What Do We Tell Our Little Ones About Talking to Strangers?

Updated on April 23, 2009
J.L. asks from Monmouth, OR
5 answers

I have a just turned 4 year old son and a 17 mo. old daughter. Of course, being a parent, I think we all think about strangers and "bad guys" often, but when we see in the media about recent child abductions and murders, like that little Sandra Cantu in CA, it really comes to the forefront of our minds. My son is very social and at his age, what in the world do I say to him? He thinks nothing of going up to people and talking to them and leaving our yard and wandering off....I'm a very cautious Mom and always have my eye on him, but ya know, I want him to be prepared in case something DID happen, ya know? How do I tell my 4 year old right now, that there are bad people in the world and he shouldn't talk to people w/o Mommy and Daddy right there? What are some good resources you all have come across that are helpful with kids his age? Thanks in advance!

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answers from Seattle on

This is a delicate subject. On one hand you want to teach your children that they should only talk to strangers with you or another trusted adult (Dad, sitter) present, on the other hand, you do not want to instill too much fear in them.
Anytime he walks up to someone, remind him that it's only ok to talk to a stranger, when you are close. You will have to repeat this many, many time and simply keep watching him.
As he grows older you can add some reasons to it (some stranger are mean/dangerous/want to hurt you...)but I would not make it too gruesome.

One more thing: most crimes against children are commited by someone close to the child or at least known to the child - not a complete stranger.
It is much more important to teach your son that he can tell you if someone that is close to you or your family is making him uncomfortable.
No one ever thinks this will happen in their family, but the statistics don't lie, most abusers are relatives, neighbors, friend's parents or close family friends.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

My son is also very out-going and talks to everyone, everywhere. I have never said anything to him about "stranger-danger". It is NOT his responsibility to determine who is bad and who is good. IT IS MY RESPONSIBILITY TO WATCH HIM. I do not want my son to be afraid of people or socializing. He loves to chat with everyone and I've always seen it as a wonderful trait that will get him far in life. When he is old enough to be in public on his own we will have some sort of talk. Until then it's up to me to determine if someone is scary. What kind of 4/5 year would be alone in public? I figure I have until my son is between 8-10 depending on where we live.

Stranger-danger talks are confusing and make all people seem scary. I can remember feeling very confused by these things as young child. Good luck! :)

Side note: Why do all the people in the other posts have children that might be in public talking to strangers without an adult? My son is never alone in a place where strangers might be. This is an adult's responsibity to decern. I even watch my child when he's checking the mail, he's only 5. A small child isn't going to be able to do ANYTHING if an adult wants to steal them. It doesn't matter how scared they are, they're still small and can be picked up and put in a car.. :/

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answers from Portland on

I've told my grandchildren that the only time it's OK to talk with someone they don't know is when an adult that they know and trust is with them. Then we talk about who those adults are. I tell them that some people take advantage of kids and they might get hurt if one of those people found them. I tell them that it's my job to be sure they are safe and they can help me be safe by staying close to me.

WE talk about how we might feel around a yucky person and that we should immediately leave that area if someone is close by that makes them feel yucky.

I tell them it's OK to talk to strangers if I am with them. I'm a very social talkative person who often talks with strangers. Because of that I can't tell them to not talk to strangers but I can tell them to not talk with strangers unless I'm with them.

I have noticed that my grandchildren seem to be able to sense friendliness and respond to that. I've seen them shy away when someone in the check out line makes them uncomfortable. Even tho I'm a retired police officer I believe that most people are OK and will not hurt a child. I do insist that they stay close to me and usually they do but I don't worry if they've wandered off and can find them when we are in a familiar place such as Fred Meyer. I hold their hand when we're near an exit. Not only because it would be easier for someone to grab them and disappear but also because it would be easy for one of them to run out of the store.

I've also noticed that my grandchildren are shy with most strangers. IF someone tries to talk with them they come back to me. Our rule is that they have to be able to see me from where ever they are standing. My granddaughter is 8 now. This wouldn't work for a 4 yo. At four they usually stayed right with me. Not always. If they began our trip by running off I put them in the grocery cart.

I've also found that it helps when I keep them involved. When we're shopping for groceries they help find the food and put it in the cart.

I do not want to scare them but I do want them to know that there are scary people around and for them to stay away from them.

We also talk about never accepting anything from a stranger, never go with a stranger even to look for a lost puppy, and never talk with strangers if I am not with them. The reason I give is that some people will hurt children.

My granddaughter was 3 or 4 when she left the daycare building. She was bored with her mother talking. I live near by and she wanted to walk to my house. She went the opposite direction. Her mother told her that she was worried because she said sometimes bad people kidnap little children. My granddaughter, 8, has just recently stopped talking about kidnappers.

I'm not sure that telling her about kidnappers was helpful. She was interested in kidnappers but that didn't stop her from wandering. She didn't like kidnappers but didn't seem afraid. When I scolded her about getting out of my site she'd ask, "did you think a kidnapper got me?" I'd say that was a concern but mostly I was afraid I'd lose her in this big store and then both of would be scared.

Even tho I have faith in most people I want my grandchildren close to me. It's Ok to talk with strangers if I'm with them.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Seattle on

Before I left for kindergarten, my mother told me of strangers and that one time a little blonde girl (she just happened to look just like me)was walking to school and some man asked he if she wanted a ride. Then he took her out into a field and cut her head off. I think of what a horrible story that was now, but you know, I have never forgotten it, even now, 40+ years later.


answers from Seattle on

I say: "There are really horrible people out there that do awful things to children. They could hurt you and take you away from papa and I for the rest of our lives. I love you and want you safe and would be so scared if something happened to you. You must stay with me all the time. You may not speak with a stranger unless I am with you."
If my child wandered from the yard, my child would lose the privledge to be in the yard. If my child left a store, he would lose the privledge of walking with me, he would ride in the cart.
I have two boys, 6 and 3. We had a sex offender move in a BLOCK away from our house. I put his picture up and had my kids look at the picture. I explained that he was a bad man and if he ever was near my kids that they were to RUN, not walk, away from him screaming their fool heads off. I don't care if the man is checking his mail, my kids will RUN!
It's too scary to let NOT tell our children about "stranger danger".

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