I’m really trying to drive the stranger danger point home with my daughter. I don’t want to scare her, but I think it’s important that she start to really wrap her little head around it. I quiz her on what she would do if a stranger asked her if she wanted ice cream, or to help them find a lost pet, or if someone told her that her mom had asked for them to come get her.
She has some pretty solid answers. Between me and the Berenstain Bears Learn About Strangers, I felt like we we were doing pretty well.
Last week I took her to the mall and we went to the Disney store to pick up some more birthday presents for a few of her little buddies. The store was empty and as I was stacking things on her brother’s stroller, she stood nearby and watched one of the videos that was playing. One of the Disney employees walked up next to her and asked if she wanted to Mousekersize with Mickey.
I think I might have overdone it. You have never seen a kid move so fast. As she flew across the Disney store with a panicked look and launched herself into my legs, I realized how hard it can be for a small child to differentiate between a person in public asking you a question whether it be a waiter or a store worker or a tourist asking to have their picture taken versus the person at the park asking a three year old if they have seen their kitten.
But unfortunately, at the end of the day, it’s not always the creepy guy with sunglasses who you might suspect to be the dangerous one. How do we teach our children that most people are okay, but it’s not always necessarily a stranger who may be the one that they need to watch out for?
We tell our kids to not talk to strangers and to trust their feelings, but then a party rolls around and we force them into hugging great-aunt Martha when they would rather be doing anything else. We encourage them to hug family members and friends hello and kiss them good-bye when it might not be something that they feel comfortable doing. And while grandma is shooting disapproving glances when our kids are hiding behind our legs, we are forcing affection that they don’t want to give.
A three year old burying her head in your shoulder instead of saying hi to her uncle who lives out of town is different than a fourteen year old who won’t take off her headphones and acknowledge her grandma.
You’re all my witnesses. I’m done. I’m teaching my kids to be polite, and if you meet them or already know them, they’ll be happy to say hi to you. But they’re only going to hug you if they feel like it’s something they want to do. I hope you’re not offended, but I want them to learn to listen to themselves as far as what they feel comfortable doing. And that’s a decision I’m going to let them make.