While expat children tend to enjoy a greater degree of freedom in the UAE than they would in their home countries, where the crime rate is invariably higher, it's clear from recent events that parents need to be vigilant. Just last month, after a possible attempted abduction of a pupil, Dubai College urged parents to warn their children against accepting lifts from strangers.
While no parent looks forward to the prospect of talking to their child about the danger of strangers, if you lose your child in the mall you'll be exceedingly glad that you did. Here are the do's and don'ts of teaching your child to be safe.
Do: Help children recognise the warning signs of suspicious behaviour. Explain that an adult may be overly friendly or affectionate; they may ask for help with finding a lost pet or offer a sweet. Or a stranger could purport that they've been asked by the child's parents to collect them.
Don't: Wait to have the talk. "Children younger than six years are unlikely to put into practise what you teach them regarding stranger danger," says Amy Bailey, a clinical psychologist at kidsFIRST Medical Center, Dubai (www.kidsfirst.ae). "However, it is still important to introduce the idea of being wary of strangers from a young age by modelling this to the child in their everyday environment. Talk to the child about the people they know, and the people they don't know, for example a nursery schoolteacher as opposed to a security guard."
Do: Remain calm. "If you sound fearful this may panic your child and make them less likely to listen and learn," says Bailey.
Don't: Make all strangers appear bad. Explain that safe strangers are people children can ask for help when they need it, such as police officers. Also, show your children places where they can go if they need help, such as local shops and restaurants and the homes of family friends in your neighbourhood.
Do: Make it clear that if a stranger approaches them and makes them feel uncomfortable, they should shout, run away and tell an adult.
Don't: Forget to deliver the information in an age-appropriate manner. "Younger children need repeated conversation supplemented with play to retain important information, whereas older children are more able to discuss the topic using real-life examples to aid their understanding. Always check back that what your child has understood from you is correct," advises Bailey.
Do: Explain that you can't tell the difference between a nice stranger and a bad stranger just by looking at them. "One way I begin an assembly about stranger danger is by showing the children a slide show of people's faces," says Peter Moore, the head of primary school at the Dubai British School. "I then ask them to identify the bad ones. The very point you're trying to make is that it's impossible to differentiate between a 'good' person and a 'bad' person. It's actually best for children to exercise caution with all strange adults."