Classic approaches to parenting often rely on a safety talk involving “Stranger Danger”; however many experts now recommend switching the safety conversation to “Tricky People.”
So why the switch? Good question. Here are the benefits to talking to kids about tricky people over stranger danger.
1. Accurately Describing the Threat
In a situation where children may find themselves lost or in danger, a stranger may actually be the individual to lend your child assistance and safety. The stranger could be another mom in Target or a hiker in the woods. Not all strangers pose a danger—in fact, most strangers won’t pose a danger to a child.
Statistics support that unfortunately most children are abused by individuals they know in some capacity rather than by a random stranger. This is not to say that strangers can’t pose a danger to children, but more children are abused by acquaintances or family members.
2. Defining a Tricky Person
While there are many qualities to a tricky person parents can review with their child, here are the four most important ones:
- A tricky person will ask a child for help; explain to your child that adults, or people older then your child, should never seek help from someone younger then themselves. Now is a great time to discuss the social institutions we have in place to help each other.
- If a child is lost, an adult should contact the police.
- If a dog is lost, an adult should contact an animal shelter, vet, or animal control.
- If an item is lost, an adult should file a report with the police.
- If an individual needs help moving something, they should call movers.
- A tricky person will try to make a child leave where he or she is; tricky people want to separate a child from their parents, their family, and/or their friends.
- Social media is rife with social experiments where children willingly leave a playground to see a puppy or enjoy a doughnut. Check out Joey Salad’s social experiment here.
- Stress to you child that safe people will never ask them to leave the people he or she came to the park or the store or wherever they are.
- A tricky person will be verbally or physically inappropriate.
- Discussing and enforcing consent with children early is crucial to them being able to understand appropriate and inappropriate behavior.
- Appropriate behavior makes us feel safe, and adheres to safety rules.
- Inappropriate behavior makes us feel unsafe, and seeks for us to break safety rules.
- Teach children to raise their voices and seek help when they encounter inappropriate behavior.
- A tricky person will ask a child to keep secrets from their parents.
- Go over with your child that another person should never ask him or her to promise to keep a secret from mom or dad. Going places, gifts, activities should never be secrets.
- In your family, stress that members can have surprises for one another, but never secrets.
- Remember: many children are “groomed” for abuse over long periods of time. By fostering positive communication within your family, your child is more likely to tell you if an adult has asked them to keep secrets.
3. Dealing with Tricky People
Tricky people like to operate in anonymity; they don’t desire attention of any kind. Coaching children on speaking loudly to draw attention to the situation can be an important, life-saving skill. While many of us stress the importance of polite behavior in social situations, children need to know that it’s perfectly okay to be rude when a person is violating their safety.
It’s additionally important to address the fact that looks can be deceiving; just because a person looks nice, doesn’t mean that they will be nice. Individuals should be judged by their actions—and if their actions make you feel uncomfortable, unsafe, and/or uneasy, then it’s okay to speak up and be rude if you need to be. It’s okay to draw attention to yourself to get the help you need.
4. Roleplaying for Safety
Instilling confidence in dealing with uncomfortable situations can give children the skills they need to stay safe. While parents don’t need to go into the gruesome details that could unfold, a serious discussion about how tricky adults can hurt children should be stressed.
Roleplay situations with your child so they can practice saying “No” firmly. Create situations where they yell for help. This practice works as muscle memory—if they find themselves in such a situation, they are more likely to act rather than freeze.
While these conversations may be scary at first to have, it’s important to set aside time to discuss safety and what to do if your child ever feels unsafe. Statistically, it’s unlikely that your child will find himself or herself the victim of a tricky person, but having the skills to address an evolving situation is crucial to increasing their overall level of safety.
Practice might not make perfect, but the more practice your child experiences, the more likely he or she will remain calm when they recognize the hallmarks of a tricky situation.
We can work on teaching our children about tricky people with the help of child predator awareness experts. One is Pattie Fitzgerald, the creator of Safely Ever After. It’s a site that gives parents and caregivers tips on how to talk to your children about tricky people and how to move away from stranger danger.
Fitzgerald also authored two books: No Trespassing–This Is My Body! and Super DuperSafety School. Both books talk about empowering our children to be the bosses of their own bodies and helps them learn how to make decisions. The language and illustrations are friendly and practical and discuss rules that they should follow to help keep them safe. Too often kids think of safety rules as ways their parents are trying to dampen their fun. Pattie’s book is a gentle but authoritative resource that gives children guidance that could literally save their lives.
Two big tips that every parent needs to stress to their children are that there should be no secrets in the family and that safe grownups do not ask children for help.
Yes, have all the surprises you want in your family, but when you foster ‘let’s keep this a secret,’ over the little things, what you may inadvertently be setting up is the scenario for a tricky person to do the same. “Let’s just keep this a secret,” in a house that keeps secrets, even little ones, is part of the norm. But when a tricky person suggests that to a child who has been told, “We don’t keep secrets, we share surprises,” they will feel uncomfortable and are more apt to tell you that someone wanted them to keep secrets from you.
As well, when we realize that children are often groomed and their intrinsic senses of wanting to help are triggered, they are more vulnerable to those who will use the, “Let’s just keep this between you and me,” line. That’s why this book is great–it shows children in easy words and pictures scenarios that they might even encounter and teaches them straight up that those tactics are TRICKS from TRICKY people!
It’s a book that I really believe belongs on every child’s bookshelf.
This is a world that sadly seems to have more and more tricky people than ever before. Maybe that’s true, and maybe it’s just that we learn about and know them more because we have access to stories that terrify us through the Internet at a fingertip’s notice. Either way, it behooves us to make sure that our children are as protected as they can be in this changing world they live, while trying to protect their innocence and childhood.