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!
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.
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.