"Stranger Danger" — It’s a catchy rhyme that’s been around awhile, but it’s only one way to teach children about safety.
Yes - children need to be wary of strangers, but we cannot turn a blind eye to the fact that a perpetrator can be anyone, even a trusted adult – a relative, a teacher, a neighbor etc. In fact, only 10% of perpetrators of child sexual abuse are strangers to the child.
With that in mind, an approach aimed at teaching children to recognize questionable situations will not only reinforce stranger safety, but also empower children to recognize known adults who may not have the best intentions.
How can we do this? Well, it’s a balance.
Talk to you children about warning signs, suspicious behaviors such as if an adult asks them to disobey you or to do something without permission. Let children know an adult should never ask them to keep a secret. Children should understand that if an adult ever makes them feel uncomfortable, they should tell you (or another trusted adult) right away.
We teach our children to respect and listen to adults. While that’s good, we must also make sure children know it’s okay to say no to an adult – even a trusted adult like a teacher or neighbor. This is key. If a trusted adult is a perpetrator, children need to know they can say no. They need to know they can tell another trusted adult that something uncomfortable is happening.
Teaching “No, Go, Yell, Tell” is a concept designed for children to better handle questionable situations. If a child is in a dangerous situation, they should say NO, run away, yell, and tell a trusted adult what happened immediately. You might consider practicing this technique using different scenarios.
Teach children about safe touch, and reinforce that children’s bodies belong to them. Let children know adults should never touch them inappropriately, and define what you mean by that.
It’s not a pretty subject, but it’s reality, and children need our help to know they have permission to say no to an adult, permission to listen to their instincts. Most importantly, children need to know that we will be there to help them when they need it, that they can talk to us about anything, and that we will listen. This conversation will look different for different families. Here are a few resources to find what works best for your family: