Written on 30 April 2021
Two-year-olds and three-year-olds don't yet know what a stranger is, or who's harmless and who's not. However, you can still begin to teach your child about basic safety. He might not be ready for conversations about how to deal with strangers, but it is better to be safe than sorry.
Remember at this stage, and even when he's a bit more older it's not safe to be left unsupervised in public, in common residential areas, or even in your gated neighbourhood. This is because he won't have good judgment yet or be able to control his natural impulses.
As you begin talking about strangers, keep in mind that, stranger abductions are becoming alarmingly high these days. As a parent, hearing so many news reports of very young children being kidnapped, can sometimes leave you paranoid.
While the safety of your child is of utmost importance, remember also that being able to talk to adults is an important social skill for your child. So try not to make him unduly afraid of talking to elders. You might have to take a balanced approach, even though you may be worried.
Start with basic safety
Before trying to teach your toddler about strangers, have a chat about general safety first. When you go out, ask him to stay close and to hold your hand in crowded places.
You'll also need to watch over him when he is in the neighbourhood park or when you're walking about in your apartment block. Even though there may be security in and around your area, there are plenty of people coming in and out of your society.
Delivery boys, drivers, maids, courier services personnel as well as local visitors, even though verified may not always have the best intentions.
Teach him about body safety
Children this age are too young to learn the names of their genitals and that it's wrong for most people to touch them there.
You could keep a code word for his genitals and tell him that, no one other than mummy or daddy is allowed to touch his genitals. Tell him that even mummy and daddy will do this only to clean him or when bathing him.
If you would like to discuss any worries or need help with handling a difficult situation here are some resources:
Here is an interesting way in which NSPCC of the UK helps teach young children about stranger safety. The NSPCC's Underwear Rule is a useful way to teach your little one about safety as he grows. Using the word "pants", this rule teaches your child:
Introduce the concept of strangers
Usually, your child will be ready for this by the age of four. However, it is not too early to talk about it even in earlier years. Explain to him that a stranger is anybody he doesn't know.
You can point out examples on a typical day, for example, a man at the supermarket or a woman in the park. To avoid scaring your child, emphasise that just because a person is a stranger, it doesn’t make them a good person or a bad person.
Go over dos and don'ts
Create some rules with your child about how to deal with strangers. It is highly unlikely that he will go anywhere without you at this young age, or even if he is without you, he’d be with someone whom you trust. Still, it is wise to give him a plan to follow.
For instance, say you get separated while you're out. You could try saying, "If you lose me in the supermarket, go to where we pay for things and tell them you want to see mummy. Don't move from there until I come to get you".
Tell your child that if he's ever approached by a stranger when he’s not with you, he should go straight to the person who is supposed to be taking care of him.Even at home, have a few rules in place. Teach him that if someone rings the bells or comes to the door, he shouldn't try to open the door. He shouldn’t answer the landline until he's older.
Point out adults he can trust
Besides his grandparents and close family members give a few examples of adults he can go to for help, such as a teacher, or his ayah. Point out authority figures, like security guards and store employees, so your child can identify strangers who might be able to help.
Explain to your child how he can recognise people who work in a shop, either by their uniform or because they are behind the billing counter. A security guard will be dressed in his uniform and will have an ID card.
Your school-age child should know that although it's okay to say hello to neighbours when you are close by, he doesn't have to talk to any stranger and he shouldn't if you aren't around.
Read about safety together
There are plenty of books about staying safe that you can read to your toddler. Use stories to explain the concept of strangers. Role-play to teach, not to scare. Act out with your child what to do if he's approached while alone in the park. (For example, he should move close to you or his maid.)
Avoid scary statements
To drive the message home, you may be tempted to issue warnings about how a stranger could take him away from you forever. Try to avoid doing this as it will only unnecessarily frighten your child.
Repeat the message
Young children learn through repetition, so you should stress the rules whenever an opportunity arises, such as before going to the zoo or mall where there are likely to be big crowds.
Protect him from online strangers as well
Parents today are posting pregnancy and birth announcements online, setting up email addresses and domain names for unborn children, and blogging and pinning all the joys and aggravations of parenthood. It's no wonder that children are introduced to digital media at an early age.
If you allow your child some time on mobile devices, keep screens in public areas of your home, like the drawing room. Don't allow children to take them into their bedrooms or use them without your supervision.
Set parental controls so that your child cannot access chat rooms , download software or use the camera or share photos - even accidentally. Many child-centred games have a parent dashboard where you can adjust permissions for chats, messaging, and more.
Reinforce these safety rules with the caregivers
Go over all these safety precautions with anyone caring for your child in your absence. If you live in a joint family, you will most have additional help, though it also means your family may have more visitors.
If you and your husband are away at work and your maid manages your child, ensure she understands all the rules. She shouldn’t have visitors over in your absence as well as take your child out of the residential complex without your permission. If she takes your child to the park with your permission, she shouldn’t leave your child unattended for even a minute.
It's important that you only hire a person who can trust completely. Read our article on how to find trustworthy childcare.
"Is Aarav's mum a stranger?"
You must define clearly who can be trusted. You will need to do this on a case-by-case basis, as while Aarav's mum is a family friend, the courier person is not.
"What if a stranger gives me sweets?"
This question may be prompted by what your toddler has seen on TV or rumours he has heard from adults or other older children in the playground. Teach your child to firmly and politely decline. Remind him of the rule of immediately going to the person who is taking care of him at that point.
"What if someone tries to steal me?"
In the unlikely case that a stranger does put their hands on your child, tell him he should shout for help and say loudly that the person is not his mummy or daddy.
Teach your child how to find you
Start by teaching your toddler his own full name, then your full name, plus your address and telephone number. Many playgroups and preschools, have this activity even as part of their curriculum. Though your toddler may be still too small to remember everything, try to teach him as much as he can learn.
Give your child a card to carry
Additionally, you could give him a little card to carry in his pocket or pin it up on his shirt. The card should have all the relevant contact information mentioned above. If he goes to playschool or a daycare, he'll be given an ID card from the school as well.
You may want to dress your child in brightly coloured outfits when he is out and about, so he's easy to spot in a crowd. Put a small card with identification information on it in one of his pockets in case you get separated, and keep a latest picture of him in case you ever need help finding him.
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