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10 Ways To Help Kids With Stranger Danger

Back in the '80s and '90s, "stranger danger" was alive and well. The term was coined to teach kids to trust their gut and to never leave with a stranger, no matter the circumstance.

However over time, this message became confusing. The term "stranger" means everyone a child doesn't know; did that mean every stranger was dangerous or capable of doing bad things? Was the clerk at the checkout line in Target a bad person? What about the cafeteria workers at school? Eventually, parents also had to admit the fact that it wasn't just strangers who were dangerous; it was family members and neighbors too⁠—people our children actually know.

To clear up some of the fogginess "stranger danger" brings, this list breaks down some lessons and tips to help clear up the meaning of stranger danger and what it's all about.

10 It's Not Just "Strangers" Who Are Dangerous

Unfortunately, most of the abductions and bad things done to children are committed by people children know. From teachers to neighbors to an uncle or aunt ⁠—anyone can be dangerous, not just strangers.

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Founder of Safely Ever After, Pattie Fitzgerald, told People, "tricky people" is the term parents really should be using. These are people who are trying to trick our kids into doing something that's unsafe. And when this happens, kids need to follow their gut (more below).

9 And If It Happens Within The Family, Follow Your Gut

As an adult, we appreciate and listen to our gut instincts. If we don't feel right in a job, relationship, or situation, we know that we need to get ourselves out of it because we're uncomfortable. Kids don't always listen to their gut instincts though; mainly because we don't talk enough about it.

Teach them to follow their instincts. If a man popping out of nowhere seems too good to be true, follow that inclination and get away from that situation.

8 Create A Secret Password

One of the most safe, useful things a parent can do is create a password for their family. Create something that's personal to the child or family so your kids will remember it, and try not to use a common word, as it'll sound way too casual.

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Let's say a person rolls up to your child's bus stop and tells your child "Get in the car. Your mom was in an accident and I was told to come pick you up to go to the hospital." Your child should stop in their tracks and ask what the password is. If the stranger says "funky chicken" (or whatever the password is), then your child knows this really is a person connected to their mom and they can trust them. If the stranger doesn't know the password or ignores the question, tell your child to run.

7 Prepare "What Would You Do?" Scenarios

Just because your child takes tests in school doesn't mean mom and dad can't give them a test themselves. Create a quick safety exam for your kid, giving them "what would you do?" scenarios.

What would you do if a random person offered you candy? What would you do if someone was following you? What would you scream if someone tried to take you?

These questions may be hard to write, but your child's answers will be telling.

6 But You'll Also Need To Point Out That Not Every Stranger Is Dangerous

This is important: not every stranger is dangerous. There are plenty of kids who now have social anxiety because they were led to believe that every stranger was dangerous. As a parent, it's your job to let them know the distinction.

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If you and your child are separated in a crowd, the best thing to do is ask your child to find an employee or another mom with kids to ask for help. But if they think employees and like-minded families are strangers, then they'll be stricken with fear.

5 Personalized Accessories Are Cute But An Easy Target

One specialist noted that it was a bad idea for kids to wear personalized gear all the time. From backpacks to shirts to hair clips⁠—reading a child's name so easily can make them an easy target. Think about the "tricky" people who see your child's name on their shirt and can now grab their attention just by calling their name. It makes it too easy.

4 Make Sure To Explain Why You're Teaching About Stranger Danger

Just as it's important to teach your kids how to react in tricky situations, it's also important to teach them why you're doing this. Kids may not truly understand why adults would do such horrible things or why they're running from a man holding candy.

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It may be hard to describe—and parents don't need to get in to specifics—but mom and dad can at least say, "They may try and take you and we'll be separated. Some adults are unsafe with kids and it'll be hard to find you." Knowing they'll be separated from mom and dad is enough to perk their ears up.

3 If They're Being Enticed To Follow A Stranger...

Once you teach your kids the password, to follow their gut, and what a tricky person acts like, it's now time to ask how they'd act in a situation. The test is a great way to see their ideas on paper, but it's a different ballgame in real life.

If someone tries to grab them in a store when their parent is in the other aisle, give them keywords to shout out, like "You're not my parent—I don't know you!" Think about how many parents we see who are dealing with a crying child; it would be hard to know if a child was being abducted or not, which is where these phrases may help.

2 Create Family Rules For The Internet

The Internet was once a place where teens had to be careful with who they spoke to online, but now it's spread to children. There are a ton of kids who watch YouTube shows and videos with a fanbase, and communicate in the comments section.

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So if your child has access to an iPad or cell phone, remind them to never give out any personal information ever.

1 Know What To Do When Home Alone

Lastly, just like the movie Home Alone, kids should practice what they would do while home alone. Sure, your kids may not be home alone often (depending on their age), but if they're with an older sibling or a babysitter and something happens, it's best they're prepared.

Teach them what to say when opening the door (or not opening the door), what to say when answering the phone, if they see someone hanging around their property—these are all important discussions to have.

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