How to Help Your Children Develop a Healthy Fear of Strangers

Those of us who have kids can be fearful, and for many good reasons, about them talking to strangers. Ideally, we’d only let our little ones talk to strangers like flight attendants, waitresses and other assumedly benevolent individuals. Yet we can build a bubble for only so long. Eventually, that bubble will burst and your child will begin talking to strangers.

Plant the Seed of Awareness

While everyone eventually learns the value of striking up conversations with strangers, children between the ages of 4 and 7 should only speak to strangers who are in their own age range. It is imperative that you sit down in a quiet room with your child and explain the importance of not interacting with strangers when mom, dad or another trusted and known adult is around. Although you’ll be there to protect your children in most instances, there are other situations where they’ll be alone or loosely chaperoned. Begin by asking your children if any adult strangers have talked to them. If your children indicate that they have interacted with strangers, ask them why they felt safe to do so. Then explain why they shouldn’t feel safe interacting with unknown individuals. You don’t have to be graphic with your description of what could happen as you don’t want to tarnish your youngsters’ minds. Just plant the seed so that it’s in the back of their minds.

Parents with children between the ages of 8 and 12 should have a similar conversation with their kids. By the age of 10, a child should have a healthy skepticism of strangers. If your children indicate that they do interact with strangers without significant reservations, tell them that it could go wrong. It will help to print out news stories of tweens who have been abducted or harmed by strangers. You can highlight the important parts so that your point immediately sinks in. Take care to explain that interacting with strangers will eventually prove beneficial down the road when your children have entered their late teens and early twenties.

Proceed with Caution

Those with teenage children won’t have nearly as difficult of a time explaining the dangers of interacting with strangers. They’ve likely seen or read about kids who’ve been abused or have gone missing after being approached by a stranger. Listen closely to what your teens say about their interest in speaking to unfamiliar individuals. If your teens indicate that they respond to strangers who approach them or actually approach strangers themselves, warn them that they are putting themselves in danger. Some teens haven’t fully developed critical thinking skills and a general sense of skepticism when it comes to the sincerity and benevolence of others. Come prepared with examples of teens who’ve been mistreated by strangers. If possible, print out images of the offenders so that you can prove that someone with an innocent looking face can be a dangerous threat to your teen’s security. It’s likely that your teens will be put off by the idea of limited social interactions. Yet if you explain that a guarded approach to such interactions can protect their well-being, your teens will be more likely to think twice before talking to strangers.

Talking to children about the dangers of engaging a stranger should be fairly straightforward. The challenge lies in getting your kids to truly listen to your words and remember them. So get right to the point and do not drag the conversation on for an extended period of time. Above all, listen closely to your children’s responses. If it seems like your children have a healthy fear of unfamiliar people, you’ve done your job. If you suspect that your children are highly inquisitive or gullible, monitor their behavior closely. If necessary, build on your original conversation with additional dialogues to ensure that your children don’t fall prey to predators.

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