How to Talk About Strangers to a 3- to 6-year-old

For children, from the time they're young, it's important that we talk to them about strangers and the importance of staying safe and knowing how to act in certain situations.
How to Talk About Strangers to a 3- to 6-year-old

Last update: 08 August, 2021

It’s important to talk about strangers with children between the ages of 3 and 6 so that they can distinguish between people they can trust and people they can’t trust because not doing so could put them at risk. From 2 to 3 years of age, children aren’t ready to have these kinds of conversations, but they’re ready for basic notions about their safety.

A 4-year-old child’s sure to have heard about the danger of talking to or approaching strangers, so we must take advantage of this and talk to them about the subject. At this age, we should never leave them without our supervision in a public place, because they aren’t yet able to control their impulses and haven’t developed enough good judgment yet.

How to start talking about strangers to children between the ages of 3 and 6?

It’s important that we take advantage of any situation with our children to explain things to them about their physical safety and the danger of approaching or talking to strangers. How should we do this?

Talk about physical safety in general

When we go out with our children, we’ll explain to them that they can’t let go of our hand, especially in crowded places, because they could get lost. It’s also important that we talk to them about crossing crosswalks when there’s no car coming or, if there’s a traffic light, crossing when the light’s green or the crosswalk light indicates that it’s okay to cross.

A mother talking to her toddler about strangers.

Teach them what the concept “stranger” means

Children are able to understand what a stranger is when they’re 4 years old or older. With these kids, we can explain that strangers are people we don’t know. Give them some examples, such as a lady you meet in the supermarket, a man you meet in the park, etc.

It’s important that you not scare your little ones into thinking that strangers are bad people. This isn’t the idea you want to transmit. Strangers are simply strangers because we don’t know them. Not every stranger’s bad–they just need to be careful just in case.

Tell them which people they can trust

At the same time, we can tell them which adults can help them and are trustworthy people, such as the teacher, the mother of a friend of theirs with whom you have a relationship, a policeman, etc.

Clarify the basic rules for dealing with people they don’t know

You can explain to them that if they find themselves lost in a supermarket or shopping mall, they should go to where they pay to say that they’re lost. That way, that the people who work there can look for you.

In addition, you need to tell him that, if this should happen, they shouldn’t move from there until the parents arrive. If at any time a stranger approaches them, they must immediately go to the person who’s taking care of them–parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc.–or another adult they can trust.

Don’t say scary things to your child

It’s important not to invent scary consequences to keep kids from approaching a stranger, talking to someone they don’t know, or leaving your side. For example, don’t tell them that a stranger’s going to kidnap them forever. By doing this, the only thing we do is to scare the child without any need. We need to explain things to the child but without being overly dramatic.

Repeat things several times

At this age, children learn by repetition, so you should explain all these things several times and remind them of the basic rules every time you find yourselves in the situation, such as when you’re going to cross the street, when you’re going to go on an outing, when you’re going to a place that’s busy, etc.

Teach them how they can find you

In order to find you when they’re lost, they should learn their full name, mom or dad’s full name, their home address, and your phone number. That way, if they get lost, they can give your number to someone who can call you to locate you. It’s important that you repeat this information many times so that they learn it by heart.

We can also give our children a card with all the information mentioned above so that they can always carry it with them. We can put it in their backpack or pocket and explain to them what it’s for and when they should use it.

Answers to their questions

When you talk about strangers with your children, they’re sure to have questions about this, and you must answer them so that they don’t have any doubts. Some of the most frequent questions that children often ask about this subject are the following:

“Mom, what if a stranger gives me some candy, what do I do?”

Children ask these questions when they’ve heard us grown-ups talking about this topic. Faced with this question, you must explain to your kids that, if a stranger offers them food, they should say firmly and politely that they don’t want it. Then, they should immediately look for the person they’re with–mom, dad, a grandparent, etc.

“Mom, what if someone wants to take me?”

Faced with this question, you have to tell him clearly that, if someone tries to take them or put their hand on them, they have to scream at the top of his lungs and ask for help. What’s more, they have to say that this person isn’t their daddy pr mommy and that they don’t know them.

“Mom, is my classmate’s mom a stranger?”

Perhaps, if we haven’t initially defined which adults they can trust, they’ll ask us this question. If we haven’t previously made it clear to them, it’s time to do so.

We have to explain to them that we do know this classmate’s mother from school and from time at the park, but that, for example, we don’t know the mailman. It’s important to go person by person explaining who’s a stranger and who isn’t.

In short, talking to a child about strangers is one of the most important things parents need to do. Young children aren’t aware of the danger of having contact with people they don’t know, as they’re pure innocence.

For this reason, parents must explain things to them in a clear way so that, in any situation, they know what to do. The physical safety of our children is our top priority, so we must make this issue very clear to them as soon as possible.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.