Heidi Tattrie Rushton
In January 2015 there were two reported incidents of children in the HRM being approached by strangers on their way to school. These alarming events reminded many parents that teaching children about “stranger danger” is something that needs to happen on an ongoing basis, however many parents aren’t sure how to effectively have that conversation.
Doug Hadley, coordinator of communications with the Halifax Regional School Board, says it needs to be a combined effort between parents, police and the local school system.
“It’s part of the provincial health curriculum so there are curriculum outcomes that are specific to personal safety,” he explains. “For example, at the younger grades, there are outcomes that include understanding situations in which it is appropriate to say no and being able to differentiate between problems they can solve themselves and those with which they need help.”
Throughout the year he says teachers reinforce these common safety issues as part of the ongoing curriculum. They also work closely with the Halifax Regional Police and the RCMP officers who are in the schools.
Const. Sue Mitchell is a school response officer and has 15 schools in her jurisdiction. Part of her role is to work with school children to teach them how to respond to strangers, but says parents need to continue the conversation at home.
“A lot of times parents will just say ‘don’t talk to strangers’ and we, as parents, think it’s covered, but the really amazing thing is that kids don’t know what a stranger is,” she says. “It’s a really great starting point for parents to review what a stranger is.”
Mitchell says good strangers can be explained as a new teacher, a doctor or emergency personnel, such as a firefighter. A bad stranger is “any other adult that the child doesn’t know.”
She says this conversation can be started as early as preschool age by using regular outings, such as the grocery store or a playground, as opportunities to talk to children about who strangers are.
If a child is approached by a stranger, Mitchell says they tell children this rule: “Yell and tell. Be loud, make a scene and then be sure to tell a trusted adult what happened.”
Mitchell shares some tips for parents to use in conversations with their children about stranger danger.
Never go anywhere with an adult you don’t know.
If someone in a vehicle approaches you, do not approach the vehicle and stay at least an arm’s length back from the car.
Don’t help strangers (adults asking for help finding a “lost pet” is a common lure).
Don’t take shortcuts, stay on the main route and stay away from unsafe places.
Stick with your friends.
Make sure your parents know where you are and what time to expect you home.
If you’re in danger, yell and tell.
Report incidents to the police.
“If the parents can reinforce some of these tips, then I think kids will be more likely to report a situation,” Mitchell says.
Hadley agrees that it’s important for parents to regularly talk about this issue.
“While schools play an important role in educating children on personal safety, it’s a role we share with parents and guardians,” he says. “Lessons that are taught in school and reinforced at home have a greater likelihood of becoming common behaviours.”