Parents should start talking about personal safety and “strangers” as early as possible with their child. A child who has been empowered with safety knowledge is less likely to ever become a victim of a child predator. Talking about safety with your child does not and should not be scary or shocking. You want your child to be prepared to deal with different scenarios in the world, but not be scared to experience life.
One of the first things parents should NOT do is tell your child –“Don’t talk to strangers.” Parents, please understand that children are not always able to differentiate who is a stranger and who isn’t. Instead you should talk about “Trusted Adults” and “Tricksters or Tricky People”. Studies have shown that kids understand those terms and respond better.
For example, when polling a group of kids if the washer repairman that came last summer to fix their washer is a stranger, younger kids said no. When asked why they said because their parents were talking to him, laughing and smiling while he fixed the washer so in their mind he is no longer a stranger. Same question was posed about the lawn guy, the cashier in the corner store and so on, and if their parents were polite and smiled while having a general conversation, in that child’s mind that person is no longer a stranger.
Teach your child that a “Trusted Adult” is an adult Mom or Dad knows well and has pointed out to be trusted such as a close family friend, relative, etc. Or it could be an authority figure like their teacher, or if they need emergency help, the police or firemen can be trusted. Let them know that just because you’re friendly to someone like the neighborhood lawn guy, a repairman or grocery store cashier, it doesn’t make them a ‘Trusted Adult’. You are simply being polite.
Children have this uncanny sixth sense about people. Do not force a child to show affection to anyone including family members. If the child does not want to hug Aunt Sally or Uncle Jack, DO NOT FORCE THEM! This will help your child understand that it's okay to have boundaries when it comes to their body and their personal space and it's okay to tell an adult no if they are not comfortable doing something. Instead, teach them an alternative greeting such as a fist bump and make the adults respect the child’s choice. As your child gets older, talk to them about gut feelings and how some people might make them feel scared. Let them know they can come to you any time and discuss these feelings. Also, if you are not around and an adult is making them uneasy, they should try and get away from that person as quickly as possible.
You must also talk to your child about “Tricksters or Tricky People”. Let them know that there are adults who don’t always tell the truth, and will try to trick them with money, toys or false stories to lure them away from their families and try to harm them. It is not a pleasant topic to broach with your child, but a very necessary one. Do not be overly dramatic when discussing these sort of people, just use an informative and matter of fact tone.