How to Talk to Your Kids About “Tricky” Adults

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When my kids were younger, a friend suggested teaching them a code word. She described it as a family safety word. Anyone close to the family, like my sister, would be told the word so that if I had to send someone else to pick them up from school, the kids would know to leave with that person when the code word was whispered. That made sense to me. If my alarm goes off and I call the alarm company for help, I tell them our code word. Similar concept for a little added security.

Once I opened the door to that conversation, however, I found that my kids had a lot of questions. Why would someone else pick them up? What kind of emergency might happen? What if someone didn’t know the code word? What if it’s a complete stranger?

We had a detailed conversation about strangers, including that fact that many strangers are actually really nice and helpful. We practiced finding friendly faces and thought about ways to get help if we ever got separated in a crowded place. We even discussed the fact that it’s completely acceptable to scream if someone ever grabs at them and makes them feel uncomfortable.

The thing that was hard to talk about, though, was dealing with friendly foes.

“Tricky people” is the new phrase for familiar adults with bad intentions, though I’m not sure I’m sold on that. Kids can be fairly literal, and those “tricks” adults play can actually be quite subtle, so kids might fail to identify a tricky adult.

According to the latest statistics, 1 in 6 boys and 1 in 4 girls will be sexually abused before the age of 18. An estimated 60% of perpetrators are known to the child but are not family members, and 30% are family members. Only 10% are actually strangers to the child.

Scary, I know. Instead of living in fear, start talking to your kids. Not sure what to say? Start here:

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How to Talk to Your Kids About “Tricky” Adults

Katie Hurley, LCSW is a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist and writer in Los Angeles, CA. She is the author of "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" and "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World". She earned her BA in Psychology and Women's Studies from Boston College and her MSW from the University of Pennsylvania. She divides her time between her family, her private practice and her writing. Passionate about he ... More

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