Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Teaching Children About Strangers

The following information is from the Polly Klaas Foundation:


We remain heartbroken over Sandra Cantu's kidnapping and murder. This is a tragedy that should not happen to any child or family.

It is a very sad fact that 90% of those who harm children, are people the child knows.

This is one of the most difficult facts to deal with. It's much easier to think that people who harm children are random faceless vagrants who come out of nowhere.

The statistics are very clear. In 2008, about 2100 children were reported missing each day to their local law enforcement. 99.8% of those children were recovered and went home. Each year, about 100 children are abducted by true strangers.

It’s very hard to deal with the idea that someone who knows your beloved child might do them harm.



When children are told “don’t talk to strangers,” they often get confusing signals about what that means. Here are some situations we’ve observed.

1. Children can think "strangers" look bad or mean or dirty. They can think that if someone looks nice, that person is not a stranger. Many molesters know this and purposely dress nicely so they can more easily lure children.

2. Children can become confused when given rules like "don't talk to strangers" while their parents say "hi" to people on the street and chat with the grocery clerk.

  • Children can think if a person has spoken to their parents just once, then that person is not a stranger.
  • Or, a child may decide that if their parents talk to strangers, they can too.

3. If a child becomes lost or has no trusted adult nearby, everyone is a stranger to that child. How is your child going to find help without talking to strangers?

4. If a child finds himself/herself in a dangerous situation with someone they know, they have no preparation on ways to respond.


Instead of "don't talk to strangers," we strongly advise you to teach your children to watch out for dangerous adult behaviors. You can teach your children these 4 simple rules.

  1. If any adult or older kid offers you anything without asking me, step way back, yell, “NO!”, run away, and tell. (This applies to candy, pets, treats, job offers, photographs, rides on motorcycles, etc.)
  2. If any adult or older kid asks for your help without asking me first, step way back, yell “NO!”, run away and tell. (This applies to mailing a letter, picking something up for an injured person, approaching a car to give directions, doing yard work, looking for a lost puppy, etc.)
  3. If any adult or old kid asks you to keep a secret, step way back, yell “NO!”, run away, and tell.
  4. If any adult or older kid touches your private parts (parts covered by a swim suit) or asks you to touch your private parts or somebody else’s, step way back, yell “NO!”, run away and tell.

We recommend you reassure your kids that you won't be mad if they make a mistake. It's part of the learning process.

You can teach your children ways to identify people they can ask for help, like store clerks and women with children. Our free Child Safety Kit has many ideas to help you teach safety by playing “What If?” with children of all ages.

Free Child Safety Kits

If you live in the US, please click here for Child Safety Kit.

If you live outside the US, please click here for Child Safety Kit.


  1. And yet, studies show that no matter how many times you tell your kids to not open doors to strangers etc., that most of them still will. I guess the best thing is to continue to talk to our children about it. Talking to them about it only once or twice is not enough.

  2. Great suggestions - I think we all know we want to teach our kids this awareness, and being reminded of how we can do that is great.


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