I took my six-year-old daughter, Rachel, on a shopping trip. When I realized she had disappeared, I searched the aisles but could not find her. Blinking back tears, I hurried to where I had last seen her and desperately called her name.

"Boo!" she shouted, popping out from inside a circular clothing rack.

Relief flooded me. I hugged her. "Someone could have taken you!"

Immediately my daughter grew still, and she clung to my hand for the rest of the trip. From then on, she did not play hide-and-seek, and she became fretful whenever she was alone.

Passion over information

I was puzzled about the change. We had talked about "stranger danger" many times. What I didn’t realize is that I had given my daughter too much information through my emotions. Children often focus on passion over information.

It took months before my daughter forgot my "advice" and relaxed enough to play a game of hopscotch in the driveway.

Jill Hutchins, a licensed counsellor, recommends slowly giving bits of safety advice. "Wait to see what your child does with it before continuing."

She believes parents should wait until they and their children are enjoying each other’s company, because children will be more receptive and parents can better hear what their children are communicating through actions and words.

Teaching safety

  • Listen to what your children think about going home with someone from the park or a neighbour who waves to them.
  • Discuss whether they would accept food, stickers or toys from a friendly stranger or help an adult who is looking for his lost puppy. Then teach them what to do in those situations.
  • Show them how to be aware of strangers. Explain that they should ask your permission before going anywhere with another person, even another child.
  • Encourage them to trust any uneasiness they may feel around a relative, friend or stranger and immediately come tell you.

From Focus on Your Child’s Discovery Years, April 2007. Published by Focus on the Family. © 2007 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Used by permission.

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