How Do You Talk to Your Kids About Safety in Public?

Updated on August 13, 2013
S.K. asks from Plano, TX
13 answers

My son is 5. I've been struggling a little with how to present to him what he needs to know about being safe in public without scaring him. He has my phone number memorized and when we are going somewhere big like a water park or recently an air show, we talk about what would happen if we got separated and he is able to tell me he'd find a police officer or someone who works there and tell them he can't find me and tell my phone number, they'd call me, and I'd rush to his side. Of course in my mind I'm thinking, if he were scared and upset, could he really do that? And obviously, this does not even begin to address what could happen.

I am not by nature much of a worrier, but in some ways that's what worries me! :) Am I doing enough to equip him?

It just seems like every time you turn around there's new advice that contradicts older advice. I've heard you should put a bracelet on your kid with your phone number, but then I've heard any identifying info on a child's person is a bad idea because "bad guys" can spot it and use it to make the kid think they know him.

So at this age, how do you talk to your kids about safety? Do you go over the whole bit about how you should never help a stranger find his lost puppy, etc?

I'd appreciate anyone's thoughts! thanks!

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answers from Los Angeles on

Teach him to "find a mommy " if he gets lost.
Tell him the safest thing to do is to find another mommy and tell her he's lost.
I have a friend with 4 little ones and she tells them "Dads are safe, but mommies are safer."
Think about it, what mother would ignore that? What mother wouldn't get him help immediately?

1 mom found this helpful

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answers from St. Louis on

I lost my now 23 year old in the mall when she was six. I was a million times more upset than she was. This was pre cell phones as well. She did exactly what she knew to do without fear or hesitation. I think her biggest disappointment was how crappy I was on my end. I had gone to mall security, she had gone to an anchor store. Added about ten minutes to the drama.

Still everyone was safe.

I remember same kid, about a year earlier, there was a news story about how people try to grab kids. She said who would be stupid enough to ask a five year old where anything is! I don't think adults realize kids aren't stupid. If someone asks them something like help me find my dog, help me find whatever, that is stupid to a kid. A kid will say no, what the heck you asking me for, I am a kid! This isn't even something you have to teach some kids.

Still I feel I must include the caveat, that was 18 years ago and none of my children were raised in this child empowerment nonsense. Some kids today would probably start helping because everyone says they are just as capable as adults so maybe don't count on them saying why are you asking me, I am a kid!

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Phoenix on

Police officers (or security guards, most likely) aren't always around and "workers" may not be the safest choice, since they could be anyone, with any kind of background and access to secluded areas and exits. I have made "Call Me" bracelets for my children with only my phone number on them and have taught them to find a mommy with kids and ask her to call me if they get lost. Not perfect, but probably safer than a worker who could take a child away from the crowd.
We talk about strangers, what to do if approached while playing alone in the backyard, what to do if offered candy/toys, what to do if asked to help find a lost dog/cat/child, what to do if told they were sent by a parent to take them somewhere. We talk about private parts, good touches/bad touches, who can/should touch them, under what circumstances and how Mommy/Daddy/doctors ask before touching private parts because that's what is right. We talk about saying "No!" if someone is hurting you, telling especially when told not to and how keeping secrets about birthday presents is ok, but keeping secrets about things that make us feel badly or about someone hurting us is never ok. We talk about it all, frequently, and have since 3 years old.
Please don't delay any longer talking to your child about these things.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Minneapolis on

I had "what would you do if?" conversations with my daughter often. I still do this at age 11, the "what if" situations just change. I let her answer the question without feeding her the answer. When kids are involved with figuring out a solution, they are more likely to actually do it.

It may depend on the kid, but most are not as scared as we are, when they find themselves separated from us. Memorizing a phone number is a great tactic, and one that a 5 year-old should be able to do.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

I've approached these conversations less along the lines of 'strangers' and more a discussion of 'good grown-ups/bad grown-ups' and their behavior.

For example, a good grown up would not ask you to walk away with them. Good grown-ups would ask you where your mom and dad is and come talk to one of us. Only bad grown-ups think it's okay to invite you away from your family or the park, etc.

If good grown-ups lose a pet, they won't ask kids to help them find it. They could ask if you might have seen their animal, but they won't ask you to help them look. They know that is a grown-up job, not a kid job. Bad grown-ups will ask you to help them, but they know they're not supposed to. You never go with someone who wants to find their animal. Come and tell me if someone is asking you to do that.

When he was younger and I'd go to take a shower, we'd talk about how good adults DON'T want you to open the door for them without mom or dad. They know only mom or dad should open the door. Mom and Dad have keys, so we don't need you to open the door for us. Only bad adults ask kids to open the door.

Etc etc.
We review plans for 'what if you get lost', have my phone number and our address memorized, etc. During field trips I would put a card in his pocket with all of our information on it. Since we have a lot of mentally ill people who use our public libraries, the buses and the downtown area, I keep him close. He actually has shown a lot of discernment in who he will and won't initiate a conversation with. Due to that 'mentally ill' factor, I also have him use the family bathroom in the children's library or come in with me if we are out and about. He also knows about private parts, etc.

I try to let him know that the world is a pretty good place, but that there are some people who just aren't safe. He is at an age where he does understand a very innocent version of 'good guys/bad guys' and frankly, I do NOT want him to be afraid of strangers, but to be watchful for *behaviors*, hence the descriptions. He also knows that if someone grabs him to scream, wiggle with his whole body, to hit and bite if need be. He IS allowed to throw a tantrum and scream YOU ARE NOT MY DAD/MOM! LET ME GO!

