SIMPLYkc Magazine (October 2012)
PARENTING – BY STACEY HATTON
The other day I heard a young grade schooler say to her mother, “I can’t talk to them. They’re a stranger.” Initially, I thought what an excellent job that parent did educating her daughter; but then I quickly realized the mother had instructed her child to ask a store employee a question, who was only 3 feet away, yet the child was paralyzed. If all adults are the enemy, what are children to do when they need help in an emergency or are lost?
WHO SHOULD KIDS TRUST? The phrase “Stranger Danger” has been pounded into our kids’ heads so much that possibly some parents may have done reverse damage. Children need to be able to comfortably talk to adults, and that includes strangers. KidsHealth.org says, “It’s better to teach kids when it’s appropriate to talk to strangers and when it is not.” Let them know when they are with you it is appropriate to talk to people they may not know because you are there to protect them. “But if your child is alone and approached by a stranger, that’s a different story.” The American Academy of Pediatrics offers, “Instead of teaching (your child) that he’s surrounded by danger, teach him that he is strong, capable, and can count on you to keep him safe, as long as he can tell you about it.”
EDUCATING YOUR CHILD: Question: What do molesters and abductors look like? Answer: Like everybody else walking down the street.
These predators don’t look scary, but sometimes appear friendlier to kids – that’s how they are able to draw them into their web. If a stranger comes up to your child while he or she is alone, they need to have the tools to protect them. Tell your kids if they are approached, they don’t have to be polite or say a word. Dr. Laurie Fisher, M.D., Town Plaza Family Practice, Overland Park, KS says, “Children don’t have to say anything. They should run away and tell an adult.” She also stresses that kids have a buddy system. “If they are going to be alone, make sure that they are not out after dark. And if they ever feel threatened, they need to yell loudly (that they don’t know the adult) and run away as fast as they can to a safe location.”
If an adult tries to touch their private area or asks them to touch theirs, they also need to know how to react. “I tell my patients it’s okay for parents and the doctor to look at their private area but it is off limits for anybody else,” says Dr. Fisher.
She also shares with her patient’s parents that they need to begin teaching their children their full names and their parent’s names by the age of 3 or 4. “By four or five years of age, children need to know their phone number and address.”
HELP, I’M LOST! If your child wanders away from you in a public place, they need to know what to do. Go over these instructions with your child often, so she clearly understands the directions. Officer Gary Mason, Public Information Officer with the Overland Park Police Department says, “Have your child go up to either the police, security officer or a store employee and let them know they are separated from their parent. Also, a mom or dad with young kids is usually a safe place for a lost child to get help.”
THE CODE WORD: Creating a family “code word” which is not easily deciphered by a dangerous stranger is helpful to give your child the extra confidence needed to make a good decision. If you need someone to pick up your kids unplanned outside of school, there should be a password that your child knows. When the adult says to come with them, the child should be trained to ask, “What is the code word?” If the adult doesn’t know it, the child needs to run the other direction to get help from a trusted adult.
Having “stranger danger” discussions are never easy for parents; but putting it off for another day is just another day where your children could be under prepared to face a dangerous situation. Build up their self-esteem with these tools, review them often, and hopefully they will grow up confident and not fearing the world around them.
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© 2012, Stacey Hatton. All rights reserved.