“Adults are going to be better at manipulation; they are physically stronger and they are able to trick children,” said Children at Risk in Ireland’s acting national clinical director Majella Ryan.
“A lot of parents worry about talking with their children about sexual abuse. They think it will ruin their childhood and steal their innocence. But we teach children about lots of dangers that exist in the world and it is really important that they know that some adults do not know how to keep them safe.
“We can teach them that there are bad grown-ups in the world that can try and trick them to go with them, whether it is in their car or into their house.”
Ms Ryan said it was every parent’s job to keep children safe and insist they are not allowed to go with strangers, no matter what they offer them.
“Parents don’t have to make a big deal of talking to their children about staying safe. It can be part of a conversation that takes place regularly. You don’t want children terrified, but you want them prepared.”
Ms Ryan said the issue could be discussed in an age-appropriate way. “You can say to a younger child some grown-ups do not know how to keep children safe and it is not OK to go with strangers no matter what they tell you and they might try and trick them to go with them, but you don’t do that. A younger child will get the message.”
Ms Ryan said children were more vulnerable when they were in a different environment and with adults with whom they were not familiar.
She said it was likely that the children would have anxiety problems and would need to have access to an age-appropriate service that was play-based.
Ms Ryan said parents could make a plan with their child on how to deal with strangers.
“Parents can ask their children what would they do if something like that happened to them and listen carefully to their suggestions because they might not be practical or helpful.
“So, if a child says: ‘I’ll hit him,’ the parent could ask if that was the best plan. Of course, the best plan is for the child to run and get help at the nearest place possible.”
Ms Ryan said having a plan would help children to feel less anxious.
Chief executive of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre Ellen O’Malley-Dunlop said parents could agree on a safe word for family and friends.
“If a child is approached by an adult who is a stranger to them, he or she could ask what’s the word and will know not to have anything to do with someone who doesn’t know it.”
‘We should all be vigilant and keep our children safe.”
* Parents can call CARI’s national helpline: 1890 924567 or the DRCC’s National 24-hour Helpline:1800 778 888 for help and advice.