Ultimately, my job is to inform him at an age-appropriate level and to ensure that he doesn't have more freedom than he can manage on his own. He does get quite a bit of freedom close to home, and I'm very aware of the fact that most molestations/abductions happen with known persons, not strangers. This is why I am careful not to make him afraid to ask for help-- "if you see a mom or dad with little kids, they are safe to ask". Chances are, a parent with kids of their own is NOT going to abduct my son, right? They already know how much work a kid is! ;)

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Pittsburgh on

My son knows to approach a mommy or grandma (that would be woman with gray/white hair) and tell her his phone number and that he is lost. We also made sure he was comfortable approaching strangers - he goes in to the ice cream store to ask for water himself, he pays at flea markets when he buys a toy. The chance that a lost child will encounter a predator rather than a helpful adult if lost is very small. The chance that a child who approaches an adult (rather than waiting and being approached by an adult who see he is lost) will pick a predator is infinitesimal. I don't believe my son ever thought past the concept of being lost and then mommy/daddy will come. They don't worry about all the horrible theoretical things we do.

I have read that little kids cannot distinguish a real police man's uniform from any other uniform, so we never told him to find a policeman.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Grand Forks on

At five your child should be able to get assistance from an adult and be able to tell that adult your name and phone number. We do not give children enough credit these days. When I went to kindergarten children were expected to be able to walk to the store alone and complete a transaction. That was actually considered part of the kindergarten curriculum. I've always talked to my kids about finding an employee or police officer if we were separated, and also that they should never go anywhere with anyone without asking me first. They learned their phone number and address, along with my name when they were three.

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answers from Phoenix on

This is a case where knowledge is key but also frightening. Talk to him about person safety in general not just at school. Things should always be nice to each other. No one has the right to say mean things to anyone else, or take things that don't belong to them. These rules apply in and out of school.
At school he will have Fire Drills and Lock Down drills. Talking about what to expect and how to react will help him prepare for when they happen and know how to react and what to do. Talking about these helps you to teach him what to do in a true emergency. Stay calm, listen for instructions, look for a hiding place, wait for someone to tell you it's safe. Ask him questions like, "what would you do if you were in the bathroom or hallway or on the way to or rom the nurse and the fire alarm (or lock down) goes off? Where do you go? If he doesn't know, have him ask the teachers.
Have these conversations now and reinforce the ideas when the opportunity arises.
Practicing fire drills and evacuations at home will help too.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

It's not really a "talk" but a process that's ongoing.
As a toddler your child learns, "don't leave mommy, hold mommy's hand, we look before crossing the street" etc.
As a young child s/he learns, "you can trust your teacher, babysitter, police officer, store worker when/if you don't see mommy and daddy" and "only go with a person you know." Keep the lessons simple and basic.
As an older child (who may now be ocasionally alone either at home or in public) you reinforce the above but also talk about personal space, private parts and what is considered dangerous or innapproriate behavior, like adults trying to trick children into getting into their cars.
It never ends! When my daughter started driving I had to have a whole new conversation with her about empty parking lots/garges, looking in the backseat before she gets in her car and making sure she locks her doors and doesn't get distracted by her phone or radio while sitting in her car.
She's starting college in two weeks, so now we'll move on to "don't take drinks you haven't poured yourself" and other fun topics like that :-(



answers from Dallas on

There was just the other day a post going around about "stranger danger" that I thought was really good.
Additionally it is helpful for your kids to know your full name, their full name, and your Cell#.



answers from Houston on

lots of great advice here. The only thing I would add is to teach him that if someone is coming at him from in front or behind if he notices, to get out of the way! Don't just stand away!



answers from Appleton on

If you are going to an established place such as an amusement park or water park the staff is trained to deal with lost children. When you get there pick a spot, easily visible, such as the Ferris Wheel. They are big and can been seen from anywhere in the park. Tell your child if you get lost or can't find Mommy and Daddy go to the Ferris Wheel and we will find you. But remember where you told them to go. When I was little we went to the July 4th fireworks and a sudden storm blew in. I got scared and ran and got lost. We were with my aunt and uncle and cousins and of course my parents and brother. They walked the park for over an hour looking for me until my uncle remembered they had told us to go to the car if we got lost. My uncle and cousin came to the car and there I was sitting on the car waiting to be found.
If you are at the mall a child can go into any store and talk to an employee who can call mall security. As soon as you realize your child is lost find an employee and tell them. They will contact security or the police department. You can also set up a password with your kids. Something simple like 'popcorn', tell the security people the password so the child knows it's okay to talk to them.
It's okay to use parts of the "Stranger Danger" information but explain to them a store or mall employee is usually safe and they can tell them they are lost. I worked in retail for years and 'stranger danger' was big for part of that time. Many kids would hang their heads in fear if I said Hi to them.


answers from Dover on

My daughter is 6 and we have always told her that she has to stay with us so we don't loose her (or so she doesn't loose us...which works better because she thinks it's funny). She now knows my number but still not her dad's.

For the last two summers, when they started doing "field trips" to larger venues, I have put a Tig Tag on her. It's a bracelet that is very hard for younger kids to get off (though my daughter can take it off but knows not to). It says Mom xxx-xxx-xxxx, Dad xxx-xxx-xxxx (our cell numbers) but does not give our name or our daughter's. The same company makes all kinds of safety products for kids.

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