Kids have a different perception of what a stranger is.
Kids have a different perception of what a stranger is.

Why we should teach kids tricky people not stranger danger

FOR generations kids have been taught stranger danger: the principal that all strangers can potentially be dangerous.

But a certified child safety educator says stranger danger doesn't work. In fact, it actually works against a parent.

Safely Ever After founder Pattie Fitzgerald says 90% of sexual abuse or harm comes from someone the child knows, not a stranger.

"Stranger danger doesn't teach kids about that. Stranger danger is looking in the wrong direction here."

Speaking to News Regional Media, Pattie says kids also have a different perception of what a stranger is.

"If someone wants to offend against a child they will often make themselves friendly or introduce themselves and then that child doesn't think they are strange.

"Kids also see their parents talking to strangers all the time.

"With learning stranger danger, when there is no danger perceived kids don't see that stranger as a threat which is why we need tricky people and why tricky people makes more sense."

Tricky people is Pattie's philosophy, one she has been teaching to families all over the world for 15 years.

"The main principal of tricky people is a tricky person can be someone you know or don't know but it is someone who breaks a safety rule or asks you to do something that makes you feel uncomfortable."

But before we rush out and teach kids about tricky people, Pattie says it is important to teach kids safety rules first.

"My whole philosophy it is a process.

"The first thing parents need to do is teach kids what is okay and not okay and anyone who breaks those rules is a tricky person.

"I call them thumbs up/thumbs down. Someone doing something thumbs down - breaking a safety rule - they're a tricky person."

Pattie recommends these 10 rules for kids:

  1. I am the boss of my body!
  2. I know my name, address and phone number and my parents' names too (don't forget: kids need to know their parents' mobile phone numbers)
  3. Safe grownups don't ask kids for help (they go to other grownups if they need assistance)
  4. I never go anywhere or take anything from someone I don't know
  5. I must "check first" with my safe-smarts grownup for permission before I go anywhere, change my plans, or get into a car even if it's with someone I know. If I can't check first, then the answer is NO!
  6. Everybody's bathing suit areas are private
  7. I don't have to be polite, if someone makes me feel scared or uncomfortable. It's okay to say no even to a grownup, if I have to
  8. I don't keep secrets especially if they make me feel scared or uneasy (no adult should tell a child to keep a secret)
  9. If I ever get lost in a public place, I can freeze and yell or go to a mum with kids and ask for help
  10. I will always pay attention to my special inner voice, especially if I get an "uh-oh" feeling.

Pattie also has a list of tips for parents on her website here but says the most important things parents can teach their kids is that they are the boss of their bodies, there are no secrets and to always check first.

"Teach kids at an early age that they the boss of their private parts. Do this using anatomically correct words not cutesy names. Predators have said if a child says 'that's my penis' it is harder to coerce them.

"Also make sure your child knows there are to be no secrets from mum and dad and to check first if someone asks something of them.

"And teach kids what to do not what to do. Show them how to respond in a situation."

Pattie recommends doing this through role-play.

"Show them what asking first or checking first looks like.

"Practice makes perfect. You have to remind them every time you go somewhere."

While role playing is good, Pattie says if we're really going to keep our kids safe from tricky people, it is up to us to pay attention.

"Don't let your kids run around unsupervised.

"And notice who is paying attention to your kids. Safe adults, especially ones who work with your kids, don't look for extra alone time for your kids.

"My mother asking to take my daughter to the movies, that makes sense. A maths teacher asking to make my daughter to the movies, doesn't make sense."

Pattie has an extensive list of red flags for parents here.

For parents looking for guidance on how to get the safety dialogue started with their kids, Pattie has written two books. You'll find these on her website here.

News Corp Australia

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