8 unsafe help requests from strangers that should alert you and your child
A stranger is asking a child for help
This is the second part of the series "Help requests from strangers". Read the first part here: "A stranger is asking a child for help".
When kids turn 3 years old it’s time to start teaching them:
- the difference between safe and unsafe help requests
- how kids should behave to be kind and stay safe
- what to do if they find themselves in a situation you haven’t discussed yet (for example, if a good-looking old lady is asking for something and you didn’t talk about it)
The biggest questions spinning in the child’s mind are:
- Shall I go ahead and help?
- Shall I run away?
- Am I rude and unsympathetic?
Let's balance it.
Most of the time we encourage our kids to cooperate, answer questions, be nice, polite, and cute.
That's why today we will talk about a very important and commonly neglected skill: Rejection.
A freedom to reject
A child’s ability to reject, to say No, to express his disagreement, dislike, or unwillingness to participate in something is the cornerstone of his ability to stand up for:
- his boundaries,
- his physical and emotional space, and
- his interests and opinions in the future.
3 weak spots predators are looking for
- Feeling important and involved.
- Curiosity: luring surprises, adventures, or unknown things.
- Being a helper: when your child sees a kitten, a puppy, or someone helpless, old, little, sick, or otherwise in need of help, children are thrown into an unusual and disruptive situation
What happens to unprepared kids
- Most strangers who ask your child for help do it with good intentions (hoping they will help to build good character, for example) or without thinking much at all.
- The line between good people and those with bad intent is very subtle for the child.
- Harmful people are well-prepared and aware of a child’s psychology. They know and use tricks.
! Unprepared kids cannot figure out when a help request might have bad intentions.
What your child needs to know
Make sure you've discussed all these scenarios and what to do - because they should raise a huge red flag in your child's mind:
- A request that is forcing a child into something uncomfortable
- A request that must be kept secret
- A request to open the door (for inspection, treatment, using a restroom, in need of calling 911, package delivery, baby crying on the porch, injured animal, etc.)
- A request over the phone when parents are not around
- A request requiring a child to enter a house, a building, or move into a different location
- A request involving money or other incentives
- A request from someone following a child on foot, or in a car, or inviting a child into a car
- A fake request for help on behalf of a parent
What kids should do to stay safe in each situation
(If you feel this topic is important, pin this list for other parents, please):
Salespeople come to your house and your child opens the door while you are still running down the stairs. When you've reached the door, they have already left. Who were they? Your child does not know.
It is important to discuss all of them with your child.
Suspicious requests, especially coming from strangers, may include, but are not limited to:
1. A request that is forcing a child into something uncomfortable:
You might think about someone prompting a child into inappropriate touches. Here our goal is to teach kids that their body belongs to them. Nobody can touch them or force them to touch anybody in any way they don't feel comfortable with.
All swimsuit areas are private and are not supposed to be exposed or touched (Parents and doctors are the exceptions. And they should ask the child's permission first as well).
The other type of discomfort warning about danger include "gut signals" (heart racing, changes in the breath, flushing, sweaty palms, goose pimples, stomach movements)
2. A request must be kept secret:
Make sure that the rule "We have no secrets from parents in this house" is in force all the time. No matter how weird the situation is.
Teach kids never to get scared. If someone tells them that "Something bad will happen to your mom/dad/relative/pet if you tell anyone about it", "The magic will disappear, if you tell anyone", "People will not understand - that's just our secret", kids need to know these people are lying.
3. A request to open the door: (for inspection, treatment, using a restroom, calling 911, package delivery, etc.)
If your kids are little and stay home with you, tell them never to open the door by themselves (including the time when you are busy in the other room, in the bathroom, shower, backyard, etc.)
If kids need to open the door to their friends coming to visit, they need to wait until you come and stand behind them at the door. Do not just yell, "Yes, you can open the door!" Pick yourself up and walk with them.
- Teach kids to stay inside and be quiet as if nobody is home until you get to the door.
- Teach them not to talk through the door.
If your kids are old enough to be home alone:
If a person by the door knows a child is home (like he looked through the window), tell kids never to say they are home alone, or support any other conversations. If in danger kids can also imitate talking to an adult in the other room. For example, "No, Mom, this is not Mr. Johns"
- If your kids are big enough to stay home alone and have ALREADY found themselves in the conversation through the door, tell them never to say they are alone.
A decent answer is, "We are calling the police. They will help you."
