While the topic of strangers and personal safety should be discussed in the home, daycare providers and preschool teachers should talk about the danger that strangers pose. To help keep children safe, child care professionals must help young children understand the definition of a stranger and help chlldren understand the difference between a stranger and a safe adult. In this interview, we asked Suzy Martyn, parenting expert and author of Enjoy the Ride: Tools, Tips, and Inspiration for the Most Common Parenting Challenges [Mother's Friend Publishing, 2009], for tips for teaching children about strangers
OwnADaycare: How do teachers teach children who strangers are? How would a teacher define a stranger?
Suzy Martyn: A stranger is someone you don’t know or makes you feel uncomfortable.
OwnADaycare: How does a child make the distinction between a stranger and a safe adult?
Suzy Martyn: It’s really hard for kids to make this distinction on their own so teachers/parents need to educate their children very specifically. For instance, when they are at the grocery store they need to tell them specifically who is a safe adult and who is not. For example, it’s okay to talk to the checker and answer his questions, but not necessarily an adult who comes up to you out of nowhere. A general rule I use for my children helps them know which strangers are okay to talk to. I tell them if I am with them, it’s okay to talk to a stranger. Otherwise, they should walk away and not talk to a stranger who approaches them.
OwnADaycare: What should a child do if he or she is lost?
Suzy Martyn: Teach your child to locate “safe” adults. I teach children to look for an adult (preferably a woman or mom). Second choice is someone with a name tag on. This would be some sort of worker at amusement parks, theatres, or grocery stores who would take them to the “lost and found” center or help them find their parents.
OwnADaycare: Please list 5 top tips to help children protect themselves.
1. Don’t travel alone. Take a friend, or two, or three; the more the merrier and safer.
2. When in doubt about an adult in your company, say “no” and flee to tell a safe adult.
3. You don’t have to be polite or obedient to any adult that is asking you or telling you to do something you don’t think is right. If you feel uncomfortable, pay attention to that feeling. You have permission to say “no.”
4. Walk with head up high, eyes looking around, and carry something in your hand that can be used for defense.
5. Always let your parents know where you are and with whom. Check in on the phone every few hours if you are away for a long time.
OwnADaycare: Can you suggest some exercises to teach stranger safety?
Suzy Martyn: Whenever you are in a public place, ask your children questions. Ask them to point out safe and unsafe strangers. Give them scenarios of what could happen and ask them what they would do. Give them plenty of exposure and conversation about strangers and how to handle themselves so that in situations when you are not there, they are prepared. Watch shows and movies that help education children in this area, as well. Read books together and keep the lines of communication open at all times.
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