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 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. Eighty five per cent of crimes against children are committed by someone they know. Dangers also come from relatives or friends, and from online.
Everyone has the right to feel safe. 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 take action. They can do this by:
- Recognising early warning signs, like butterflies in the stomach, sweaty hands, goose bumps or a racing heart.
- Understanding when to take action. They 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).
Strategies for children
Here are some tips you can give to young children:
- Strangers are people your child doesn’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.
- Never go with a stranger – no matter what they say. Never, ever get in a car with a stranger.
- Strangers may make up stories or offer treats to make you go with them.
- 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.
Practical tips for parents
- Always supervise your children and know where they are.
- 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 some secrets are bad and that your child should always tell you if something is making them sad, scared or uncomfortable.
- 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.
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.
Last reviewed: May 2017