How do I talk to my kids about being more aware?
What’s one of the biggest complaints of parents? Kids never listen! Especially at a store or in a crowded area, kids have the natural desire to explore. They don’t have the maturity to be aware of a dangerous situation or person.
More then likely, you were told as a child to “never talk to strangers”. You’ve probably repeated this message to your own kids. But here’s the thing- someday, your child is going to have to talk to a stranger.
For example, it’s so easy for your child to wander off and when they realize you’re no longer in their sights, they may panic. If you haven’t taught them what to do and how to ask for help, they might not make the safest decisions. Pick a meeting spot in case they get separated from you (such as the coffee shop in the store) or tell them to find a woman.
Yes-tell them specifically to find a woman.
Here’s why-traditionally, women are caregivers and whether or not they have their own kids, women are far more likely to help a child with whatever they need and see it through until the end. Also, statistically speaking, women are less likely to be sexual predators. It’s better to teach kids WHICH stranger to ask for help and HOW to ask for help.
- Between the ages of 4-6: Start talking about strangers.
- This is the time most kids are starting school and interacting with many adults they don’t know. A great question to start with is, “do you know what a stranger is?” If they aren’t sure, let them know a stranger is someone they don’t know. It’s that simple. Go through a list of people they know and then list people they don’t know to help show them the difference.
- It’s important not to scare them though, remind them that a stranger is not necessarily a good person or a bad person, a stranger is someone they don’t know.
- Between the ages of 7-10: Have them practice asking a stranger a question while you are close by.
- Start with something simple. Have the child pick a stranger to go up to and ask what time it is. Again-you are close enough to overhear the conversation but far enough away that the child won’t look to you to ask the question.
- After this exercise, ask them why they picked that particular stranger to ask their question. Ask them how the stranger reacted (were they annoyed or helpful?).
- This is a great way to learn about their intuition (why they picked the stranger they picked) and how receptive they are of another person’s body language (how the stranger reacted to their question).
- Between the ages of 11-13: This is a great time to help them recognize their own intuition signals.
- Watch them interact with other adults, such as teachers or coaches.
- Ask them how they felt when that adult interacted with them.
- Remember-it’s important for the child to know their feelings matter. If they tell you, “it felt uncomfortable or strange when that person stood so close to me”, don’t dismiss or downplay that feeling. Ask them to tell you more. Maybe something along the lines of “why did it make you uncomfortable?”. Kids need to feel like they can tell you anything and that you will listen.
- Between the ages of 14-18: The years of growth and change.
- Your kids are going to test boundaries and push for more independence at this age. You may have heard this before, but I feel it’s important to remind you- be their parent and not their friend.
- Give them boundaries and show them how to set their own healthy boundaries.
- Talk to them. Ask about their friends, ask them where they’re going, ask them about their feelings.
- Teach them how to separate behaviors from the person displaying the behavior. For example, teach them to ask “why is this person trying to charm me?” instead of thinking “this person is charming”.
Remember, the issue isn’t strangers, it’s the behavior of strangers.
If you want to start the conversation of safety and situational awareness with kids but don’t know how, start with that. Talk to them and teach them to pay attention to strange behaviors and go from there.