There are children who are very sociable and who talk to everyone. Others who do not fear anything, or who are more innocent… which can also lead them to talk to anyone who approaches them.
And it’s okay to be outgoing and fearless, but it’s also important to teach children to be cautious, to protect themselves and to set limits on others to avoid getting into situations that are potentially harmful to them.
In this article we offer some guidelines to convey to children the message of not talking to strangers but without alarming them, with some examples that can help you.
How to teach children not to talk to strangers
1. Choose the right words: do not instill fear
It is about explaining what exactly this message means but clearly and adapted to the age of the children. To do this, choose the words you are going to use well, to prevent children from being afraid of people they should not be afraid of, for example, or to prevent them from being alarmed or worried unnecessarily.
It is about informing, not instilling fear without realizing it; thus, do not use alarming words and avoid using a threatening tone (it should be forceful but neutral).
For example, instead of saying “don’t talk to strangers”, you can choose: “if someone you don’t know comes to talk to you, share it with mom and dad before talking to that person” [or with the reference adult who is at that moment]).
2. Define the concept of “strange”
The concept of “strange” can be difficult for children to understand at different ages. Who are strangers? Anyone you don’t know? If we call them “strangers” without further ado, they may think that the children at school whom they don’t know yet are strangers, or the children in the park (and yes, but the meaning is different). For this reason, it delimits what exactly a strange person means; explain this difference between a child in the park and an adult.
On the other hand, someone unknown approaching the child for no apparent reason and saying “do you want to come with me?” is not the same as the fact that a mall worker, dressed in uniform, asks him ” where is dad or mom?”, “do you need help?” or “have you lost yourself?”, seeing him alone in the corridors.
As we see, the context is different; thus, also explain these possible situations in which he can find someone who approaches him.
3. Specify how to act
Children need concrete information about what they should and should not do in certain situations. Telling them “don’t talk to strangers” is information that is direct and specific , yes, but also generic, and if we look closely, with this phrase we only tell them what “not” they should do.
And what they should, or can, do? It is convenient to specify what alternatives of conduct they have. In this case, we can encourage them to ask for help; for example, telling them “if someone you don’t know comes up to you and says something, look for your [dad, mom, teacher…]”.
And in the event that they are offered something (for example: candies, chocolate…), it is also important that they do not accept it, and that they always consult with their trusted adult or the leader of the moment beforehand.
4. What if my child gets lost?
Continuing with the aforementioned example of the store, we must not forget that there are situations in which unknown people will talk to our son, not to hurt him, but to help him; for example, if they see it lost in a store.
In cases like these, it is important to also teach them to ask for help, since it is very difficult for a frightened child to have the judgment to trust someone . We can choose to explain that if something like this happens to you, you should stay in the building and ask a store worker to help you find your parents.
It is also recommended that he carry your name and telephone number somewhere, as well as his full name (for example, on a card, but not visible, to prevent someone who does not know him from addressing him by his name and your son trust him).
5. Explain why it is important to protect yourself
We must also explain why they should not talk to strangers. Children need to understand the reason for things and, furthermore, explaining it to them can help them not to be afraid, simply to protect themselves and be aware of any possible situation.
In addition, if children lack information about something, they “fill” that mental gap with information that is sometimes wrong , based on their imagination or invention, and that can sometimes make them even more afraid. Therefore, let us explain to them why they should not talk to strangers or why, if someone approaches them, they should tell their reference person at that moment.
For example: “In the world you will meet people of all kinds, most of them are good people, but it is important that we talk to people we know well, and that if someone you do not know tells you to go with him/her, tell her no and tell mom and dad.
We can also explain to them that there are people who are not so good who can act in bad faith (here we will have to adjust the information provided to their age).
The importance of fostering assertiveness and autonomy
The safety of children depends on the parents, logically, and for this reason we must ensure their safety and protection. However, and especially as they get older, children must also learn to protect themselves , to set limits and to be assertive (knowing how to say “no”, knowing how to say things that bother them…).
And above all, learn not to trust everyone and not to put yourself at risk. Therefore, teaching children to protect themselves from strangers is also a way of working on their autonomy and self-care.
We insist, this work belongs to the parents, but it is worthwhile for children to learn to protect themselves, especially when, for X reasons, they must spend time without their parents (for example: on a school outing, in some neighborhoods, in the holidays….).
Photos | Cover (Freepik)