7 Smart Ways to Protect Your Child from Predators

Worried about predators, both strangers and those you might know? Here are 7 smart ways to protect your child from predators.

Protect Your Child from PredatorsYou’ve heard the advice a zillion times: “Don’t talk to strangers!”

Now we know that that advice isn’t always so effective. For one thing, 90% of child sexual abusers are people we know and trust.

Second, not all strangers are terrible. When kids are lost, they may have to rely on a stranger’s concern and kindness.

So, how can we protect our kids?

To start, it’s not about having one “big talk” and calling it a day. It’s a constant and evolving conversation, of slipping in the topic when it feels appropriate to do so.

Still, the thought of harm coming to our kids can send many of us feeling anxious and scared. While we can’t protect them from everything, we can still equip them with tools to make these horrible scenarios less likely.

As a mom, I want my kids to know about safety when we’re out and about as well as the boundaries they’re entitled to have, even among loved ones. Here are some of the tips that have helped us talk about these tricky topics, even from a young age:

1. If lost, stay put

One reason “Don’t talk to strangers!” doesn’t always work is because these “creepy” strangers we’ve painted aren’t your typical predators. They’re friendly, approachable, and trustworthy. They look like they know what they’re doing and will work to warm kids up to them.

I tell my kids that, should they get lost, they should stay in the same place and not wander. And if anyone claims to be a friend and says he’ll take them to find their parents is not a friend. The only response to that is, “I’m staying put.”

After all, if the person was a concerned adult, he would notify an employee—not take them somewhere else.

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2. Describe what employees look like

“You see how the employees are all wearing white shirts and have name tags around their necks?” I pointed out to my kids as we entered a museum. “If you get lost and need to tell someone, talk to someone who has that same shirt and name tag.”

I do this with my kids, pointing out what employees look like. I describe telltale signs such as name tags and uniforms and describe where they’re located or what they do. “Talk to the people who sell the fruits and vegetables,” I tell them when we go to the farmers market.

I also tell them that if they can’t find an employee, their next best bet is someone who looks like a mom. The bottom line? They should be more discerning about whom they ask for help.

3. Have no secrets

One year, I threw my husband a surprise birthday party. I didn’t mention anything about secrets, because we don’t keep any—we talked about surprises instead. I said my husband had no idea about the party, but said nothing about keeping it a secret.

Why should you not have secrets? Predators rely on children keeping a secret as if it were a special bond between them and the child. Or he may encourage the child to keep a secret to protect his parents’ feelings or to not disappoint them.

This leads me to…

4. Watch your reaction

Sometimes kids feel like they need to keep things a secret for fear of how we’ll react.

This is why it’s so important to watch your reactions around your child. Can she tell you something disappointing yet still know that you love her, no matter what? Can you make a distinction between her actions (“You did a bad thing”) and herself (“You’re a bad girl”)?

Let her know that her actions don’t define her or how much you love her.

I tell my kids I love them no matter what, and give the reasons. I love you even if you’re throwing a tantrum and even when you’re upset at me. I love you when you’re sleeping, and I love you all the time for who you are.

Should any person try to convince your child to keep a secret because her parents won’t love her if she doesn’t will sound untrue.

5. Stop inappropriate behavior

No one wants to be overly suspicious, especially around the people you love and trust. Still, your child should know what’s appropriate behavior and what’s not. Predators don’t usually pounce on a child—they work their way up, they groom, they earn trust. And they test the waters.

Cutting behavior I’m not comfortable with shows my kids what’s okay and not. Should anything seem out of the ordinary, they know better than to assume it’s normal. Most importantly, they know they can listen to their gut and say something, even if no ill will was intended.

Make sure lines aren’t crossed. After all, certain people play a certain role in our lives. Listen to your gut when you notice an adult lavishing your child with gifts galore when others aren’t. Or when it seems like he feels uncomfortable with physical affections from others.

And while it’s important to let kids know about no one touching their private parts, predators start slow. They might offer a massage or kiss them on the lips or hang out alone in a separate room. Put your foot down on behavior you wouldn’t want your child to assume is normal, and listen to your gut.

Even if these are likely innocent intentions, you can still set boundaries you and your child aren’t comfortable with.

Similarly, call private parts by their correct anatomical names, not silly ones to giggle about.

