"Don't talk to strangers!" I heard it all the time as a kid, and now I'm struggling to explain exactly what is a stranger to my preschooler. Maybe you're in the same boat with your kids? They introduce themselves by name and say "Hi!" to someone at the grocery store who may or may not be interested in chatting? While I don't want my children growing up to think everyone is dangerous, I'm trying to convey that not everyone has the best intentions. I love that my daughter is friendly and outgoing, but don't want her to make a mistake that could put her in danger.
The Vernon Police Department, like many others in Connecticut, has an officer who teaches kindergarteners and first graders about strangers and how to stay safe. Officer Michelle Landry was kind enough to share with me some of what she teaches in the classroom. Here are some of the answers to important questions I had so you too can start a conversation with your child.
What is a stranger?
A: A person you do not know
B: You do not recognize their face
C: You do not know their name or anything about them
The curriculum goes on to explain that a stranger can be a man or woman, boy or girl, that they can be pretty and friendly and that you can't tell if they're bad just by looking at them. It also teaches them about trusted adults. They are described as being parents, teachers, family friends, grandparents and police officers. In addition, the lesson explains that a trusted adult for their friend, for example, is not a trusted adult for your child, an important distinction.
No one likes to think about the 'what-ifs', but if a stranger approaches and tries to trick a child into "helping them find their dog" or by saying "come closer to the car, I can't here you", kids are urged to learn the 3 R's. Run Away, Remember and Report! Officer Landry explains that children should find the closest trusted adult and tell them what happened. She finishes the class by reinforcing the message, if you don't know, don't go!
I also found this article from the National Crime Prevention Council a helpful resource.