can ask about it but understand that you do not need to approve or appreciate their answer –or lack thereof - for their feelings to be valid. Among other things we are giving our children permission to trust themselves.


4. Encourage your child to seek answers to their questions from appropriate professionals.


What do iguanas eat? Why do we have seasons? What are stars made of? What excellent questions! Who knows the answers? You can support your child by asking if they would prefer to call the local pet shop, ask for help at the library or maybe find a patron at the planetarium. We aren’t supposed to have all the answers, and who couldn’t use a break anyway.


5. Let your child place their own food order.


Eating out is an especially great opportunity if your child is shy. Everyone orders their own food at a restaurant, and if your child wants to eat then they can place their order. Pointing to a picture and showing the waitress is more than enough. As long as your child is able to successfully communicate without your input – this is an opportunity for this skill to develop.


These simple suggestions are just a few ways we can encourage experiences that develop confidence, encourage autonomy and increase the safety of our kids. Not only is it important our children learn to problem solve but also how and when to get help from adults. When we quietly observe the situations listed above, it allows for input and support later. Most importantly, we get peace of mind knowing our children’s skills and capabilities if we should not be able to be there to help.

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