We had a question via our iPhone App from an aunt who wanted to talk to her twin 4 year old nephews about "stranger danger". Unfortunately, this topic has been in the news quite frequently lately with child abduction cases being reported all around the country.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has numerous resources for educating children about safety. Interestingly, most perpetrators are not actually strangers, but are often someone the parents or another adult knows and may have been around the child on occasion. So, it seems that "stranger danger" may not be the appropriate term to use when teaching our children, especially younger, children about safety.
It is important that the conversation about safety begins with children at young ages. It is often easier to use teachable moments to begin the conversation with young children. Talk to your child about "safe" strangers, as it is hard for a child to understand why you are talking to grocery store clerks, or people on the playground in the park, and yet they are strangers.
It may be best to teach a child to watch out for dangerous behaviors from adults, rather than saying "never talk to strangers". Talk about adults who might approach them for directions, or to find a missing pet and role play as to what they should do. At the same time, teach them that they can turn to "strangers" such a store clerks or mothers with children for help if they are scared.
While talking about this subject use a calm reassuring manner. You do not want to make your child "too" anxious as most people they will meet are not dangerous, and children do need to interact and trust numerous people around them that they will meet in different situations.
Another good way to discuss the issue of "stranger danger" is by reading books to young children that deal with the issue. Several good books that I like are: The Berenstein Bears Learn About Strangers; A Stranger in the Park; I Can Play it Safe. There are many other books out there too, so head to your library or your local bookstore to get some more recommendations. The librarians are often helpful with finding "age appropriate" books.
Lastly, this is not a one time conversation, but should be discussed at different ages and stages of your child's