Reading the headlines we get on the news each day can make you feel like bundling your child up in bubble wrap to protect him from this crazy world, but we all know that isn’t quite a tangible solution in real life. What can help, though, is teaching your child how to be street smart and how to stay safe.

Stranger danger

Even young toddlers can be taught to never follow a strange person and to always stay within view of their parents. Here is how we can teach our kids to be street smart and stay safe.

Know their physical boundaries

One good way of helping your kids know their physical boundaries is to tell them that they must always be able to see you. For example, they can run across an open field and still be safe, whereas if they wander several aisles down in a shopping mall, they might get lost.

Not all strangers are bad

As your kids get older and can hold proper conversations, it is often intuitive for us to tell them not to talk to strangers, however this may cause us to send out some very mixed messages if we are not careful. For example, we tell them not to talk to strangers when they go to the playground with their friends, but we ask them to “Say hello” to the stranger in the lift who greets them.

The truth is our kids do need to talk to many strangers every day – from the uncle who greets them in the lift, to the aunty who sells them food in the canteen, to the older kid who gave them a helping hand at the bus stop. Instead of a blanket “Never talk to strangers” statement, be specific. Teach your child which sorts of strangers are “safe”, and when it is okay to hold a conversation with someone he just met.

It’s generally considered good manners to greet people whom you share a lift or food-center table with. There’s no need for extended conversations or even small talk, but a friendly nod or smile is sufficient. Of course, your child will need to build up confidence to order his own food and drinks, and to pay for other items as well in the future, and that requires him to speak up to “strangers” too.

When it comes to defining what constitutes an “unsafe” stranger, Pattie Fitzgerald of Safely Ever After says it best – teach your child about tricky people.

Who are tricky people?

Stay out from danger

Tricky people are grown-ups who ask kids for help, because no adult really needs to ask a child for help. Tricky adults ask kids to keep something a secret, for example to meet them after school for a special treat or to go somewhere with them without asking for permission. So tell your child not to do anything or go anywhere without asking for your permission first.

Then there are some people who just don’t “feel safe” to your child, and some of them might even by your relative or a friend. Your child shouldn’t be pressurized to speak to them or be extra friendly to them. Of course, being rude should not be condoned, but neither should he have to make small talk or spend time with someone whom he just doesn’t like.

Respect your child’s choices, and always listen to his intuition or vibes about a person. Sadly, too much of child abuse comes not with strangers outside, but from within the home or circle of friends. Pay attention to what your child is sensing and saying, always.

Lastly, give your child handles on what to do if he ever gets lost outside. An older child may be able to find his way to the mall’s information counter for help, and can be trusted with your mobile number so that he can contact you.

Look out for “safe” strangers

For younger children, tell them to look for a “safe” stranger to ask for help. Their best bet is to look for a mum with kids, because we all know how we would react if some poor lost kid came to us for help. If there are no mums with kids in sight, tell your child to find a cashier or any of the service staff in the mall.

Don’t just tell your kids to stay safe – give them the rules to succeed.

By Dorothea Chow

This article was first published in The New Age Parents e-magazine