Robin F. Goodman, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist at the N.Y.U. Child Study Center, recommends the following steps when discussing stranger danger with children:
Remain calm when discussing scary topics with children. Children need to be able to listen to learn. Parents who are fearful themselves may alarm their children.
Consider the child’s age. Children ages 6-9 are able to remember information and put it into practice but may get overwhelmed in a difficult situation. Children ages 10-13 may overestimate their ability to handle a bad situation. They may be nonchalant in their attitude about risk, and may feel they should not be scared.
Deliver information in an age-appropriate fashion. Younger children need repeated conversations and play as a means of communication. Older children are capable of having a discussion about current events or real situations to educate them about danger Warn children about specific ploys used by strangers. Teach children not to help a stranger look for a lost pet, or to take candy or gifts, or to get into a car with a stranger.
Use the “Ask, Show, Know” approach. First, “Ask”: After talking to your child, ask what they heard. This allows parents to correct misinformation and determine what needs to be reviewed or discussed differently. Then “Show”: Practice with the children what they have learned. This could involve going to a mall and having a child ask for help from a store clerk, or walking through the neighborhood and observing as the child goes to an identified neighbors house. Finally, “Know”: Be sure your children know who, when, where, and how to get help. The child should know their name, address, and phone number; how to dial 911; who will pick them up from school and activities; and which other friends and family have been approved.
Monitor children’s media access. Especially in situations where child abductions and murders are in the news, parents should monitor what their children are watching or hearing. It’s important for parents to help their children separate out fact from fiction. Parents should be on the lookout for changes in their children's behavior, especially sleeping problems and nightmares, and seek additional guidance.