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A mum believes her sons were saved from potential abduction because of two words.

When Jodie Norton found herself doubled-over in pain in the shower one morning last year, she knew she had to get to the hospital. Her hurdle to help was a common one: She has four children, and two needed to get to school that morning.

Her solution, she thought, would be a pretty foolproof one. She drove to the local hospital with all four children in tow, organising for a neighbour to come and pick up the two eldest boys and take them to school from there.

Instead, what transpired was an alarming potential abduction scenario that was avoided only because her sons remembered a lesson she had taught them only weeks earlier: the “tricky person” concept.

As the US mum details on her blog Time Well Spent, her 10-year-old CJ and her 8-year-old T-Dawg waited patiently outside the hospital for their neighbour to arrive in what they assumed would be a five minute wait. It turned out to be 40.

“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,” she wrote.

“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.”

She went on to explain that the three adults pushed for some time for the boys to go inside the hospital bathroom until they finally let up in an experience she says made her feel “simultaneously sick and grateful”.

It wasn’t until the boys returned home from school that afternoon that she learned of what happened.

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“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’,” she explained.

So what exactly is a tricky person, and how does the safety rule work?

The ‘tricky person’ concept was created by Child Safety expert Pattie Fitzgerald who writes a lot about how ‘tricky people’ are the new ‘strangers’. She believes that at some point, kids will need to talk to strangers, so it’s more important to teach them what kinds of strangers are safe, and which ones are tricky.

Essentially, according to Fitzgerald, the idea is all about teaching kids that adults don’t ask little kids for help. If ‘safe’ adults really need help, they will ask another adult. Jodie wrote on her blog it was this that set off alarm bells in her 10-year-old’s mind, who told her he “knew they were tricky people because they were asking [them] for help. Adults don’t ask kids for help”.

Fitzgerald told TODAY Parents the concept of ‘tricky people’ gets kids thinking about the scenario and how it makes them feel.

“Instead of looking for the boogie man, a child should look for the person asking them to do something that doesn’t sound right or ask if the adult is trying to get them to break one of their family’s safety rules or trick them,” she told the program.

This Glorious Mess is our parenting podcast. A weekly look at parenting as it truly is: confusing, exhausting, inspiring and funny.

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