By the HELP Committee and Havre Public Schools for Havre Daily News
As tourists visit Montana and rodeos, carnivals and fairs fill the calender, it is time to think about who you really know. Do you really know someone or do you just recognize him/her from someplace?
While children are often told not to talk to strangers, for a child, the word "stranger" is an odd term. Children do not separate recognizing the person from knowing the person. In order for a child to comprehend the differences between recognition and knowing someone, keep rules simple and short so children will remember them. For example: "Never go anywhere with anyone without permission." A rule like this takes all the confusion out of a situation. Mom and Dad have said "never," so the child knows that there is no exception to the rule. If a stranger asks a child for directions or for help to find a lost pet, the child knows that she or he is not allowed to leave without asking Mom or Dad.
Telling your children the rules is a start. Practicing is the next step. Children practice fire drills, tornado warnings, and what to do if lost. Do the same with situations involving strangers. Offer your children different situations and have them rehearse a response.
Go over it with them and help them know the way to handle the situation. Confident children are those who are ready for most situations, and predators generally steer clear of confident children. Most target isolated or very shy children. Help your children be confident by preparing them without scaring them.
Stories of horrible abductions can have a negative result when preparing your children. The stories can so terrify them that when faced with a bad situation they freeze up. Make sure your children know to come to you or another trusted adult if anyone makes them feel uncomfortable.
Another thing children need to know is that it is OK to say "no" to an adult. This doesn't mean that children can get out of chores or responsibilities. But if an adult they do not know asks something of the child, they can say "no" and go find a trusted adult. This can be very empowering to children.
Children are often told not to talk back to adults. But parents need to help them discern the difference between talking back and self-preservation. Again simple rules come into play: It is OK to say no to anyone who is asking you to do something or go somewhere without permission.
The following is a brief list of simple rules to use with your children to help keep them safe when strangers are around.
Never go anywhere without permission.
Never let anyone know that you are home alone.
Never let anyone in the house when you are alone.
Always get permission to go someplace, even with your friends.
Always stay with a buddy when going for walks or bike rides.
If someone tries to take you somewhere without permission, scream, "This is not my father/mother!"
If you become lost, do not look for your parents. Go directly to a trusted adult or store checkout stand and ask for help. (Parents, it is also good to designate an assigned meeting place with your child in case you get separated.)
If you have any questions about strategies that help keep children safe from strangers, please contact the HELP Committee and Boys & Girls Club of the Hi-Line, at 265-6206.