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Why ‘Never Talk to Strangers’ Isn’t Good Advice and 3 Things You Can Do Instead

Mom and young daughter walking thru a grocery store.

Generations of preschoolers have grown up memorizing the phrase, “Never talk to strangers.” As a preschooler, they learn about stranger danger in books during storytime. They sing songs about tricky people, with their favorite- fun-loving characters like Elmo or Barney the Dinosaur.

As a preschool teacher, it was a lesson I taught every year.

But we were all wrong! Me. Barney. Even Elmo!

Why Never Talk to Strangers Isn’t Good Advice

What we should be teaching preschoolers instead, is how to recognize safe strangers – stranger awareness. Yes, not everyone is nice and there are tricky people out there but child safety rules for preschoolers are going to be different than they are for older children. At this age, preschoolers should be constantly supervised outside the home. As they get older, you can introduce them to stranger danger education.

How Do You Explain Stanger Awareness to a Preschooler?

First, let’s define stranger. Isn’t a stranger anyone you don’t know?

Many preschoolers are already shy around adults. What we need to teach them at this age is to identify good strangers.

If your little 4yr old gets separated from you in the mall, what are they to do? Everyone is a stranger!

The fact is, they have been and will continue to interact with strangers their whole life. They are meeting new people all the time. You’re friends, people at the grocery store. The zookeeper. Out-of-town relatives. The nursery worker or Sunday School teacher at church.

Instead of causing stranger anxiety, we can teach them wisdom and common sense for dealing with people they don’t know.

Community Helpers - two police officers, a cashier, librarian, and mail carrier,

1. Identify Safe Strangers

Help your child identify safe strangers and community helpers. Examples of safe strangers would be:

  • anyone a grown-up they know introduces them to
  • teachers
  • librarians
  • other community helpers (police, cashiers, mail carrier, bank tellers, doctors, dentists)

2. Play the ‘Do You See’ Game

Children love games! ( Anything is a game to a preschooler if you call it a game -lol) When you are out in public with your little one, make a game of practicing to identify safe strangers.

Ask questions like:

  • Do you see a police officer?
  • Do you see someone who works here? (Someone behind a counter, someone with a uniform on?)
  • Do you see a mommy with children?
  • Do you see a person with a nametag?
Inside of a mall, benches with people sitting on them.

3. Practice, Practice, Practice

After you’ve spent some time identifying safe strangers, take it up a notch.

While you and your little one are enjoying time together, sitting at the mall sharing an Aunt Annie’s pretzel (just a lucky guess – lol) practice playing, ‘what would happen if mommy got lost?’ Who would they ask for help?

Let them point out people they would ask for help.

Keeping Your Little One Safe

As your child grows older and is away from you more, you will want to build on these safety lessons. By elementary age, stranger danger will be more age-appropriate and they will be better able to understand when you explain about tricky people and the fact that not everyone is nice. But for preschoolers, these tips and your watchful eye will be a big part in keeping your little one safe.

Stay Safe! 😊

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2 thoughts on “Why ‘Never Talk to Strangers’ Isn’t Good Advice and 3 Things You Can Do Instead”

  1. Great post! It’s so true. We forget how literal kids can be, so of course when we say “don’t talk to strangers” we mean except for ones that will help you, but kids don’t know that!
    I love how you mention to practice too. It needs to be familiar enough that they know what to do when they need to!

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