Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Stranger Danger

In parenting, as with life in general, timing is everything. How do we know when they're ready to climb a ladder by themselves or go on their first unaccompanied playdate? Those tend to be fairly easy to suss out. The harder ones are the "talks." The "talks" where you try to impart some crucial life lesson. Crush the sea turtle in Finding Nemo may have said it the best, "You never really know. But when they know, you'll know. You know?"

My three and a half-year-old daughter, Bonnie, is one of the friendliest, most gregarious kids you could meet. She happily introduces herself to everyone she meets: "Hi! I'm Bonnie and this is my brother, Clyde. I'm three-and-a-half and he's one. He's having a Toy Story birthday party and I'm going to have a Max & Ruby birthday party. Do you know Max & Ruby? Did you know that our cousin's having a baby girl?" And on, and on, and on. Every cashier who's scanned our groceries knows that the ice cream's for daddy, the coffee is for mommy, and the Miralax helps Bonnie's poops. She's so friendly and so clearly delighted to talk with people that most people happily chat back with her and walk away knowing a whole lot about our family.

Her openness and willingness to make friends with everyone big, small, and canine delights me to no end. Lately though, I've started thinking about Stranger Danger and wondering when I need to have that talk with her.
I've been going back and forth about this for awhile. Then, the other day at the park, something happened and she knew and then I knew. More accurately, she really didn't know, which is what made me know, you know?

As a mother of two young toddlers, the main goal of a trip to the park (aside from wearing them out so they'll sleep well later) is just to keep everyone alive until we get home. This means that Clyde (who's only 1 1/2) gets most of my attention, as he's at the age where he'll try to walk off 6 foot ledges and attempt feats well beyond his skill level. Therefore, Bonnie, being a bit older, gets more free rein.

Back to the "telling" aspect of this trip to the park. Bonnie met and befriended a little girl her age and they were happily playing. I was at a different play structure catching Clyde as he delightedly stepped off the platform (not checking to see whether I was there to catch him or not, but that's neither here nor there). Then, the park started to fill up and more families arrived, including some grandparents. Their charge joined in the activities with Bonnie and her new pal. Both grandparents started talking to all of the kids. Before long, I could hear enough of the conversation to know that this grandfather knew a fair amount about our family structure already. Then I heard it - she called him "Papa." Yes, this was obviously what his grandchild called him and Bonnie had just picked up on it. But it made my blood run cold. It made me realize that she could and would so easily go off with anyone who was friendly to her and mentioned candy, a puppy or any of the other stereotypical "lures" predators use on small children. Now, I'm sure this man was simply a nice grandfather but he could have been someone else, someone who wasn't just a nice grandfather.

This incident has reaffirmed the timing. The timing is now. Now I just need to work on the messaging. This is one of those balancing act talks. How to caution her without scaring her? How to make her safe without losing her delightful childhood innocence? How to let her know it's okay to talk to strangers - just not too much? I'd hate for her to lose her sense of innocence and the feeling that everyone's a friend she just hasn't met yet. The thing is, not everyone is a friend. Some people are dangerous and others are just rude.

My daughter is rarely without me and her opportunities to encounter someone outside of my supervision are limited, at best, but they always say it can happen oh, so quickly. The other aspect of having to introduce the Stranger Danger concept that I'm struggling with is that it's just one more sign my baby's growing up. Introducing this concept will be her first lesson in the ways of the world and thus the loss of her first bit of innocence - and that's sad for me and for her. I'd like to put her in a little, plastic hamster ball where she could safely navigate the world from but I know that's not realistic. They don't make them in her size. I checked. So for now, I'll keep an even closer eye on her and work on finding the right words and hopefully the right book to help her understand that while the world is generally a good place, we still have to be careful.


  1. Excellent post. I am struggling with this as well. In trying to explain this to me, my parents accidentally went a little too far and made me afraid of everyone and everything. I want to tackle this issue better with my children, and strike that perfect balance where they learn about strangers yet don't develop agoraphobia. I'll be watching the comments to see if anyone recommends a good book!

  2. A great topic. It's hard to have that conversation and my kids are 9 and 6 and I haven't really had a direct one with them yet, b/c I don't want to make them fearful. I do tell them not to go off w. strangers etc. but my Ella is just like your Bonnie, so what I do is I always keep an eye on them, they are pretty much always right beside me, we are hawks - but they aren't really aware how OCD I am or my husband is about not letting them out of our site. You have to be this way in this day and age. PS: I really love the idea of the child-sized hamster ball. I think you have a real money-maker there!

  3. My kids are 9, 6, and 4...so we've been here for awhile. I recommend the video "Safe Side Super Chick"...here's the website... http://www.thesafeside.com/ It's a little (ok, a lot!) goofy, but it really imparts the message in a good, not-too-scary-but-just-scary-enough, way. It's produced by some pretty smart people. My kids liked it, we watched it together, then I had them watch it a few more times in the car. They now know not every one is safe, and what to do in various situations. I even quizzed my 6 year old the other day on what to do if... And she passed with flying colors. It's probably been a year since she's watched the video, but she remembered! :)

  4. Shelley, thanks so much for the tip. I'll have to check that out.

  5. Dana- this was a timely post as Isabelle has recently been telling anyone who asks her name, her whole name- first, middle,and last and my reaction was that although it's cute, I didn't want every random person to have all that info about her. Pretty sure she'd tell them what street we lived on and the car we drive too. We haven't talked to her about it yet either for the same reasons you struggle with but I hope to learn from others about how and at what age to address stranger danger.


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