A casually dressed father and young son take a break from skateboarding to sit on the sidewalk and chat about ways to the boy could find help if needed

Not All Strangers Are Dangerous

A child may, at some point, need to ask a stranger for help. That awareness is changing the way experts recommend parents talk with their children about people they do not know.

Stranger danger teaches that children should not talk to strangers, but that is not always true—and it ignores a key fact about child abductions: Most occur at the hands of people children know, often noncustodial relatives, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

A lost child may need to ask a stranger for help. That is why the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children now favors the more nuanced approach of teaching children what a helpful stranger looks like. Bridget Coit, Public Information Officer at the Eau Claire Police Department, says there are several options.

“Uniformed police officers or firefighters, store employees with name tags, and parents or grandparents with children are likely to be safe people to ask for help,” she says. “It’s important for children to know they can’t tell what someone’s intentions are by looking at them, so they should pay attention to how the person acts and whether the child feels safe. Parents should talk with their children about not keeping any secrets, the importance of respecting others’ bodies, and who to tell if someone touches them inappropriately.”

Prevention Goes Public

Preventing your child from going missing starts before you arrive at your destination.

“Before you enter a public place, your children should know to stay by your side,” Coit says. “If they go somewhere alone, they need your permission, and you need to be able to see them or find out when they’re going to be back.”

HSHS Sacred Heart and St. Joseph’s hospitals’ 3D Community Health: Body.Mind.Spirit will offer child safety classes in the coming months. For information and registration, visit sacredhearteauclaire.org and click on “Classes & Events.”

You may also be interested in “911 Basics for Children.”

Bridget Coit, Public Information Officer at the Eau Claire Police Department, says parents should make sure their children know the answers to the following questions. This information can help first responders get children home safely.

  • What is your age and your first and last name?
  • What are your parents’ first and last names?
  • What is your home phone number or a parent’s cell phone number?
  • What is your address or the name of the street where you live?

“When you’re out in public, show your children a place they can go to seek help if you are separated, such as at the customer service counter,” Coit says. “When you make a family safety plan, describe what your children should do in case of a fire, natural disaster, or other emergency.”