When teaching your kids about personal safety, "begin at a young age teaching your child that parts of their bodies are private," says Cope, who does not recommend encouraging young children to hug or kiss adults if they don't want to as it suggests to them that their role is to please adults with physical affection. Also be in tune with your kids' instincts: "If a child expresses dislike or discomfort around some adult, you should accept that and encourage them to stay away."
In the end, "it's not that we don't want them to talk to strangers," Dr. Womack says. "It's that we want to be sure that they're talking to them in a context that keeps the kids safe."
| ||More Tips to Help Keep Your Child Safe
- Encourage Your Child to Talk to You. This starts very young and becomes even more important as kids get to be teenagers. Tell your kids they can tell you anything, and you won't blame them, be upset, or angry. You are a safe listener.
- Establish an Emergency Plan. Someone may approach your kids and say, "Your mom had a car accident, and I'm supposed to take you to the hospital." Make sure your kids know what to do in an emergency—who they can and cannot go with.
- Forget the "Code Word." A common suggestion a few years back was for a parent and child to agree on a code word, and the child would only go with someone who knew the code word. This plan has fallen into some disrepute, and experts believe that it's easy for adults to manipulate a child into divulging the word.
- Use the "Check First" Method. Tell your child not to talk to anyone, go with anyone, or accept gifts or candy from anyone without checking with you or the adult in charge first.
- "Say No, Then Go." If something happens or someone approaches your child and makes him feel uncomfortable, teach him to say no, go to a place of safety, and then tell you or the person in charge what happened right away.