The following is a true story. A true story that happened right here in Knoxville. A story that has caused sleepless nights. A story that could have had a very different ending. A story that HAS to be shared. (Names have been changed to protect identities.)
It was a beautiful, sun-shining Saturday afternoon here in Knoxville. Mom had left early that morning to help with an event at church and left Dad and the kiddos home to enjoy their Saturday together. The kids were outside playing in the yard while Dad was just yards away working in the open garage. The weather, absolutely perfect for a day of outside play. It was that very day that “the situation” occurred…
Two weeks later on a Tuesday night, little Emma pops into the kitchen and mentions “the situation” to her Mom as she is preparing a homemade pizza for dinner. Emma recalls, “that one time that the stranger came into the yard and tried to get Sam and me to come play baseball with him at his house.” (Can you imagine for one moment how you would feel if you child told you this?! Scared is an understatement.)
After talking to her beloved and questioning Sam (eight years old), Mom finds out that a man did approach the children. BOTH kids said that the man came in the yard and said (to Sam), “Do you like to play ball?” Sam said he did and the man said, “Do you want to come play baseball at my house?” Sam said he’d have to check with his Daddy and BOTH kids ran to the garage. TOGETHER.
This happened in their very own yard.
While a parent was close by.
When Dad went to see who the person was, the person was gone. Sam said he was SURE the man was nice. The man was VERY friendly and surely HE wasn’t one of the tricky people that they had talked about before.
Does this story give you goosebumps? Does it make you sick? Does it make you want to hug your babies?
Folks, this family lives in a good neighborhood. They are good people. This just reinforces that this type of situation can happen to ANYONE and we need educate our children on these matters. How, you ask? There are several ways in which you can discuss this type of thing with your children without making it too scary for them. Here are some ways that you can talk to your children about, or open a discussion about strangers:
Read children’s books about this exact scenario
The books listed above are just a few that can be used to introduce the concept of strangers. Take turns asking and answering questions about the facts in the book.
Discuss the concept of strangers
Ask your kids “Do you know what a stranger is?” If they don’t know already, tell them it is someone that they don’t know. To avoid frightening them you could say that it is not necessarily a good person or a bad person, it is just simply someone that they don’t know.
Make it a game. You don’t have to make it scary. Bringing up “What if?” questions is a great opportunity to talk out situations and scenarios. Talk about real life situations, “If you were by yourself in the yard playing and a nice man came up and asked you to go play baseball with him, what would you do?”
Avoid Saying Super Scary Things
No need to say things like, “Someone could take you and then we will never see each other again!” Keep it simple and calm. Talk about the dos and the don’ts. If your child has a specific question about strangers and why you are having the discussion, you could say something to the effect of “I just want to make sure we always follow the rules. I want to makes sure we keep each other safe.”
Create a Secret Family Code Word
My Mom did this with me wayyyy back in the 80s and I thought it was the COOLEST.FAMILY.THING.EVER! Make it awesome for your family too! Select an easy to remember but obscure family code word that only your family knows. Teach your children that if anyone offers them a ride, says they need them to come with them, etc., they need to know the code word. If the person doesn’t know the code word then the child should not go with them.
I say all of this, not to scare you, but to make you aware. Just because you live in a great neighborhood and have an expensive fence around your yard, doesn’t mean this can’t happen to you. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) nearly 800,000 children are reported missing each year. That is about 2,000 children A DAY! NCMEC says 58,200 children are abducted by non-family members. This is case and point that we need to be educating our children and providing them the tools to stand up and be brave when/if they are ever in a situation like Sam and Emma were in.
What techniques have you used to open this type of discussion with your children?