For most in our area, summer vacation has or is about to start. With playgrounds being off limits at the moment, and options for summer camps/day care being tricky to navigate in this Covid-19 climate, many kids have taken to playing outside to pass the time. They're outside in their neighborhoods biking, scootering, shooting hoops and just plain playing (like we did when we were young.) While its awesome to have the kids nearby, and playing together outside, it's important as parents not to settle in to a false sense of security and safety. Yes, we may live in Maine where we don't have the same level of crime as some other big cities, but there are still risks out there. And now is the perfect time to have that ever-important talk with your kids about strangers.

Crazy is everywhere. And the times we are living in right now have led some folks to desperate measures. That's not hype talking. It's just the way it is.

As parents, it's our job to make sure our kids are armed with information. Just as it's important to have a plan in case of a fire, it's also important for kids to know what to do if a stranger approaches them.

Last night I had a talk with my kids (who are 12, 9, 6 & 4). They've been spending more time outside biking and playing with their friends--and while they don't leave the neighborhood, there's been an increase in traffic down our street because of some construction projects nearby. So I thought it was time I checked in with them to see if they remembered what to do if someone they don't know comes up to them and asks them if they want a ride.

We talked about some of the different methods people might use to get their attention. We went through the neighborhood and talked about who lived in what house and what vehicle each neighbor drives. I want to make sure they are familiar with their surroundings. We talked about what to do and where to go if they felt scared or threatened. We talked about traveling in groups, not straying from the pack, and keeping an eye out on the younger kids who are playing with them. We talked about using our voice, and yelling, screaming and making a big fuss if anyone comes into our personal space and makes us feel uncomfortable. We also talked about trusting our instincts, not keeping secrets and talking to a trusted grown up if we feel worried about anything.

Then my 6 year old asked a question I hadn't expected. "If someone comes up to us, and we need to get away, and we run to a neighbors house, can we go inside? What about the Coronavirus? Will we get it? Or will we give it to our friends?"

I told her that if she was in a situation where someone was coming after her, it was more important that she get to a safe place first, then worry about the Coronavirus. She could worry about keeping her distance, washing her hands and not hugging people when she was no longer in any danger. (Mind you, this topic by itself is an uncomfortable to speak about. Adding the element of Covid-19 into the mix, and it can be even more anxiety inducing--for both the parents and the kids. )

For the most part, there's always an adult who has eyes on the kids when they play outside. I'm grateful to live in a neighborhood full of vigilant moms, dads and grandparents who are all on alert and nearby should something happen. But, on the off chance one of these kids ends up in a situation where there isn't a grown-up nearby and at the ready, I want them to know exactly what to do to keep themselves safe.

For tips on how to start talking with your kids about strangers, Parents.com has a good article with ideas on how to phrase things and what information kids should be learning at what age. Fatherly.com has some great thoughts on how to approach the idea of stranger danger with facts not fear. And the National Crime Prevention Council offers a pretty comprehensive look at what we can do as parents to inform our kids of the risks that are out there and how to handle them.

Bottom line, have the talk. Get them familiar with their surroundings. And develop a plan.

And it's worth mentioning that its also a good idea to keep an eye out for strange behavior, even when it doesn't involve your kid. If you notice a child is uncomfortable or looks in distress, don't look the other way. It's always worth asking the kid if there's a problem or if they need help. I'd rather look and feel like an idiot and be told no, then miss an opportunity to help someone in need.