Editor's Note: With the troubling news from Wake Forest about incidents where strangers have been approaching children, I turned to Triangle mom, author and child safety expert Amy Tiemann for guidance on how we can help our kids stay safe.
Wake Forest parents are understandably concerned after multiple instances of strangers approaching children and trying to lure them on false pretenses. Fortunately, no children have been hurt in these cases, but it is a potentially dangerous situation. We all want our children to be safe, but not unduly scared or worried. Now is a great time to practice some simple stranger safety rules with the children in your life.
Kidpower North Carolina teaches the following "stranger safety" rules:
Kids should "move away and check first" with their grownup in charge before talking to a stranger.
Move away and check first before taking anything from a stranger, even your own things.
If a stranger approaches you, stay out of reach. Run away if necessary, and get help by telling an adult in charge what has happened. Wake Forest police have asked people to report all suspicious incidents to them so that they can follow all leads.
Check first before changing the plan about where you are, who you are with, or who will pick you up from an activity.
Kids learn best when they actually practice these rules rather than just being told about them. Parents and teachers can set up role plays in a way that is informative, but not scary. "Let's pretend you are playing in your front yard and a stranger comes up with your soccer ball and says, 'is this your ball?'"
Act it out and coach kids to move away, stay out of reach, and check first with their grown-up. The grown-up in the role play can safely approach the stranger to check out the situation and make sure it is safe to retrieve a lost item. Practice in a way that is calm and matter-of-fact, not too scary. Make sure that kids have a chance to practice being successful in doing things safely.
One of the lures reportedly used in Wake Forest was a man asking for help to find a lost kitten. Parents can tell their children that adults should be asking other adults for help, not asking kids to help them. The safest choice is to not engage at all with a stranger who is asking for help, offering a ride, or even just trying to draw a child into a conversation.
The core message remains: Move away, stay out of reach, and get help from your grownups.
Kidpower North Carolina teaches custom workshops practicing these skills and more, increasing safety skills without scaring kids. The global organization Kidpower Teenpower Fullpower Interntional has taught these strategies to more than 3 million people worldwide for more than 25 years. The Kidpower.org library provides many resources to address personal safety issues including stranger safety. One article that WRAL.com readers might find particularly useful in light of the Wake Forest incidents is "Kidpower Safety Tips: Protecting Children from Stranger Abduction/Kidnapping."
Amy Tiemann PhD is the Center co-director of Kidpower North Carolina and the author of "Mojo Mom: Nurturing Your Self While Raising a Family."