Ask any mother what she wants for her children and she'll answer that they grow up healthy, happy, and safe. Yet the minute you turn on the news you're bombarded by messages that the world is full of threats to your child's safety. It's enough to make parents want to lock their kids' doors and throw away the keys. Of course, that's no solution. But there are some things you can do to help protect your child.
Most parents start with the age-old message: Don't talk to strangers. Yet according to Carol Soret Cope, author of Stranger Danger: How to Keep your Child Safe, it's not that simple. "The biggest challenge for parents of preschoolers is to come up with a good definition of who a stranger is, and to give the child some guidelines," Cope says. We, as adults, know what a stranger is, but many kids do not. In fact, for many children, once they learn a stranger's name, he's not a stranger anymore.
So what's the solution? Cope believes instead of telling children whom they shouldn't talk to, we should tell them whom it's OK to talk to. "List the people by name that you give permission for your child to be with and then everybody else is off limits," she says. "You have to tell them more than once. You have to tell them several times, especially when there's a new situation. For example, when a child begins going to daycare or to preschool, that's a good opportunity for parents to review [the list]."
I'd Like to Introduce . . .
Dr. Bill Womack, MD, a child psychiatrist with Children's Hospital and Medical Center in Seattle, Washington, says it's important for parents to control the situations in which children meet strangers. He suggests that parents make a point of bringing friends and family members into their homes and introducing them, so the children know these are safe strangers.