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Stranger danger - how to keep kids safe

Last modified on Thursday 17 December 2020

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Kids are naturally trusting of adults – but as they grow up, it's important to make them aware of 'stranger danger'. Not sure where to start? Our guide should help ...

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It's important not to worry your children unduly but, in this day and age, our kids do need to be aware of potential threats to their safety whether they're out and about – or online.

That's where explaining 'stranger danger' to your children can help. Here's a bit of background on the topic as well as how to have the talk with your kids ...

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Stranger danger - keep it in perspective

Watching the news can make it hard to relax as a parent sometimes. Reading and hearing about paedophiles, Internet grooming, child abduction and missing children make you want to wrap your little ones in cotton wool and never let them out of your sight.

But it's important to try to keep a handle on the reality of the situation, particularly if we want our children to learn to be. independent and understand how to keep safe when they are out and about

What's 'reassuring' is that child abduction cases are relatively low. On average, 11 children are killed by a stranger each year in the UK (and there are more than 11 million children in the UK), a figure that has not increased since the 1970s.

Statistically children are more at risk of abuse from someone they know.

Of course, we'd all like the statistics to be lower (in an. ideal world, they'd be non-existent) but take some comfort in the fact that teaching our kids about stranger danger will give them added protection from any threat to their safety.

Learning to let them go

As tempting as it can be to wrap your kids in cotton wool, smother them too much and they'll never learn valuable skills like independence and intuition.

Although young children need adult supervision when they're out and about, most experts agree that children over the age of about seven-years-old should gradually be given a little more independence and allowed to go out and about on their own.

Before then, it's worth talking to them about safety when they do venture out. As well as understanding road safety, learning the importance of their own intuition and hidden dangers, stranger danger is an important topic to cover.

How to explain stranger danger

Firstly think about whether your child actually understands what's meant by a 'stranger'?

When children's charity, Kidscape, interviewed 500 children aged between five and eight, they found that while nine out of 10 knew they should never go with a stranger, there was a lot of confusion about what a stranger actually looks like or does.

Six out of 10 of the children questioned thought a stranger couldn't be a woman – and most described a stranger as a sinister-looking man with dark glasses and a beard.

It's vitally important that your child knows a stranger is anyone that they do not know.

Strangers can be male, female, young, old - any person unknown to your child who approaches them for no reason (unless your child is obvious distress, has had an accident or is lost) could pose a danger.

It doesn't matter how smartly dressed they are or how polite and well-meaning they appear - any person your child does not know, who approaches them or tries to offer them a lift should be ignored and your child should quickly walk or run away from them.

Basic stranger danger rules for kids ...Never accept gifts or sweets from a strangerNever accept a lift in a car from a strangerNever go anywhere with a strangerNever go off on your own without telling a parent or trusted adultNever go up to a car to give directions - keep away so that no one can get hold of you and you can run awayAlways tell a trusted adult if you have been approached by a strangerRemember the Yell, Run, Tell rule - it's okay to run and scream if you find yourself in danger. Get away from the source of danger as fast as you can.If you find yourself in danger always run towards shops or other busy places with lots of people. If you see a policeman or person wearing in uniform, they will be able to help you.If you think that you are being followed, go into a shop or knock on the door of a house and ask for helpNever play in dark or lonely placesStay with your group of friends - never wander off on your ownNever agree to do a job for someone you don't know in return for money - they may be trying to trick you Make sure your parents know where you are going and when you will be back. If your plans change be sure to tell your parents.Stranger Danger online

Of course in today's high-tech world, the Internet has provided plenty of opportunities for stranger danger to flourish. We have a page dedicated to keeping children safe online, covering chat rooms and social networking sites.

We recommend you familiarise your child with the SMART code, an easy-to-understand way to help your child stay safe online. In addition it's important for parents to take an interest in what your child's looking at on the internet. Be very wary about letting children have access to the net from the privacy of their bedrooms, where they may strike up friendships with unsuitable individuals without your knowledge.

Be SMART:

S for Secret: always keep personal details secret

M for Meeting: meeting someone you met on the Internet is NOT advisable but if you do, have a parent or carer present

A for Accepting: accepting emails from someone you don't know can cause trouble. They may contain viruses or nasty messages

R for Remember: someone online may be lying and may not be who they sat they are. Stick to public areas of chatrooms and if you feel uncomfortable - GET OUT

T for Tell: tell your parents or carer if anything is worrying you

What about non-stranger danger?

Unfortunately the statistics indicate that your child could be more at risk from someone they do know than from a complete stranger.

For instance, statistics show that 66% of paedophiles are known to children, compared to 34% who are strangers.

Just like strangers, you can't define a 'typical paedophile', and although most are men, there are some female paedophiles and some male paedophiles use women as accomplices.

Kidscape has learnt first-hand from paedophiles how they gain access to children and has found that they spend time in places children are likely to visit, such as parks, shopping centres, arcades, playgrounds, swimming pools and fast-food restaurants.

It's important that your child knows to trust their instincts, particularly in relation to someone they may be familiar with.

If a situation or someone is making them feel uncomfortable make sure your child understands they should always act on their instincts and get as far away from the source of their discomfort as quickly as possible.

They should never feel embarrassed that they have overreacted; a well-meaning adult would never put your child in an uncomfortable position.

Make sure your child understands it's better to be safe than sorry and that they will never be reprimanded by anyone for taking action if they think they could be in danger.

Tips to keep your kids safeHave a family codeword. Tell your child that if anyone tries to collect them from school or anywhere else - including someone they know - that person must tell them the codeword. If they don't know the codeword, your child should not get into the car.Children should always tell you if anyone - including someone they know - touches them in a confusing or frightening way. Furthermore, they should understand that no one - including friends or family - should ever ask them to keep kisses, cuddles or touches secret.Trust your own instincts, too. If someone makes you uncomfortable and you don't like your children being around that person, go with your instinct, even if you feel you are being silly or untrustworthy.If your child seems uncomfortable around somebody you know, try to find out why. Your child may hint they don't like going round to someone's house, for example, or they may suddenly say they don't want to go to an activity they have previously enjoyed, when what they really mean is that someone associated with those places has made them feel uncomfortable.Self-defence for children

Experts agree that equipping children with assertiveness and self-confidence can really help them to keep safe when they're out and about.

You might like to consider enrolling your child on a self-defence class, which help children to not only keep fit and active but also learn life skills such as confidence and courage, as well as teaching them how to defend themselves if necessary.

There are many martial arts classes available for children, which will combine elements of the above - find out more about the different disciplines, such as Judo, Karate and Aikido in our Martial Arts section, which includes listings of local classes.

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