ITSADELUSION: Children and dangerous situations

Here are my ideas about how to teach children to deal with potentially dangerous situations, such as how to deal with strangers, how to say no to riding in a car with a drunk driver, and so on.

The steps:

  1. Talk about the issues with your child.
  2. Demonstrate the proper responses.
  3. Have the child practice the proper responses with you.
  4. Have the child practice the proper responses with other people, including people your child doesn't know.

Step 1.

Talk about the issues: This has been discussed in many other forums.

Step 2.

Demonstrate the proper responses in each situation that may arise.

Verbal responses: Regardless of the child's age, say to your child exactly what you want him or her to say in a situation.

Behavioral responses: Demonstrate to your child exactly how you want him or her to react in any given situation.

  1. Example with strangers: Pretend that your spouse (or a friend) is actually a stranger. Have the "stranger" approach you and talk to you. Respond to the "stranger" exactly how you want your child to respond, including both physical behavior and language.
  2. Example with texting while driving: Have your spouse or a friend sit in the car's drivers seat and take out a phone to text. Respond the way you want your child to respond.
  3. Example with getting into a car with a chemically altered driver: Pretend that your spouse is drunk or high and going to drive somewhere, and he or she is asking you to get into the car as a passenger. Respond the way you want your child to respond.

Step 3.

Have the child practice the proper responses with you: First, have the child repeat the proper verbal responses to you until they can say them naturally and spontaneously. Then, repeat the examples as in step 2, but with the child in the situation and responding.

Step 4.

Have the child practice the proper responses with other people, including people your child doesn't know. Do this exactly like in step 3, but with some of your friends, including some that your child doesn't know, as the "stranger." If you practice with other children and their parents (see "Tips" below), have the other adults bring a friend so the children can practice with a complete stranger.


  1. Don't wait until your children reach puberty to begin this teaching them these lessons. The younger your children are when you start teaching them these lessons, the more likely they will do what they are taught when they become adolescents and adults. I recommend starting this process when children are 3 or 4 years old, even for issues that won't likely arise until adolescence, such as refusing to ride with a driver who is chemically altered or learning to never text or talk on a phone while driving.
  2. Practice in groups with other children and their parents. Children are often together when potentially dangerous situations arise. If children practice the proper responses to these situations together, they are much more likely to support each other and act appropriately when a dangerous situation arises.
  3. The strangers in practice situations should be both men and women. Children may respond differently to each gender.
  4. Try to practice in a realistic environment. For example, practice stranger avoidance in a store or outside their school. Practice anything to do with driving in or around the car.
  5. For peer pressure issues, such as responding to a driver who decides to text or talk on the phone while driving, it is important for children to practice with people their own age and with older adults. Children who are older than your child are likely to be more persuasive than same age peers. Also, children should practice with both boys and girls because some children will respond differently to each gender. Find the most charismatic, charming, persuasive adolescents you can find to play the "villain."
  6. Be sure that the person who is role playing the "villain" tries very hard to be convincing. Use every persuasion tactic that you know.
  7. Regarding strangers:
    1. Teach your child to never engage a stranger. Regardless of how much you have told your child, or how much he or she has practiced, the more your child talks to a stranger, the more likely it is that your child will do what the stranger wants your child to do. This is true at any age.
    2. Language: Children should use simple language that is not engaging or provocative. For instance, say "No thanks, I'm not going to talk to you. Please go away." If the stranger persists, the child should repeat a phrase such as "No thanks" over and over in response to whatever the stranger says. Children should never give reasons for their behavior, such as "my mom said I shouldn't talk to strangers," because a stranger can use this phrase to engage the child. For instance, the stranger might say, "Your mother's really smart. What else has your mother taught you?" or "I'm not a stranger, I work with your mother."
    3. Behavior: Children should physically disengage the situation by walking away, if possible, or turning away and engaging some other task such as talking to a friend. If a child stands idle after being approached by a stranger, the child is more likely to eventually engage the stranger. If the child carries a cell phone, teach him or her call you immediately if the stranger persists. It is important that the child has something else to do if approached by a stranger.
  8. Regarding texting and talking on the phone while driving:
    1. If your child sees or hears about you talking on the phone or texting while driving, chances are very high that your child will also talk on the phone and/or text while driving, regardless of anything else you say, do, or practice together.
    2. Install an app on your cell phone that blocks calls while you are driving. Every time you get into the car with your child, activate the app and tell the child exactly what you are doing. Say something like,"This app will stop anyone from texting or calling me while we're driving. I always use it because it's very dangerous to talk on the phone or text while driving," or, "There, incoming calls are blocked so we can drive safely." Teach your child how to activate those apps and have him or her activate the app every time you drive together.
  9. Repeat the process at least once a year until your child is 16 or 17 years old.
  10. If you want your child to act a certain way, then you act that way. Children mimic their parent's behavior, often even if told to behave differently. Even if a child only hears about a parent's behavior, but doesn't see that behavior directly, he or she is likely to mimic it.