Teaching your children to protect themselves may be the most important thing you’ll ever do, but it’s also one of the hardest. If you tell them the truth about evil predators, you risk stealing their sense of security; if you don’t, you put them at risk. Giving good advice just may save lives. Here’s how to walk the line between keeping your kids safe and scaring them silly.

  • Don’t say “never talk to strangers.” “It makes them feel their entire world is unsafe, when in reality, it is only a very small percentage of people who will hurt them,” says Alyssa Dver, National Director and Family Safety Expert at the Center to Prevent Lost Children. Instead, say, “while most people are good, some people may do bad things.” 
  • If your child is ever lost or threatened, you want him to feel comfortable asking another adult for help. Advise him to look first for a uniformed police officer or security guard, a store clerk, or a mother with children – all adults likely to be safe and helpful.
  • Make it clear that it is appropriate for a child to approach an unknown adult for help if necessary, but it is not okay for an unknown adult to approach a child on his or her own. Tell your child that the usual etiquette doesn’t apply if a stranger asks her to help find a pet, eat some candy or get in his car – she should scream, run, and ask the nearest adult for help.

  • Surprisingly, most crimes against children aren’t committed by strangers. “The vast majority of abductions and other harm to kids is done by people that the child already knows – an estranged spouse, babysitter, teacher, etc,” says Dver. Kids shouldn’t fear all strangers, but they shouldn’t have blind faith in all “friends” either.

  • “Let them know they can come to you if anyone or anything makes them feel scared, uncomfortable, or confused, and you will work with them on whatever it is,” says Nancy McBride, National Safety Director for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Tell them that some rules are constant, no matter what anyone else tells them: kids don’t ever have to keep secrets for adults, it’s okay to be rude if someone is scaring them, and their bodies belong to them – period.


Instead of terrifying your kids with horror stories, empower them to develop street smarts. For example, “if your children seem fearful, let them help you secure your home, so they can be part of the process and feel safer,” suggests McBride.


Scary to think about? Definitely. But when it comes to protecting your children, safe is better than sorry.