Two weeks ago, Bethany had a scary incident at Campbell Park. It brought up some questions that we’ve had for a while now:
What do you teach your kids about strangers and staying safe? and At what age do you start the conversation?
Well, just like everything else in parenting, we’re not sure what the “right” answer is, but here are our thoughts:
The incident we had at the park still has me shaken, and I feel like I will never be the same now. There are really no words to describe the way I feel about that day.
Now I’ve started to re-evaluate what and how I teach my children about the people they encounter. Before, if someone had said “Hello, what’s your name?” to my daughter, I would have smiled and let her answer them politely. Now, I have told her she can only talk to strangers if Mommy says it’s ok first. Unless she is lost, in which case she is to look for a police officer or another Mommy with little kids.
When we see a police officer, I point them out to her and remind her that if she is ever lost or can’t find Mommy she should look for them or another Mommy with little kids like her. I have also started teaching her things like her last name, my name, my husband’s name, and her address. She doesn’t really understand just yet, but like everything else, she learns by repetition. Of course I plan on teaching my son all of this too when he’s old enough.
At the Farmers’ Market, we encountered a very nice man with two dogs. We have a dog, so my kids think all dogs are nice and have no fear about them. But, I’ve taught them that they must always ask first before they go up to a dog we don’t know. So with this rule as well as our rules regarding strangers, I was curious as to how she would handle the situation. She made me so proud by first asking me if she could “please go see the doggies” and then she noticed the man with the dogs and asked me “Mommy can I say hi to the doggie man?” Success! She remembered the rules!
I can only hope she continues to remember these rules and that my son learns them and follows them too. Of course, as they get older the rules and instructions will change a bit, but we will keep working on it all together. It can be a scary world out there, but I don’t want them to grow up in fear. I just want them to be cautious and make smart decisions.
Both of my kids are REALLY friendly. They say hello to everyone, they say goodbye to everyone, they are all over the place all the time and they never bat an eyelash at people they don’t know. Part of me really cherishes this about them, and then part of me endlessly worries about that.
Being that I am a stay at home Mom, I’m with them most of the time. And as we know from Bethany’s experience, I can’t always be sure, even in my care, that something won’t happen to them. But how do I explain to them that there are people that don’t always have the best intentions?
The other day, my Mom was with us and we had decided to walk to the park and have a picnic. When we got there we were the only ones there and we set up in the toddler area. Normally, I would have let Evie be on her own (within my eyeline, of course) and I would follow Milo around. But since my Mom was there she stayed with Evie and I followed Milo.
After a few minutes, I saw a man with no shirt exercising near us. He then came over to the playground near my son and I and started stretching. He then engaged me in conversation and kept talking about how beautiful my children were. While I wasn’t sure what his intentions were, I did think it was strange that he was shirtless in the playground area stretching when it was a huge park and he could have been doing this on one of the many benches. He also told me he was a photographer and that my children were beautiful. That kind of set off my Mommy senses and I went and got my Mom and Evie and headed home.
This experience got me thinking quite a bit. What if I was by myself and I was letting Evie run around on her own and this man was there and she slipped out of my eyeline for a minute? What if Milo slipped out of my eyeline for a minute? What if this man was legitimately exercising at the park and I was totally overreacting? But mostly, how do I teach my children that even if someone seems really nice, you should never ever go with someone they don’t know?
I don’t want my children to be afraid of everyone. I don’t want them to be scared all the time. But I also want them to be aware of their surroundings and know the right things to do in situations that may be uncomfortable. My sister said that they had a speaker at her daughters school that talked to the kids about “tricky people”. That sometimes people can be “tricky” and explain to them what they might say to them -- “I lost my dog can you help me find him?”, “would you like to play with my kitten?”, “I have some candy for you...” -- so on and so forth. When they encounter a tricky person, you run as fast as you can and yell for help.
I also worry about them getting lost. This is a recurring nightmare that I can’t even IMAGINE happening, but it might happen and I need my children to be prepared for it. Whenever we see a policeman, a fireman, or basically anyone in a uniform, I make sure to tell Evie if she gets lost she should try and find someone like that and ask them for help. Also, thanks to Bethany’s idea, I tell them to look for another Mommy with kids. Hopefully, they’ll remember all the things I’ve told them in regards to strangers and getting lost, even if they are really scared.
While our children will not understand these things completely now, especially at such a young age. We’re hopeful that planting this information in their heads now will help them understand in the future.
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Have you talked to your kids about “Stranger Danger” and how to stay safe? At what age did you start the discussion and what did you tell them? We’d love to hear from you all! Please share with us in the comments below.