When it comes to child predators and stranger safety, many parents are in the dark about what to say to their children. Some parents approach it too seriously, while others use scare tactics and other unwise methods. Pattie Fitzgerald, founder and creator of Safely Ever After, Inc, has some expert advice on how to broach the topic in a way your children will understand, without making them overly fearful of strangers.
"The problem," she says, "is that too many parents aren't talking about the actual realities of predators."
Fitzgerald explains that many parents focus on "stranger danger," when in actuality most victims of child predators are targeted by people they already know. Her goal was to find a healthy way for parents to discuss child predators with their kids -- in a clear but non-threatening way.
Kids are more likely to listen and comprehend if parents use kid-friendly language and make appropriate comparisons. Parents should begin talking to their children early about "tricky people," as Fitzgerald calls them on her website, www.safelyeverafter.com. Children as young as three or four years old will understand some of the basic characteristics of untrustworthy people. Important issues like child predators can be approached in the same manner as the "look both ways before you cross the street" rule - by incorporating the subject into the natural dialogue and daily conversation between parent and child.
Young children do not need to be taught all the rules right away. Simple basics like teaching a child that their "bathing suit areas" are private, and "safe adults wouldn't ask a child for help" are some good topics to start out with.
"As kids get older, more developmentally appropriate information can be covered, but the concepts are the same for children of all ages," says Fitzgerald. The key, she says, is to talk to children in a language that is consistent with their level of development.