Link to Hello Darling on your blog!

<a href="" title="Hello, Darling"><img src="" alt="MOPS International blog" /></a>

Thanks for subscribing!

Get ready for a weekly digest of great stuff from our site!

Don't worry, if you get tired of us you can unsubscribe any time from your email preferences.

Whoops, we couldn't subscribe you

We have to know your email to subscribe you, so check that you're logged in or enter it in the box below.

If you don't have account yet, it is super easy to make one!

Whoops, we didn't quite catch that.

We don't allow anonymous comments, so check that you're logged in.

If you don't have account yet, it is super easy to make one!

Keeping Kids Safe

by Dr. Henry Cloud & Dr. John Townsend


June 4, 2014

Keeping Kids Safe

Q: How do I keep my preschoolers safe during activities this summer because they’re more likely to wander when we’re outside, and they also have more opportunities to talk to strangers?

A: This is a good question probably year-round and not just during the summer months. But summer does provide one huge difference, which is the best way to think about this problem. The difference is that built-in structure goes away during summer.

During the school year, preschoolers often spend some part of the week in structured activities that take care of this safety issue. But in the summer, most programs have ended. So, the question really becomes, “What kind of structure will keep my children safe?”

In Galatians 4, Paul uses two words when he’s speaking of parenting: guardian and manager. Those two functions are what kids need all the time, so think of it this way: Guard your kids from the things that they cannot guard themselves from and manage their behavior and development along the way.

In terms of guarding, there are three big things to think about: space, activities and people.

  1. Kids need to be in protected spaces, where they cannot wander away. So, fences or supervision are always needed with preschoolers. Make sure you choose fenced-in yards or have someone there watching them at all times.
  2. Pick play areas and activities that are safe, where they won’t be pushing the limits of their abilities. 
  3. Don’t leave preschoolers in places where strangers could approach them without supervision. Even though they should already be learning not to talk with strangers, do not leave them alone in parks or other places. They are too young.

In terms of the “managing” aspect, use these times to look ahead to see what would happen when you’re not there with your kids. Around age 3 to 4, tell your children what the rules are at the play area, then step back where you’re not visible and watch what happens. If they go out of the space, or do things they’re not supposed to or talk to people they shouldn’t, use those times as learning moments.

Give them a time-out from play to teach them that they cannot do those things if they want to have the freedom to play and have fun. Make the time-out meaningful by having them sit down by themselves and watch everyone else play and have fun. Then ask them to tell you what they did wrong and how they’re going to do it differently next time.

Managing your kids instead of nagging and correcting them will lead to children whose boundaries for space, activities and people can get bigger and bigger as they learn to manage themselves. (See our book, Boundaries With Kids, for more on this topic.)

Now, lest all of this seems too labor-intensive, remember: It takes a village. Summer is a great time to get a group of your friends together and plan play dates so that everyone gets blocked-out times off while your buddies are watching the kids. No need for you to be working all the shifts!


Drs. Cloud and Townsend are psychologists, leadership coaches and the authors of many books, selling over 5 million copies, including Raising Great KidsBoundariesBoundaries with Kids and Mom Factor — as well as the hosts of the syndicated national radio program “New Life Live."

Related topics: summer, play, parenting, home, fear

Share your thoughts

This article is really fantastic and thanks for sharing the valuable post.,,,


My son is a very friendly almost 4 year old. I keep a very close eye on him and up until now have kept him in a cart or stroller most of the time since he does not mind them and it was easier. I do not want my child to be afraid of strangers. If he gets separated from me what is he going to do? Everyone is a stranger. I have done a little reading about it. I tell him if he gets separated from mommy he should find a lady with kids or a baby and tell her that he is lost. A lady with kids is much more likely to follow thru and make sure that the child gets back to mommy. Bad people can be hiding in positions of authority, so just looking for an uniform is not always the answer. Now I need to do the next steps and talk to him about the very rare bad person that may come along and what they might say and what he can do. And the problem is that most of these people are not strangers. They are family friends, acquaintances and unfortunately sometimes family members.


It's such a hard balance of teaching kids the truth, but not having them be afraid of everybody. One thing I heard once is to teach kids that adults should not ask kids for help. So if somebody comes up and asks them to help them find their puppy or their child, they need to find another adult right away. There is so much to teach them!


The Safe Side videos are great for teaching children about strangers. Your library might carry them. My kids learned this technique when they were small and still talk about it.


Jennifer, thanks so much for passing on the tip! We're going to research them now!


I would love to hear more about parenting topics from father and mother and real stories about behavior.


Miriam, thanks so much for the feedback. We'll get right on that!


My two year old is so friendly. He says "hello" to everyone and while I know that down the line I will have to train him "not to talk to strangers" at the same time, I love his friendly innocence. I hate the thought of him losing this as I see it with older children who won't even return his hello and instead reply with a strange look. Isn't there a different approach to take to guard our children against the potential threat of "strangers"?


A good way to combat is just simply teaching safe trust skills. We've talked through with our older one to not go with anyone who is trying to get him to come look at something or see a puppy/animal or offering him treats. It's been a good chance to teach him about the importance of staying close to us because bad people do snatch kids in broad daylight.


Pennie, I wish there were an easy answer to this question. It's so hard to balance protecting our kiddos from danger, and squelching the kindness that comes with the innocence of kids. If you ever come up with a good balance, let us know!