The topic of stranger safety has become more relevant than after reports of two kidnapping scares involving international school students surfaced in the past week.
While it has been determined that the male driver in one of the incidents had “no ill intent”, investigation into the other incident, which involves a female driver, is still ongoing. With Singapore’s reputation as a ‘safe’ country, it is a timely reminder for parents to broach the subject, as well as teach children safety basics.
Stranger Danger versus Stranger Safety
It may be easier to instruct your kids not to talk to strangers (stranger danger), but addressing the issue goes beyond teaching them to be afraid of strangers. In fact, this contradictory message will create confusion for the child.
Not only are the little ones told that “strangers are dangerous!”; at the same time, they’re also expected to greet “Aunty” or “Uncle”, and encouraged to be friendly towards other ‘pre-approved’ adults. You will not be able to stay by your child’s all the time to identify ‘good’ or ‘bad’ strangers for them, so imparting basic safety lessons to help them gain awareness of different situations, will be less confusing and more effective instead.
Because predators come in different packages, do not resort to giving your child a stereotypical, ‘scary stranger’ to look out for. In fact, teaching your child not to judge a book by its cover will be more effective to help them identify the difference between someone they can approach and a stranger who’s trying to take advantage of their trusting nature.
Additionally, point out ‘safe’ strangers whom your kid can approach for help in public, such as fire fighters, police officers, teachers, or retail store clerks. Parents can also zoom in on specific situations. For example when dropping your kid off on a play date: “Look out for Sam’s mother if you need help. I’ll be here in two hours!” Being able to recognise ‘safe’ strangers is an essential tool for your child.
Follow their instincts
Encourage your child to be aware of their gut instincts, especially when it comes to suspicious situations or people. Teach them to exit the situation if someone makes them feel uncomfortable, or if they feel that something is ‘off’ – even if they can’t explain why. Emphasise that they wouldn’t get in trouble for doing so. And, highlight that they should let you know if someone makes them feel uncomfortable
Recognise and reject suspicious behaviour
Teaching your child to identify suspicious behaviour will help them know how to react (and subsequently reject) dangerous advances. When doing so, avoid scaring them with intense and scary stories. Instead, ask them: “What would you do?” and list various scenarios.
- “What would you do if a stranger offers you a gift?”
- “What would you do if a stranger asks you to help them with something?”
- “What would you do if a stranger asks you to go into a secluded area with them?”
From there, find out how your child would respond and explore with them the best way to handle each situation. Highlight to them that it is alright to reject strangers’ requests, and to be firm in saying ‘No’.
Parents can go a step further by teaching older kids to ‘No, Go, Yell, Tell’ – children should yell “No!” if approached by ‘bad’ strangers, run away as quickly as possible, yell for help and tell a trusted adult what happened.
Set Safety Rules
Especially for school-age kids who have more unsupervised time, setting down basic safety rules for the family will be helpful to keep your loved ones safe. Basics include:
- Do not hang around deserted or secluded areas, especially after hours
- Stick in groups of threes when out and about
- Always let your parents know where you are at all times
- Never get close to anyone who approaches you, or asks for your assistance from a vehicle
- Stay one adult’s arm length away from any stranger you’re speaking to
- Before going into crowded places, agree on a meeting spot to regroup
- If you get lost, approach the information counter, store employees or the above-mentioned ‘safe’ strangers
- Never give away personal information
- Do not get onto an elevator with someone who makes you uncomfortable. Or, get off at the next level.
- Never follow strangers who offer you help or gifts.
- Do not open the door for strangers when nobody is home
Establish a family code to be used in special circumstances. Not only would it give your child more control, it will also prevent cases where children are tricked by adults claiming to be “friends of parents”. In such scenarios, your child can simply ask for the code word. If the stranger is unable to provide it, inform a trusted adult immediately.