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Tips on teaching your kids about stranger safety

All parents worry about keeping their kids safe. Does your child know what to do when approached by a stranger? Check out the steps that parenting expert Dr. Michele Borba considers crucial to teaching kids about stranger safety:

Give Permission to Say "NO": Studies show that kids under the age of nine rarely say "No" to a sexual offender because they were told "to obey adults." So give your child permission to yell NO! "If someone tries to touch you in places your bathing suit covers, makes you feel at all afraid or uncomfortable, say 'NO!' You will not be in trouble.

Establish a family secret code. Choose a memorable code like "Geronimo," to give only to family members or trusted individuals responsible for your kids in your absence. Then stress: "Never leave with anyone who can't say our family's secret code." Create a texted code (like “111” or “123”) to be used by the child to contact you if in danger. It recently saved a California teen from abduction.

Teach: "Drop, Holler, and Run." Teach your child that if he ever needs to get away quickly, he should drop whatever he is carrying, holler, and run. If possible, he should run to an adult (ideally a woman with children) screaming, "Help! This isn't my dad!" If grabbed, he should hold on to anything (such as his bicycle handles or car door) holler, and kick an abductor in the groin or eyes.

Help Your Child Recognize Suspicious Adult Behavior. Instead of scaring (and possibly even confusing) your kids with the “Stranger, Danger” approach, a more effective strategy is teaching kids to recognize suspicious adult behaviors.

  • Asking for help: "I need help finding my child. Please help me!" "Can you help me look for my puppy?" Emphasize that a stranger does not ask kids for help.
  • Offering treats: "Would you like some candy?" "I have a skateboard in my car. Would you like it?" "I'll let you have one of my kittens (or pet my cat), if you will sit on my lap and watch this video."
  • Feigning an emergency: "Hurry! Your mom was in an accident. I'll take you to the hospital."
  • Flaunting authority: "I think you’re the kid who hurt my son. Come with me and we'll go find your parents."
  • Pretending to be an official: "I'm with the F.B.I. and this is my badge. You must come." (Tell your child to call you ASAP to verify the situation.)

The secret to these discussions is bringing up the topics in a relaxed way just as you discuss other safety concerns like using cross walks and pool safety. The best time to start those talks is when your kids are young! You are laying the groundwork to not only prevent abuse but also get the crucial help a child might need just in case.

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Dr. Michele Borba is an educational psychologist, parenting expert and Today show contributor. For more about her work see Michele Borba.com or follow her on twitter@micheleborba.