- Teach kids how to call 911 from different devices and what to say (we cover how to teach it in the full course)
- Be sure your kids know that mentioning that they are calling the police in any unsettling conversation is good.
4. A request over the phone:
Ask your little kids not to pick up the phone.
If they are old enough to answer the phone, tell them never to say they are home alone. They can always say "Mommy is home, but she can't take the phone right now. I will tell her you've called". And hang up. Tell them not to continue the conversation with people outside of the trusted circle.
If your kids are old enough they can take a message for you if you feel confident about it. They can say, "I can take a message for you. What's your name and phone number". Then they take the name and the phone number AND say "I will let them know. BYE" and hang up.
Teach them to hang up immediately - otherwise, the conversation may continue and since this person has already shared his name, he has gained some trust and might probe to figure out if the child is home alone.
If this person calls back, say "Mom cannot talk right now". If he insists, hold the phone in his hand, count to 10 in your head, then say, "Mom said for me to take a message". If the person keeps asking "Is your dad home then?", say, "He is not home, but I can take a message". Never say "He is not home EITHER" - because this will disclose the child is home alone.
5. A request with the invite into a house, a building, or moving into a different location:
Kids are not supposed to enter a building without permission from their parents.
This request might be combined with a curiosity challenge. "My cat just had kittens. Would you like to help me arrange a house for them?"
"I have just lost my glasses. Can you help me find the key?"
"I've got so many groceries. Can you help me get them to the house? I'll give you some cookies"
"I've got some Halloween candy leftover - would you like to come and help me get rid of them?"
"My kitten climbed that tree. Can you watch him while I'm calling animal control?"
A general reply to such a help request should sound like, "I'm sorry, I can't help you". This full phrase is more persuasive than just “No” - because it leaves less room for the conversation to continue.
6. A request involving money or other incentives:
If a child is offered money for his help without first checking with parents, it is not a safe request. "Can you help me shovel the snow / rake the leaves / wash the car / walk my dog? - I will give you 10 bucks", works especially well with fearless kids who are willing to be taken seriously and feel as though they are grown-ups.
It makes them feel they are making their own money. This request might happen on a regular basis without you even knowing about it. (Bonus module about fearless kids in the main course has more details about it)
Kids might know that the request involving an incentive is unsafe, but the "reward" is so luring, that they might think they will get an incentive and get out immediately.
"I will just get there for a second, take ... the money / candy / toy and then get out". Tell them that such a temptation may occur and they need to practice how to say "No" regardless of the incentive (See Games chapter in the main course)
7. A request from someone following a child on foot, in a car or inviting a child into a car:
Teach kids never to get close to people talking to them from a car, avoid communications and find a safe place immediately. Requests might sound like:
"What time is it?"
"Do you know how to get to ..."
8. A fake request on your behalf:
Someone may tell your child that you or another relative or close person are in trouble (like a car accident) and need kid's help.
Tell kids that you will never send anyone asking a child to help you. Remember that kids love to be helpful, and play heroes and rescuers.
Tell them that you have enough trusted adults around to figure the way out from any situation. Build your "village" - have an arrangement with 5 of your different friends to be each other’s "emergency team". It doesn't mean you need to celebrate all holidays together, but make an agreement to help each other out with kids in an emergency. If you can, introduce your child to them, or at least show their photos and tell your child their names.
In case of an emergency, for example, if someone else is picking up a child from school instead of you, tell kids to ask, what the family password is. If they don't get the answer immediately (like a stranger says mom is in the hospital badly injured and didn't have a chance to tell the password), they need to quickly get to a safe location and tell a trusted adult. They should not ask the details of what happened from the person claiming to be sent by the parents.
Download the check-list for the future reference:
How kids can recognize these 8 requests,
+ how they should behave,
+ how they can help safely or reject properly,
and finally, how to explain it in a positive, non-scary way.
P.S. If your child learns how to help and reject to help properly when he is little, not only he will be much safer when communicating with strangers, but he will also have higher self-esteem and lower risk of being involved in trouble during the teenage and adult years.
We will talk more about the skill of rejection in the topic of kids’ sexual safety as well.
You can raise your kids to be both caring and safe.
And they will not let anyone into your house or break some other rule.
Not because they will be scared, but because they will understand.
Don’t wait until it is too late.
Enroll in a Free online course for parents of kids 3-10 years old
"Teach Your Child Safety With Strangers"
Act, do not react.