Most crimes against children are not committed by a stranger but by someone they know. It is important to teach your child how to recognise suspicious behaviour – from both strangers and people they know – and what to do about it.
Protective behaviour for children
Parents are often worried about ‘stranger danger’. But this is only a small part of keeping children safe from people who want to hurt them. More than 8 in 10 crimes against children are committed by someone they know, even relatives or friends. There are also dangers online.
Young children may not recognise when adults pose a threat. Most predators are likely to seem friendly, or they may try to entice children with a treat or a sad story. But children can learn to recognise and trust their own feelings.
Protective behaviours encourage children to recognise unsafe situations and to take action through:
- recognising early warning signs, like butterflies in the stomach, sweaty hands, goose bumps or a racing heart
- understanding when to take action. Children need to understand the difference between feeling scared and still having fun, like during a movie; feeling scared but still being in control, like at the dentist; and feeling scared and not being in control, like when they are lost or being harmed by someone. This is a personal emergency and the child needs to seek help.
- taking action. This might mean talking to an adult they can trust, going to a safe place, or even dialling triple zero (000).
Practical tips for parents to keep children safe
- Always provide the supervision children need to remain safe.
- Trust your instincts if behaviour from a friend or relative makes you or your child feel uncomfortable.
- Believe your child if they tell you about something that made them feel uncomfortable.
- Make sure your child understands what touching is OK (like from the doctor) and what is not OK (touches to the private parts that make them feel angry, upset or confused).
- Explain that sometimes adults do things that are wrong and they should tell you if this happens.
- Many abusers make children keep their abuse a secret. Help your children to learn the difference between safe and unsafe secrets. Teach them that secrets are only OK if they give someone a nice surprise.
- Have a family password that your child can remember. If someone tells your child they have come to pick them up, the child can test them with the password.
- Make sure your children know where to go for help.
Staying safe with strangers
Here are some tips you can give to young children to help them stay safe from strangers:
- Strangers are people you don’t know. Most strangers are good people. But you don’t have to always trust or believe an adult.
- If a stranger wants to talk to you, always check with your parents first.
- Strangers may make up stories or offer treats to make you go with them. Never go with a stranger — no matter what they say. Never, ever, get in a car with a stranger.
- If you are on your own, always stay somewhere busy and well-lit where other people can see you.
- Make sure your parents or carers always know where you are.
- Sometimes you might need to talk to a stranger for help, for example if you are lost. Look for a mum with children or go into a shop, police station, service station, library or school.
- If someone is following you or grabs you, scream for help as loud as you can. Shout ‘Go away, I don’t know you’ so other people will understand.
Parent supervision on the internet is more important than ever. Read more on keeping your children safe when they are using the internet or mobile phones.
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Last reviewed: March 2021