Teaching Your Child How to Interact With Strangers
“Don’t talk to strangers” is an admonition millions of parents give to their young children. The warning is valid because the world is no longer a safe place especially for young children. Children need to learn how to behave with strangers, just as they need to learn how to interact with family, friends, and acquaintances. When you’re with your child, minimize her fear of strangers by teaching her how to be friendly to people she doesn’t know. At the same time, teach her what to do when approached by a stranger when you’re not there. Both you and your child will feel more secure knowing that she understands what to do when you’re there and when you’re not.
What to Do
Establish the rules.
Let your child know your rules about interacting with strangers. A basic rule will be to tell her she can be friendly to strangers when you are with her, and not to talk to strangers when you are not around. As many parents do, we should instill in them the importance of not going with a stranger or taking something a stranger is trying to give and to run to the nearest house if necessary.
Practice the rules.
Practice by pretending you are a stranger and ask your child to follow your rules concerning strangers. Rehearse several different scenarios, making sure she knows how you want her to respond.
Never frighten your child.
Instilling fear of strangers only breeds confusion and doesn’t teach your child what to do. She needs to know how to think on her feet when strangers invade her privacy. Being fearful will destroy her ability to behave rationally.
Remind your child of the rule by praising correct behavior.
If your child says hello to a stranger while you’re present, show your approval and remind her of the rule about behaving with strangers when you’re not with her. Remember to praise your child for remembering the rule.
Encourage your child to be friendly.
Teaching friendliness is important. Friendly children tend to be more readily accepted by others as they go through life. It is also important to explain to young and older children how to be friendly and keep themselves safe. For example, suggesting that your child say hello to strangers encourages her to be friendly. But not allowing her to say anything to strangers when you’re not with her helps keep her safe.
Set stranger boundaries.
It’s impossible for children, sometimes adults, too, to quickly distinguish between potentially dangerous strangers and ones who are harmless. That’s why you have to establish a rule about how to interact with strangers when you’re not present. Explain to your child that being friendly with strangers, whether you’re there or not, never includes taking offers of candy, gifts, money, or rides.
What Not to Do
Don’t instill fear of people.
To help your child avoid the danger of being molested, teach her your rules about dealing with strangers. However, don’t teach her to fear people. Fear only inhibits correct decision making, regardless of age.
Don’t worry about your child bothering others by being friendly.
Even if strangers don’t acknowledge the greeting, it’s good for your child to offer salutations at appropriate times and places.