“Bad guys!” I was very surprised when I heard Ben call this out one day. I mean, we don’t really talk about bad guys or good guys. Honestly I still try to shield him from negative thinking or worries like ‘bad guys.’ I’m not entirely sure where it came from, but I think it is from one of the old Mickey Mouse episodes he got to see. (I’m not blaming Mickey, we love Mickey. I probably should have made sure the episode was a little more appropriate for him. That is on me.) Fortunately the only bad guys Ben has seen are the bumbling type. He laughs at them and I see them as being an example of what not to do. The phrase has made me think though. Currently Ben is always with a family member. But he is going to start preschool soon enough and will be away from me on a consistent basis. It is time to start teaching him about stranger danger.
How do I do this though? A big issue I have with teaching about stranger danger at this age is that I don’t want to introduce fears to Ben. He doesn’t currently worry about someone trying to hurt him or touch him inappropriately, and I do not want to be the one introducing those ideas to him. I need to find a way to teach him to protect himself without scaring him. And I need to figure out the proper language to use so he understands and can report back to me anything that is going on with him. I have found with Ben that simple language and repetition is key, as with most kids his age. I want to be able to have short conversations with him that we can repeat over and over.
Here are the things we are working on for our two year old.
Point out who can help. I’ve already started talking about how police officers, fire fighters, and other emergency personnel are helpers. They are safe people to go to when we need help. Ben loves fire trucks and police cars, like most kids his age. Every time we see one it gets his attention, making an easy transition into a brief conversation about helpers. All I really say is that they are safe people if you are in danger or hurt. They are good people to go to if Ben isn’t with Pat or me. I think at Ben’s young age it makes more sense to point out who he can go to if he needs help, not just who he should avoid.
Use potty training to name body parts. Now that we are working on potty stuff, I try to use that time to mention personal privacy. This one has been a little tougher to explain. I started saying only Mommy, Daddy, and medical professionals should see Ben sans clothes. But what about babysitters or other caregivers? I mean, when a kid is in diapers and/or potty training, the list of who ends up seeing private areas contains anyone who could potentially be taking care of the child. It can get kind of long. Right now we are focusing on naming the body parts. Studies have shown that this basically can freak out predators and make them pick a different target. I also hope that by showing comfort in the human body and the anatomical names he will be comfortable coming to us with any issues with them.
Allow the child to control who touches him. We already don’t force Ben to hug anyone, and I am trying to continue that discussion with him. When he says no to hugging or kissing someone, I tell him it is his body, his choice whom he touches. I am starting to expand on that and tell him that if anyone wants to touch him and he doesn’t want it, he can yell no and run away. Yeah, the run and yell thing he likes, but I’m not entirely sure he gets the reasoning yet. In fact I’m pretty sure he doesn’t. I’m going to keep trying though.
Ask safety questions. I am already obnoxious when it comes to asking Ben questions. I mean, the kid probably things everyone gets quizzed on numbers, colors, shapes, etc constantly. Now I’ve started throwing in a few new ones. Who can help us at the pool? What do we do if we need help? Do we take things from strangers? This sort of thing. Usually at this point he doesn’t know the answer. These are still new questions. I give him a chance to answer, then supply the answer myself as needed.
Keep talking and listening. It is hard to get two year olds to focus on conversations. There is almost always something more interesting to do than listen to mom talk. But keep talking. I have learned from talking to Ben about the girls that he is listening, even if he doesn’t have to words to respond. I know what I am saying is sinking in, I just have to keep the conversation open. Along with this keep listening. Ben tends to slip questions in when I am not ready for them, so I need to really listen and provide the answers that he needs.
As Ben gets older we will add more specifics, like don’t take candy from anyone or don’t get into a car with someone you don’t know. That sort of thing is very important and needs to be taught as he becomes ready for that level of talk.
I think stranger danger is an ongoing conversation, it isn’t just a one time thing. It can be very hard to think in these terms, and even harder to teach to our children. I want to preserve Ben’s innocence and sense of safety. But the reality is he needs these skills. By opening the conversation now I hope to pave the way for many talks in his future.
Here are some sites that have some great tips for talking about stranger danger with young kids:
Friday: Katrina at Mama’s Organized Chaos