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STRANGER DANGER I

Parents are often frightened about possible dangers to their children in this violent, sometimes crazy world.

Are we telling our children what they really need to know about “stranger danger?”

I am troubled by some of the media coverage of strangers approaching children near their schools. One “expert” said parents should warn their children about strangers every day.

I disagree.

Item: Last week at the market my husband’s smile and comment, “My grandchildren have a Barney just like yours!” caused a 3-year-old boy to worriedly tell his mother, “That man’s a stranger, Mommy, quick let’s goaway!”

Item: The 10-year-old daughter of a friend woke in the middle of the night in her comfortable house in a comfortable neighborhood frightened that a stranger was coming in the window.

Item: Children in my own comfortable neighborhood waiting at the school bus stop avert their eyes when they see me walking my dog. Do they really think I am a stranger who will threaten or harm them?

Of course we parents want to keep our children safe, but it is counterproductive to raise fearful and anti-social children.

Instead, parents must make their children appropriately AWARE OF REALISTIC DANGERS; at the same time they must instill in their children a SENSE OF PERSONAL CONFIDENCE and the SKILLS to interact with other people.

The goal is children who are WARY and EMPOWERED, not scared!

The safety rule that is easy to teach and specific:

NEVER GO ANYWHERE WITH ANYBODY UNLESS YOU ASK THE GROWN-UP IN CHARGE FIRST.

The issue is not strangers. The goal is not to raise fearful kids who tremble when someone smiles. The issue is to teach children which strangers might harm them. The goal is to raise children who feel they are part of a friendly community working together to keep everybody safe.

Help your children understand that they could be harmed by CERTAIN STRANGERS who do CERTAIN THINGS:

Teach your children: SCREAM/ RUN AWAY/TELL A TRUSTED ADULT if ANYONE they don’t recognize as a trusted adult does any of the following:

TRIES TO GET YOU IN A CAR, A HOUSE, OR A PLACE WHERE THERE ARE NO OTHER PEOPLE.

TELLS YOU NOT TO TELL ANYONE ABOUT IT.

OFFERS YOU CANDY OR PRESENTS.

ASKS YOU TO HELP FIND A LOST PUPPY.

HANGS AROUND AND TRIES TO DO THESE THINGS WITH OTHER KIDS.

Explain who trusted adults are because you are not always around. Ask the child to make a list of adults he or she can and should trust.

ROLE PLAY with your children about what to do in potentially dangerous situations. What if somebody in a car asks directions? Stay far away from the car and shout the answer or say you don’t know. What if a stranger or someone you don’t know very well asks you to help look for his lost puppy? Refuse and quickly walk away. What if he follows you? Scream and find a trusted adult.

The most important school rule is: WALK IN PAIRS or a GROUP.

The most important “person rule” is act POWERFUL. Don’t look AFRAID/WORRIED/FEARFUL.

Despite what recent media coverage would lead us to believe, a random attack on a child by a perverted stranger is very rare. The sad but true fact is that those persons who molest children are ALMOST ALWAYS KNOWN TO THE CHILD.

Family members, neighbors the child sees all the time, and trusted caretakers of children such as coaches and teachers may be the perpetrators of molestation.

We socialize children to respect their elders, to obey grown-ups like parents and teachers, and to do what they are told. By nature children are trusting, curious, and want attention and affection. No wonder they can be easy prey to a grown-up who has a position of authority and takes the time to build up trust by pretending to be really interested in the child or what the child likes to do.

So teach your children, from the very first bath, that they are SPECIAL, that their body is PRIVATE and BELONGS TO NOBODY ELSE. Teach your children that private means the parts covered by the bathing suit.

Teach your children that it’s OK to say “No!” to any grown-up — EVEN SOMEONE YOU KNOW — who makes you feel uncomfortable. Role play so they learn how to shout “No!” in their loudest voice.

Help your child understand that TELLING is OK. Teach your children the difference between a BAD SECRET that makes you feel uncomfortable and a GOOD SECRET like a surprise party. Parents should be told bad secrets. Never criticize a child for tattling.

Always LISTEN to a child who is reluctant to do something or go somewhere. Sort it out. Is the kid worried about homesickness or is there a problem with the camp-out leader? Do not fall into the trap of thinking the child is making up stories about abuse or molestation. This rarely happens.

Be sure to explain to your children that MOST PEOPLE ARE GOOD AND DO NOT HURT CHILDREN. Let them see you interact with “good” strangers in a friendly way.

Let’s not burden preschoolers with the task of “saving” their Mommy at the market. Let’s allow little girls to sleep peacefully. Let’s teach our children to make eye contact so they can SEE what people are like.

A neighborhood watch? Great idea, but just media-driven. Let’s not just look for strangers. Let’s watch each other’s CHILDREN. Is anyone being bullied? Is anyone crying? That’s what being a neighborhood means.

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