. . . if your child is ever lost in public, the ability to talk to strangers is actually the single greatest asset he could have.~ Gavin de Becker, Protecting the Gift: Keeping Children and Teenagers Safe (and Parents Sane)
At a visit to the zoo last month we saw a little boy sitting on the ground leaning against a wall, head in his hands, crying loudly. I paused as we went by him for a closer look to see if I could perceive what was wrong and if I could help, and during that short pause a couple other mothers went up to him asking him if he was lost. I overheard that, yes, he was lost, and he went off with one of the ladies. I felt so relieved to see him getting help, and especially that he was getting help from mothers, since women (and even more specifically mothers) are the best people for our children to ask for help from when they are lost because women are statistically safer than men and they are more likely to commit to helping children until they are safe (see Best Advice for a Lost Child.
One of the odd things that we parents have been told for so many years is that we should teach our children not to talk to strangers. It's an illogical rule, though, and even potentially dangerous, because, for example, parents often present confusing exceptions to their children such as when they tell their children to say "hi" to people they don't know, and if children get lost, how will they be able to seek help if they don't talk to strangers? It's safer for our children to choose who to go to for help rather than wait until someone comes asking them if they need help, so instead of telling our children not to talk to strangers, it's crucial that we teach our children about how to talk to strangers and about listening to their intuition.
When teaching our children (and ourselves!) about this issue, we should focus on being aware of other people's behavior rather than whether or not they are a "stranger" (see How do I change what I’ve taught my youngster about talking to strangers?). Safety expert Gavin de Becker explains in his book Protecting the Gift: Keeping Children and Teenagers Safe (and Parents Sane) that "The issue isn’t strangers, it is strangeness." He goes on to say, "It is inappropriate behavior that’s relevant: a stare held too long, a smile that curls too slowly, a narrowing or widening of the eyes, a rapid looking away. The muscles in the face are instruments of communication, resulting in an eloquent language that can put us at ease or give us the creeps."
To learn more, here are some helpful resources about talking to strangers and child safety. . .
Teach Your Kids How to Talk to Strangers
Excerpt from Chapter Five ("Talk to Strangers") from Gavin de Becker’s "Protecting the Gift: Keeping Children and Teenagers Safe (and Parents Sane)."
Gavin de Becker Answers Questions About Child Safety
Protecting the Gift: Keeping Children and Teenagers Safe (and Parents Sane) - an excellent book by Gavin de Becker that I would encourage all parents to read.