The ‘tricky’ person rule

When our children were toddlers, my cousin in the United States and I sometimes compared notes.
There was one hilarious instance when at the laundromat, someone heard my cousin tell her daughter, “Dyan ka lang. Magpapapalit lang ako ng barya.”
The Filipina approached the little girl, “Good morning, anong pangalan mo?”
My cousin, slightly out of sight because of a small divider, overheard the conversation.
Little M screams, “Mommy! A stranger is talking to me!”
Woman: “Ay, hindi hindi. Okay lang tayo. Gusto mo ng candy?”
M: “MOOOOOMMMMYYYY!!! The stranger’s giving me candyyyyy!”
My cousin returned from the change machine, calmed her daughter down, begins talking to the woman, and gained a new friend.
Here in the Philippines, most of us have a number of protective measures against “strangers.” Most of us have yayas and family drivers who accompany our children and teens everywhere they go. All establishments have security guards. Yet these people are fallible, dependence on them for your child’s safety is not foolproof.
For Tsinoys, our primary fear is that our children may be kidnapped. Our family rule is thus “safety first.” When in public places, the girls are not allowed to run around. They have to hold my hand. I need to make sure that “bad people” do not suddenly carry them away.
Because my husband and I are almost paranoid about this, we do not go to large, crowded malls. Grocery shopping and any other shopping errands are done on weekdays. Movie weekends are in smaller malls with a lighter crush of people.
These days though, telling our children not to talk to strangers doesn’t seem enough. Now that they are growing up, they do need to approach strangers to ask for directions, help them shop, or ask for help if they are lost.
For getting lost, our usual rule is for them to go at once into a store, look for the cashier and tell them they are lost. They have memorized my mobile number so they can ask anyone in the store to text me where they are.
What I think I forgot to consider here is the timeline. What happens during those moments that the girls are panicking because they could not see us, and the time they remember to duck into a store? A stranger could approach them offering to help. But the rule is not to talk to strangers. Oh no! What a dilemma!
I learned something new recently which I promptly used to replace my own version of “Don’t talk to strangers” rule.
On the website of Safely Ever After Inc., an educational company dedicated to the prevention of childhood sexual abuse, the founder, Pattie Fitzgerald, teaches parents to use the concept of “tricky people” rather than “stranger danger.”
We need to teach our children to distinguish between shady characters and people who genuinely want to help them.
A tricky person is not about what the person looks like. It is about what the person wants the child to do or what they want to do to the child. The tricky person can even be someone the child knows.
In the Tsinoy context, the tricky person could be an employee at our tiam k’aw, or the nanny, or the driver, or even a relative or neighbor.
Before teaching our children about the Tricky Person, we need to establish safety rules first. In a previous article, I have written about one of our rules: There are no secrets, only surprises.
Here’s another one: my girls are not allowed out of the bathroom without their clothes on, and they are not to show their underwear to anyone.
This applies even at home. This establishes in their default mindset that private parts are private. If no one is allowed to see their private parts, then it follows that no one (except me and their pediatrician) is allowed to touch their private parts. If anyone should attempt to do so, they should immediately tell me or tatay about it.
This one has paid up in dividends!
During this summer’s swimming lessons, I only went with them twice. The rest of the time, the driver dropped them off and then fetched them afterward. They had to fend for themselves after the lessons.
One yaya there recounted to me the girls’ game plan for showering and putting on dry clothes. There is no separate dressing room in the shower area; nor a hook for their bag.
Both girls hang their towels over the door and leave the bag on a bench in the common area. Once done, Shobe wraps herself up in two towels – one as a shawl, the other as a wrap-around – gets the bag, returns to the stall and holds it open for Achi to dress up. Then Achi holds the bag for Shobe to get dressed. Neither exits the shower stall naked or just in their underwear.
For the tricky person rule to work, we need to teach our children how adults normally behave.
For example, adults will not ask children for directions, nor will adults ask a child they don’t know to help them with something.
We can role play scenarios with them to help them decide on their own. After all, we cannot be with them 24/7, so it is doubly important that they are able to discern tricky people for themselves. One scenario you can use is “If an adult in a restaurant asks your child who happens to walk by to call the waiter, what should your child do?”
This scenario is not perfect for the conditions you have set. Your child will need to make a judgment whether it is safe to do as the adult says.
All of these rules and safety concerns should be taught to our children in a loving and easy-going manner. Scaring them defeats the purpose because they may go through life fearful.
To sum up, we can use the “Never Never Rule” from Safely Ever After: “NEVER accept candy or treats, enter someone’s home, accompany someone, or get in a car with someone unless you have your parent’s permission FIRST.”
(Image from