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Teach Your Kids How to Talk to Strangers

It's your worst nightmare. You're in a crowded mall -- shopping for back-to-school clothes -- and you think you've lost your daughter. Teach your kids what to do when they get lost with these suggestions from Gavin de Becker's bestselling book, Protecting the Gift.

Give your kids the ability to talk to the right strangers if they're ever in a situation where they're lost, alone, or in danger. If your child becomes lost, the first thing he or she should do is to approach a woman and ask for help. Women are more likely than men to become emotionally invested in your child and are statistically almost never sexual predators. Plus, women are almost always around and easy to find.

Encourage your young children to practice talking to strangers in a safe environment. Ask them how they feel about each situation, and practice what they might say. Look for situations where you can easily observe your child from nearby. Then, talk about what happened during your child's interaction with the stranger she chose to talk to.

Start with easier situations for your child and then make them more challenging (she may need to do each more than once for practice):

  1. Have her approach a stranger to ask for the time.
  2. Have her approach a stranger to ask directions (i.e., to the nearest ice cream place).
  3. Have her enter a store with you nearby to buy gum or candy.
  4. Have her enter a store by herself to buy some gum or candy.
  5. Think of your own relevant situations.
After each situation, ask your child:
  1. Why she chose who she chose.
  2. How the exchange went.
  3. If she felt comfortable with the person she spoke with.
  4. If that person was comfortable with her approach.
  5. What, if anything, she could have done differently.
What If Your Child Gets Lost?

Here are some practical steps parents can take to reduce anxiety in the event a child is lost:

  • Dress small children in brightly colored, distinctive, easily describable outfits. Parents who remember what their children are wearing have less anxiety when they become separated.

  • Carry current photos of your kids. This is especially important on vacations, when families are in unfamiliar areas where being separated is even more likely. Bring along recent photos of your kids in case you get separated.

  • Have a plan. Agreeing beforehand that "If anybody gets lost, we'll meet at the food court" helps make reunions happen sooner.

    It's inevitable that at some time every parent will lose sight of a child in public. In the overwhelming majority of these instances -- and there are tens of thousands every day -- it's the result of inattention or wandering on the part of either the parent or child, depending upon whom you ask. Soon enough they are back together, with one of them saying to the other (you guess which one): "I've told you a hundred times not to wander off."

    Until a child is old enough to recognize predatory strategies, old enough and confident enough to resist them, assertive enough to seek help, and powerful enough to enforce the word "No" -- until all that happens, a child is too young to be his own protector.

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