How Talking to My Sons About “Tricky People”—Not Just “Strangers”—Saved Their Lives

tricky people

Quick backstory. Actually, I’m incapable of condensing anything so it can be considered “quick” but I’ll try. Three days ago I was in the shower around 8:30am when it felt like I was shot in my left ovary. You didn’t see that one coming, did you? ? In short, it was an unbearable pain that had me doubled over, light-headed, and incredibly nauseous. Well, with the help of some unseen angels, truly, I somehow got enough clothes on my body to be decent, and drove my four kids and myself five minutes to the ER. (My husband was out of town which has proven to be a common theme in our house when family emergencies arise.)

In a moment of what I deem foggy-thinking “pain brain” I left my two oldest boys–CJ (10) and T-Dawg (8) outside the ER door on a bench to await our kind neighbor who said he was coming to pick them up and take them to school (thanks to my parents who arranged all this while I was driving to the ER). My younger two and I went inside to see if we couldn’t figure out what the heck was causing the pain. Spoiler alert: Ruptured ovarian cyst. Really fun stuff.

It wasn’t until my boys came home from school at 3:30pm, that I found out they had been waaaay late to school. I had wrongly assumed my neighbor was coming from his house (not somewhere farther away), so my two boys sat out front of the ER for 40 minutes. Not the 5 minutes I had expected. Their story of what had transpired while I had stupidly left them out there alone made me simultaneously sick and grateful.

tricky people

In that 40 minutes of obedient sitting and waiting, my two boys experienced their first real-world experience with the freaky, perverted strangers they’ve been intermittently warned about. While on that bench, they were approached by an adult female and two punk males who asked them if they’d “help them out by going into the bathroom where her boyfriend was hiding from the doctor and see if they could convince him to come out and get treated.” Yes, I’m serious that’s what they said. Even after CJ replied, “No, thank you” they kept at them.

“Please? You could really save his life if you’d just go in that bathroom and tell him it’s safe to come out.”

CJ said he returned all three of their pleas for help with a “no, thank you” (each stronger than the last) before they finally let up. Shortly afterward, the neighbor showed up and my boys jumped in his car, but, not before they saw a third adult male come out from the bathroom, jump into the car with these other three hooligans and drive off.

My mouth hung open the entire time they relayed this account.

Tricky People

My anger and shock turned to immense gratitude, however, when I heard CJ spout off a family “stay safe” rule we went over way too long ago that helped him know these creeps were up to no good. Most specifically, a tip for identifying a “tricky person.”

CJ: “Mom, I knew they were tricky people because they were asking us for help. Adults don’t ask kids for help.”

Have you heard of the tricky people concept?  Tricky people are the new strangers. Pattie Fitzgerald, the creator of Safely Ever After where the tricky people concept originated says, “Stop telling your kids not to talk to strangers. They might need to talk to a stranger one day. Instead, teach them which sorts of strangers are safe.”

One of her guidelines for knowing what people are unsafe is the rule CJ remembered in time of need–tricky people ask kids for help. If a safe adult needs help, they’ll ask another adult. Not a kid. Here are more prevention tips, red flags, and 10 rules for kids.

Click on and read all that information if you haven’t already. Please. Hold family meetings where you talk about and role play these concepts periodically. This experience has made me grateful that we had gone over this in the past, but even more so, it’s made me determined to continue going over these stay safe rules. Regularly.

When it’s all said and done, the phrase “knowledge is power” undoubtedly applies to our kids keeping themselves safe. We know we won’t always be physically present to protect our kids from everything–I’m sure you lose sleep over this like I do. But, we can empower them and give them confidence by teaching them what they can do in these kind of situations.

I know our next family meeting will involve CJ teaching his siblings about identifying tricky people, and us interjecting information to fill the holes in our teaching we noticed from this experience. Like for instance, there is no need to be polite to an adult that is making you uncomfortable. Thank you Texas for teaching my boys your dreamy Southern hospitality but in the event adults are making my kids uncomfortable or are asking them to break their stay safe rules, a “no thank you” is not required.

Sigh. I shared this whole experience with you so you could learn from it. Like we have. If you haven’t already, take the necessary time to establish your own family stay safe rules–the links I’ve included in this post are a great place to start. If you’ve already got your family stay safe rules in place, re-visit them. And don’t forget the tricky person concept because let’s face it, our kids are growing in a world that’s replete with them.

Update: I have since contacted Pattie Fitzgerald, founder of Safely Ever After mentioned above, in regards to whether or not her two children’s books on Amazon teach the tricky people concept. Her reply is below for those of you interested in using a book to help you teach this and other stay safe concepts to your children: 

“My book No Trespassing – This Is MY Body! is all about private parts/personal safety and thumbs up touches vs. thumbs down touches.  It’s very child friendly and not weird or yucky.  Just good common sense in kid-friendly language.

It doesn’t touch upon the tricky people concept very much, but my second book does.  It’s called Super Duper Safety School. It takes the safety rules and explains each one in child-friendly terms that make sense and are empowering.  It covers tricky people, being the boss of your body, the uh-oh feeling, check first, and much more.  Both are available on Amazon.”


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Jodie Norton
Jodie Norton is a mom in the depths of the child-raising trench. Her current ambitions in life are to have her house stay clean for more than ten seconds and to raise kids who aren't afraid of hard work. She has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education, is an avid reader of all things parenting, and is a fan of working alongside her kids. Most days. Jodie currently resides in Southern Utah with her husband and four kids in-training. Check out her website at