“Stranger Danger”

My daughter made a choice that makes you realize you’re doing the right thing even when it doesn’t always feel that way. We’ve talked with her over the years and made sure that she could identify “stranger danger”. This has been a very tricky topic to teach her. She’s very friendly and social by nature. I didn’t want to take the fizz out of her bubbly personality by not allowing her to be herself (talking to strangers, waving and greeting every person she passes, etc). I also didn’t want to make her fearful by making her think that all strangers were bad and had harmful intentions.

We started off by reading to get the conversation going and incorporating the basics. I often use The Berenstain Bears as my go-to resource and this was no exception. Eventually, we started doing practice scenarios where I’d give her an example of a “stranger danger” situation and ask her what she’d do. I noticed what we were teaching her was sinking in when we’d watch a show and she’d pick up on “stranger danger” situations and tell me what the kids should have done. We discuss and practice regularly and I started to feel more comfortable with her answers and reactions in our practice settings. I know I can’t protect her from everything but I wouldn’t be doing my job if I wasn’t showing her how to face situations that can be potentially life-saving!

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The problem is, I don’t like the concept of “stranger danger”. Not all strangers are bad and not all people that we know are good. I like that it’s a catchy phrase that rhymes making it easy for her to bring the concept to mind but it doesn’t approach the situation accurately. We’ve taught her to evaluate situations and the people in them. Including:

  • Never get in anyone’s car or go off alone with anyone
  • Not even when they entice you with balloons, puppies or candy…
  • Not even if they say they know me or daddy (or if they actually do)
  • Never keep secrets from mommy and daddy, especially if an adult asks you to hide something from us
  • Respecting your space and body
  • No you don’t have to hug people if you don’t want to
  • The importance of getting another adult involved in an uncomfortable scenario
  • Having a meeting place in case we get separated or she’s lost
  • A code word that only our immediate family knows, if someone knows it then mommy and daddy really did send this person (EMERGENCY situation)

We’ve talked about and practiced many ways that she should be careful and listen to that voice in her head or that feeling in her tummy when interacting with people.

When we go to parks or public places, she always has to tell me where she is. She can’t be playing on the swings and go to the other side of the football field sized park to play on the slides. Chances are, I’ll be looking for her frantically and can’t find her in the sea of pink shirts at the park (note to self, she’s no longer allowed to wear pink to the park). As unsure as I’ve been over the years if what we were teaching her would be put into action if the time ever came, I must say that she proved that point!

A couple of days ago she went outside to play with her friends. Our apartment leads to a one-way street that only building residents use for the most part. Halfway up the street, there’s a huge area of land that the kids go play at. I love it because all I have to do is open my balcony and I can see and hear her. She gets to go outside and play with kids from school and use her imagination. When I got back from Yoga on Thursday she told me that our next door neighbor said for her to come with her, she had something to show her. My next door neighbor is 23ish, doesn’t have kids, and we live in a little town that the big city crime we’re used to doesn’t invade people’s lives. I honestly don’t believe there was any malicious intent, I think she’s just not conscious of what your parents taught you about “strangers” now that she’s no longer a child and doesn’t have kids of her own.

Anyway, so my neighbor wanted my daughter to go with her to see something. My daughter said no thanks, and my neighbor insisted. She said no thanks again and ran back to play with her friends even though she was on her way to the house to get water. She said that the only way to come inside was walking by where our neighbor wanted her to go so she just wanted to wait for them to leave before coming inside just to be safe. Had she felt threatened or scared, she would have called out for her dad who was home at the time and he would have come to one of the 3 windows that face the back street.  I couldn’t believe it! She did exactly what we’d talked about all of these years! Our neighbor isn’t technically a stranger. We know her name, know where she lives, see each other often. This is the trouble about “stranger danger” and why we’ve always focused on the actions and words of a scenario and not specifically the person.

I asked her how she felt when it happened and she said she didn’t feel scared or else she would have called for her dad who was within earshot. She just remembered what we told her and that if our neighbor wanted to show her something it would be better if she asked her parents first. She said our neighbor probably thought she was being mean and that our neighbor’s boyfriend was cracking up every time she said: “no thank you”. They went on to walk their dog and my daughter said they just didn’t understand that kids aren’t supposed to go off with people they know without their parents knowing about it.

I was a little nervous when she told me the story at first but then I realized that I’m not going to be with her every moment of every day. I need to be able to give her opportunities to make good choices. She needs to know what it feels like to listen to the alarm bells in her head and see what making the right choice feels like. I  keep the windows open and check on her constantly without her knowing because I don’t want her to feel as if she has something to fear the moment she’s out of my presence. If I didn’t feel comfortable letting her play then she wouldn’t go, but we’re lucky that we live where we do. That our neighbors know each other, look out for each other, the kids play in a large group, and they look out for each other as well. I’m glad she can look back on her childhood filled with moments outside that allowed her to develop her reasoning skills and trust herself. The reality is these are guidelines for being aware of her surroundings that will serve her well as she grows up.

Resources-

Here’s a website with some great tips that I found.

My favorite book series to address life situations in a practical and fun way.