Read 3 compelling reasons kids don’t have to hug everyone.

Reasons Your Child Doesn't Have to Hug Everyone

6. Respect your child’s boundaries

“I want privacy,” my kids will say.

This could be anything from changing their clothes to writing in a journal. No matter how simple, we honor that request.

After all, we’re establishing boundaries. Should anyone try to invade your child’s privacy and personal space, she’ll know something is off. She also understands that she has a right to her privacy and that no one can force her to give it up.

Similarly, respect her when she says “no.” For instance, put a stop to sibling teasing after someone has said “no” or “stop.” To ignore this sends the message to the teaser that he doesn’t have to stop, and the teased that her voice doesn’t matter.

7. Adults can be wrong

I’ve long been a fan of apologizing to kids. Doing so not only respects them but shows them how fallible we are as well. We’re not always right. It’s okay for them to say “no” to adults when they believe in something.

Let’s say an adult tries to sway them to do something they’re not comfortable with. I’d rather that they trust their gut, even if it means going against authority. And I reiterate that should anyone cross the line, they should tell me no matter what.


We can’t protect our kids from everything—even the worst things happen to the kindest and most vigilant people. Still, we can develop habits that make it difficult for others to harm them, to lessen those chances, and swift action should any need to be taken.

And remember, don’t have just “one big talk.” This isn’t a one-time conversation.

No, it’s an ongoing conversation. One that starts before kids can talk or understand what we’re saying, and is often said not with words, but by our actions. It means respecting their bodies and boundaries. Listening. Watching our reactions. Setting expectations.

And hopefully, fewer children will have to wonder whether to reveal an ugly truth or not.

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  1. This is a great list. So important. Sharing this.

    1. Thanks, Leilani. Much appreciated!

  2. As a new parent, I am terrified of this happening to my child. May I ask how you go about choosing babysitters? My daughter is 2 1/2 and I have yet to leave her with anyone to go out on a date with my husband, run errands, etc. I just can’t seem to bring myself even with close friends, and we don’t live near family that we’d trust. I keep telling myself that I want to wait until she’s old to enough to clearly communicate with me. I’m afraid that if something happened, she wouldn’t have the words or understanding to tell me. Anybody else struggle with this? What precautions do you take with your kids when employing sitters, nannies, etc.?

    1. I hear you, Haley. I can count three people who took care of my kids their entire life before we eventually hired a nanny: my mom, my husband’s mom and my aunt. Even surrounded with a zillion family members, I only had them take care of my eldest.

      Eventually, we hired a nanny to care for our twins when they were five months old (my eldest was already in preschool by that point). It was strange because she was someone we absolutely didn’t know. What reassured me though were the background checks and calling her referrals. Her past employers gave glowing reviews. You can also get a copy of their ID and any other identification like a license plate number (with her permission of course).

      And of course your “gut” feeling. I interviewed several nannies and the one we chose just seemed right compared to the others. Not that I thought the others would necessarily harm my kids, but the one we hired just seemed right.

      I love your question though and would love to post it on the Facebook page to see what others have done. It’s definitely something I struggled with, but since I had no option but to hire a nanny, we ended up going that route.

    2. Mother of4Girls says:

      I often ask our local church for kids they recommend from youth group, then I invite them to join me to be a mothers helper for a couple of times before they are allowed to watch my kids alone. (Paid of course). I would not trust a male relative, not because male relatives are inherently bad, but because the risk is for both parties and I would hate to ever doubt a relative. If I was really concerned I would install spy cameras.

  3. When I teach a group of kids street safety I ask them to yell in their loudest voice “You’re not my mom, you’re not my dad…I shouldn’t be with you” if someone they don’t know tries to take them somewhere. If I know the child lives in a different situation then I teach them to use whatever name they use for their caregiver…or guardian.

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Great tip, Naomi! Thanks for adding it. So important to equip kids with an action plan should someone try to steer them elsewhere. I’m going to tell that to my kiddos later. ~Nina

  4. Great article! I thought that I would add (for #2, particularly). You could set up a password system between you and people you trust to watch your kid for you or is helping you in searching for your missing child.
    From the child’s perspective, they can ask for the password, if the password is wrong, then your kid will know there’s a dangerous stranger there. Getting it right means that they know their parents and is wanting their safe return.

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Thanks for the suggestion, Eric!