Strangers and Danger

Strangers and Danger

Picture of Meri Wallace
Meri Wallace

Meri Wallace, LCSW, a parenting expert and child and family therapist for over thirty years, grew up in Coney Island, Brooklyn. Meri completed her Masters degree in Social Work at NYU, specializing in child development. Meri writes a blog for “Psychology Today”, and is the author of “Birth Order Blues” (Henry Holt and Co.) and “Keys to Parenting Your Four Year Old” (Barron's Educational Series.) She has been a columnist for Sesame Street Parents, New York Family Magazine,and Brooklyn Parent and has been a consultant to Children’s Television Workshop. She is frequently interviewed by national publications including Newsweek, Cosmopolitan, and Parents Magazine.

Ways to protect and empower your child

Young children are often outgoing and like to tell people stories about themselves. Even if your child does not reach out to a stranger, someone might approach him.

It is crucial to educate your child about how to react to strangers so you will protect and empower him. If you approach the topic in a calm, confident manner, as you would with any safety issue, you will help him to be cautious without making him feel unsafe or too mistrusting of others.

To begin with, ask your child if he knows what a stranger is—he might think it is someone with a funny nose! Tell him a stranger can look like Mommy and Daddy or his big brother but is someone he does not know. Explain to him that most people in the world do not hurt others but there are some who do and must be avoided.

Inform him that with respect to strangers there are some safety rules he must follow so that he will be safe. He should never talk to or take candy or anything else from a stranger (unless you give him permission.) He must never go away with any stranger (even if the person says he is a friend, acts nice to him calls him by name or says you sent him.) Every day you will tell him exactly who will pick him up from school and he should never leave with anyone else. If someone tries to take him, he should run quickly back to his caretaker or start screaming, “You are not my parent!” so that he can get help. (Older kids also can be harmed by strangers and you need to communicate that he follow the same rules.)

You can further ensure your child’s safety by reading children’s books about strangers with him. You can also play a game called “what if .. “ with him. For example, you can ask him, “What if you were in the park and someone you don’t know offered you some chewing gum?” Have him practice saying no and run back to you. Pretend that someone is trying to take him and have him yell or scream, for help.

Your discussion and your suggestions will act as tools for your child to help him to be aware, feel empowered and keep himself safe.