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Protecting Against Child Predators: Beyond Stranger Danger

How to give your child the facts he’ll need to protect himself

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Tell him to never, ever get in a car or go somewhere without a parent or caregiver. Emphasize to your child that if someone he knows (but is not a designated trusted adult) or someone he’s never met before tries to convince or force him to go somewhere with him, then he should scream as loudly as he can, "Help! This is not my dad!" or "Help! This is not my mom!" Tell him that he should also run, and if he is grabbed, that he should punch, hit and kick as strongly as he can.

Don’t instill fear. Just turning on the evening news is enough to make children -- and adults -- feel as if there’s danger lurking in every corner. Fear of every situation can actually be counter-productive, and can make a child so afraid of everything that he is vulnerable to being manipulated with threats.

Instead, give your child the confidence, strength, and tools to prevent and manage potential danger. Rather than focusing on every danger your child could face, empower your child by talking to him about how he would recognize and avoid potentially dangerous situations and handle certain unexpected scenarios. For instance, what would he do if he were accidentally separated from you in a public place? (Answer: Look for a woman with a child or baby and ask her for help.) Or what’s the best way to handle it when someone he knows -- say, a neighbor or a friend of the family -- asks him to come with him, claiming that you sent him to get you in an emergency? (Answer: Know that only designated trusted adults previously named by you -- such as a grandparent or another relative -- and no one else are allowed to come and get him.)

Use resources for kids. Watch videos such as The Safe Side -- Stranger Safety: Hot Tips To Keep Cool Kids Safe With People They Don't Know And Kinda Know (compare prices), featuring John Walsh with your child. The Safe Side website also features resources designed for kids such as quizzes, puzzles, and safety tips.

The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) also has a wealth of free child safety resources for parents, guardians, and children at Missingkids.com.

Repeat these messages. Just as you would with fire drills, practice these safety tips periodically with your child. (Do this especially right at back to school time and in the beginning of summer, when your kids are likely to be outside more -- a fact that is all too well known to predators). When you are outside in a crowded place such as a mall or a park, ask your child what she would do if you were to be separated. Which of the people around you would she go to for help? Point out to her some of the people who could assist her. Does she remember your cell phone number?

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