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Safety Around Strangers
As parents, we teach our children all kind of things in a sincere attempt to keep them out of harm’s way. There is no doubt that “no going anywhere with strangers” and “no treats from strangers” are important rules that should be taught from early on, but think twice before teaching your little one that he or she should not TALK to strangers …
“Teaching your child not to talk to strangers is an illogical rule and even potentially dangerous”, says safety expert Gavin de Becker in his book Protecting the Gift: Keeping Children and Teenagers Safe (and Parents Sane). He argues that children who have been taught that it’s wrong and unsafe to talk to strangers can be confused by their parents’ periodic insistence that they should say “hi” to people they don’t know.
And if these children get lost, how will they be able to seek help if they don’t talk to strangers? Should we not rather teach our children to make wise choices about whom to talk to and what they’re going to say in a situation where they’re lost, alone or in danger? Are they not at their most vulnerable when their only plan of action in a crisis situation is to stand around crying until some random person approaches them to ask if they need help?
Gavin advises parents to encourage little ones to practice talking to strangers in a safe environment. He suggests little exercises like sending them to an adult to ask for the time or asking a store assistant where to find a certain item in a store.
Children should also be made familiar with how to find a suitable adult to turn to in times of crisis. He advises that we teach them to approach a woman – preferably a mommy with children – as women are statistically safer than men and more likely to commit to helping children until they are safe. (When my girls were little their instructions were to go to the nearest cashier sitting behind a till in a store and ask the lady to please call mommy.)
Older children should be helped to develop an awareness of other people’s behaviour rather than whether a person is a “stranger” or not. “The issue isn’t strangers, it is strangeness”, says Gavin de Becker. And what he says certainly makes sense since it is common knowledge that a child is statistically far more likely to be harmed or abused by somebody that is well known to him or her, than by a complete stranger.
He goes on to say, “It is inappropriate behaviour that’s relevant: a stare held too long, a smile that curls too slowly, a narrowing or widening of the eyes, a rapid looking away. The muscles in the face are instruments of communication, resulting in an eloquent language that can put us at ease or give us the creeps.”
To learn more, have a look at Gavin’s online articles:
Written by Lizette van Huyssteen
When we know better… we do better