35 thoughts on ““Stranger Danger”

      1. Wow! I appreciate that, thank you. Part of the difficulty is what you mentioned. It’s not always a stranger and not all strangers are bad. I love your idea of role playing different scenarios.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Exactly! Role playing helped her feel more comfortable and also helped her see that the scenario can arise in many situations. Just this weekend we went to a festival in the town we live in. She was playing at the park (at night) and she couldn’t find me. I’d moved to a more comfortable spot and had my eye on her extra close because she didn’t know where I was. She ran towards where I’d been last, looked around and ran straight back to the park. I was calling her but the music was so loud she couldn’t see me. She played for a bit and happened to look in my direction and I flagged her down. Again she did exactly what we taught her and practiced many times so when the time came she knew exactly what to do! It’s one thing to talk about it but even as adults it can be hard to remember or feel comfortable doing something for the first time. I get certified in first aid regularly and I make sure to practice in between certifications because it’s not something I use often (thankfully) but the reason I practice is because the first time I needed it, I froze in the heat of the moment because I hadn’t practiced since I got certified…

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Oh my gosh. Very smart. That situation this weekend could’ve caused total panic, but she knew what to do. Love that.

        Also, love what you said about practicing. That’s a great point about your first aid certification and practicing. Makes so much sense.

        I read the list on your link. What a great list. Those are very clear and understandable for a lot of different ages, and don’t sound like they’d make a kiddo unnecessarily afraid.

        We went to a class last summer that was supposed to lightly go over Stranger Danger. Yikes, it ended up being a souped up version of making kids afraid of everybody… 🙂 We left. I love your ideas and will incorporate them into my teaching. Thank you so much!

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Yeah I was proud of her but more than that I was happy for her peace of mind. She wasn’t running around frantically, she didn’t scream or cry. She was level headed and calm. When she saw me, I put my hand on her chest and it wasn’t beating out of control from being scared or anything. That alone made me feel great! That’s the thing, I didn’t want her to be afraid. I know how she is and she’d be afraid of everyone all of the time and I didn’t want to do that so for us focusing on situations vs “people” has been very effective. We tell her not even people we know that are good friends get a pass in most of the situations we cover. She’s very clear on how to handle things and it’s thanks to conversation and practice. Sounds like you made exactly the right choice by listening to your momtuition and getting out of that class! I’m sure you’ll find resources that are great guides for you to incorporate your own version into your family! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

    1. We were very proud of her! We will, she works different shifts so I haven’t seen her yet but yes, the first thing we said is the next time one of us runs into her we’ll see what it was about and let her know that the girls know not to go off with people without our permission.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. And it’s not just little ones who have to watch out. We had an experience where a 12 yr old girl was almost grabbed on her way home from school by 2 men in a car even though there were many kids around. She was yards away from home and managed to run away. On the other side of the coin, it’s also difficult when you see a lost child, you can’t just go up to them and offer to help them find their parent. I once saw a child on his own looking around lost at a local fair. I just kept my eye on him to make sure he stayed safe until his flustered mum eventually found him but I felt really sorry for him and wanted to reassure him. It’s a tough subject but you have approached it well.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Absolutely Chris! My grandma was just telling me how my aunt keeps a watchful eye on her kids while they play outside and they’re 10 and 13. I have younger kids (7 and 1 and a half) so I haven’t chartered into those waters from the perspective of a parent yet. As a 13 year old I thought I was way too big for my parents to check in on me all of the time but now I understand it.

      When I have my kids with me, I do try to approach lost kids even if it’s just to keep them company. My daughter usually asks the questions (what does your mommy look like? Where was she last? etc.) because it’s less intimidating or threatening coming from her. I just sit back and listen and try to spot the frantic mom. We would never try to take them anywhere because that’s the first red flag I teach my own kids. If I’m alone, I’ll do the same thing you mentioned about keeping a watchful eye or alerting a security guard etc. because at that point I am a stranger and even though I have good intentions, the child doesn’t know that.

      Thank you, I appreciate it 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow! Smart kid! And smart mom! You’re probably right about your neighbor just not realizing what it’s like to have kids or be a child anymore. Now that I’m in my early 30s and don’t have children of my own, I am really out of touch with what the world is like from that perspective. I see what some of my friends deal with as they raise their families and I can’t imagine that being a way of life all the time. The elementary schools are locked 24/7 with security cameras and keycard entries. Every time there is another act of violence in the news, it seems like another security measure is implemented, and it makes me sad, because I have cherished childhood memories of running wild and never worrying about things like that. Your approach to educating your daughter, though imperfect, sounds like the best approach under the circumstances, and as she grows up she’ll realize all the nuances of people and life.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Lulu. I haven’t had a chance to talk to her yet but I think she’s off of work today so hopefully I’ll see her just to get perspective on the situation.

      We do the best we can. My hope is that she looks back on her childhood fondly, remembering having been able to run around and play outside. She’ll remember not feeling fearful or leery but aware and cautious. 🙂

      Thanks so much for taking the time to comment Lulu 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Love this. It’s always hard and I don’t think I did a very good job with explaining it to my son. I would say stay away from anyone that you don’t know. That’s stranger danger. But, I like your education and reasoning. It’s bigger than just stranger danger.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We do the best we can. When reading statistics it’s typically not side random person that harms children (yes it does happen) but it’s usually someone close to the family. So having that in mind I needed a way to communicate that without making her afraid of everyone.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you for sharing! I hope it helps other parents that have the same struggle look into other ways to educate their children about this topic. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I love this, and I think it’s so important. I have no children (or any intention of having them) but I’ve spent most of my adult life working in retail in large shopping centres, and observing people. You would be surprised how few parents actually pay attention to their children, and who is around.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s so sad to me. If it’s happening out and about, it’s likely happening at home too. I feel bad for kids that don’t have parents that are as involved or hands on.

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