Q: We've heard about kids who are afraid to ask help from people they don't know because they were told never to talk to strangers. How can I teach my child to trust certain people, like police officers, if they need assistance but I'm not with them?
A: Kids are very literal, so when you talk to them about safety, never say "don't talk to strangers" or they might resist the help of police or firefighters should the need arise. Instead tell them that there are adults they can trust (like police, firefighters, rescue personnel, security guards, information booth attendants, and store clerks with name tags).The best way to teach safety is to talk about situations rather than individual people since a dangerous person probably won't look very threatening.
• Tell your kids about the different tactics predators use to trick children, like offering candy, asking for help to find a lost pet, or saying things like, "there's been an accident and your Mommy wants you to come with me right away." Emphasize that you would never, under any circumstances, send someone they didn't know to retrieve them and that trustworthy adults don't ask children for assistance (like searching for a lost pet or fixing a car) -- they ask other grown-ups. Explain that if someone they don't know offers them candy or toys, they could be dangerous and shouldn't accept them.• Play "what if." Ask your child, "What if we're at the mall and get separated?" Good answers include your child telling a store clerk, information booth attendant, or security guard, staying where they are and waiting for Mom or Dad to return, or asking a mom or dad with a stroller for help.• Last but not least, instruct your children to always check with you before interacting with someone they don't know and not to worry about being rude -- a person who has their best interest at heart will understand and encourage this caution.