Tips for Talking to Children About Strangers

Although stranger abduction (where a stranger takes a child intending to keep or harm him/her) is rare, it is important to talk to your child about strangers. Often children do not have a clear understanding of who is a stranger or what to do in a potentially dangerous situation.

  1. Make clear that a stranger is anyone your child doesn’t know well. It’s common for children to think that strangers look mean and scary. Explain that no one can tell whether a stranger is nice or safe just by looking at him/her, and children should be careful around all strangers.
  2. Point out adults your child can trust. This will help your child better understand the stranger concept and know who to go to if your child needs help.
  3. Provide your child with basic rules on keeping safe:
    • When you are by yourself, you are responsible for keeping safe.
    • Check first with a trusted adult before going anywhere or taking anything from someone you don’t know well.
    • Safe grown-ups don’t ask children for help.
    • Know the full name and phone number of one of your
      parents or caregivers. Know your home address.
    • “911” is the number to call when there’s an emergency.
  4. Have your child practice saying, “No!” to going with a stranger or taking something from a stranger by playing the “What If …” Game (see tip sheet on “Playing the ‘What If …Game”) and doing role plays. Some scenarios you could discuss are:
    • A nice-looking stranger in the park asks your child to come see new puppies.
    • Someone who knows your name and your child’s name, but is not someone your child knows well, offers your child a ride home from school.
    • Your child is walking home alone, and a stranger pulls over to ask for directions.
  5. Teach your child to trust his/her instincts and be assertive with strangers. It’s okay to say, “No!” to adults and is better to be safe than polite.
  6. If your child asks, “What if they get me anyway?”: Talk about your child’s feelings; Reassure your child that he/she is safe; Reinforce the safety rules; and Suggest your child follow his/her instincts.