Stranger danger is the awareness communicated to children that sometimes people you do not know may have the intention to harm you.
However, when talking to young children about strangers who could pose a threat to them, parents should strike a balance between taking precautions and avoiding being over-protective.
NEXT: When to start →
Parents should start talking to their child about stranger danger as soon as he/she is able to understand what a stranger is, says Ms Sarah Chua, a parenting specialist at Focus On The Family Singapore.
“This depends on the individual child’s maturity but it can be as young as two years old,” she says.
Ms Teh says: “As young children learn to make sense of their world through play, parents or caregivers can create opportunities to have children role-play scenarios such as the parent reminding their child about being safe, or a stranger approaching them.” This helps the adults assess the child’s understanding of the discussion, she adds.
NEXT: Safe people and places →
Young children can be taught to approach certain types of adults for help, such as police personnel, security officers, and a parent with their own children, says Ms Chua.
Ms Teh adds that parents can also teach their children that there are places where they can be safe, in school or at venues they can seek help at, such as a police station or an information counter at a shopping mall, if they get lost.
NEXT: Teaching stranger danger →
The adage about never talking to strangers may be counterproductive.
Ms Teh says: “It would be impossible to identify all ‘bad’ and ‘good’ strangers. It is important not to frighten children unnecessarily as we also want them to be sociable individuals.”
Furthermore, most abductions usually involve people who are familiar with the child, says Ms Christina Teh, a lecturer in the diploma course for early childhood education at Ngee Ann Polytechnic.
NEXT: Identifying suspicious behaviours →
Instead, parents can teach their young children to recognise and reject suspicious behaviour.
– When a stranger says mum or dad asked him to take the child home as the parent is busy;
– When a stranger offers to buy or give the child something;
– When a stranger says the parent is ill and asks the child to come with her at once; or
– When an adult follows or trails the child.
NEXT: Help kids hone their instincts →
Ultimately, there are no foolproof methods in ascertaining suspicious intentions.
“Parents can help children to trust their natural instincts,” says Ms Chua. Teach them not to judge by appearances as an attractive stranger or someone who seems to be a good person may still have bad intentions.
“A key warning sign would be when strangers do not take ‘no’ for an answer, and try and pressurise the child to say ‘yes’,” says Ms Chua.
Teach the child that it is not the norm for an adult to ask a very young child for help, adds Mr Clement Ong, an associate therapist at Family Life Society, a charity that promotes family and marriage.
NEXT: How to avoid being vulnerable →
There are general rules parents can adopt to impart to their children an awareness of the need to keep safe, says Ms Teh.
Teach children how to react to suspicious behaviour by being firm in saying ‘no’; by approaching police, security officers, other parents or caregivers for assistance, and describing the unsafe situation they are in; or getting the attention of others by shouting “Help!” or running away from the suspicious stranger, parenting experts say.
NEXT: Just say ‘no’ →
In training children to be assertive in saying “no” in cases of possible stranger danger, parents need to model certain behaviours in everyday life.
Mr Ong says: “Many times, children have difficulty in saying no. Parents have a big role to play here. For example, if parents give in to what the child wants all the time, that will give the child the idea that saying no is not the right thing to do.”
NEXT: And if that fails… →
Parents can even teach their children a “secret code”, which could be a word or number, signalling safe situations, according to Mr Ong.
Older children should know emergency numbers such as 999 for the police and 995 for ambulance and fire services, while younger ones can have their parents’ contact numbers on a tag in their bag, says Focus On The Family’s Ms Chua.
NEXT: How much is too much? →
By Venessa Lee, The Straits Times, January 2018
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