Friday, October 16, 2009

Is It Time For The "Stranger Danger" Talk?

It only took one little scare to get us thinking about this.

A couple months back, our whole brood was out for "family fun time" at one of our favorite haunts, Chuck E. Cheese's. My brother was visiting from Maryland and we showed up bright and early on a Saturday morning to play some games. There weren't a lot of people, at first, but after about 45 minutes of playing, the place was starting to pick up. I had to dash Lil Buddy to the restroom to change him...leaving SweetPea with her dad and uncle. When I came back, The Man asks me "Have you seen SweetPea?" Um, no...I just came out from the loo. He had been standing below the big, raised climbing structure of tunnels and a slide they have for the bigger kids while she was up there playing. Minutes before, he'd been waiving to her from above...and the next minute, no one could see her. He hadn't seen her come down the slide, so he assumed she was still up in the tunnels. We called her name...and heard nothing back. We walked around to the different open spaces around the tunnel...still nothing. We ran circles around the game SweetPea. I frantically went to the front door, where the staff is supposed to check each kid before they leave to make sure their little fluorescent ink stamped number matches the adult they're leaving with. I described what she was wearing (though I have to admit, in my panic, I had to think REALLY hard to even remember what she'd been wearing) and asked if they had seen her leave with anyone...which they hadn't. We ran circle after circle around the game area and couldn't spot her...then suddenly...there she was sitting on this half closed in, virtual reality roller coaster game with a little friend she'd met while playing in the tunnels. I immediately yanked her out of the seat and we left the restaurant...all while trying to explain to her (of course she was crying at this point because she wanted to stay and play with her new friend) why she should NEVER walk away from mommy and daddy without asking if it was OK. Lesson everyone...the hard way.

Here we are, months removed from the scare and I'll be 100% honest...I still haven't decided the best way to handle the overall topic of strangers with my 3 year old. I have it easy with Lil Buddy...he's still at the age that he considers anyone other than mom or dad scary and he cries his head off if anyone he doesn't know tries to touch him. SweetPea is at a very social age where she gets a kick out of walking past everyone in Target or the mall, waving furiously and saying "HI!". To her, everyone is a potential new friend. I want her to understand that it isn't OK to go anywhere with anyone that isn't mom or dad, unless mom or dad says she can...or should...but I don't want to scare her either. Since the Chuck E. Cheese incident, she seems to have accepted the fact that she shouldn't walk away without letting us know where she's going and with who...but I still have a feeling I should be saying more to her.

Why am I telling you all this? I'm hoping to hear from other moms how you've talked about strangers with your kids. I know there are a number of books out there that are geared towards preschool aged kids, but I have to wonder how good they are...if any of you have used them...and if they were effective. I don't want to be one of those moms who never let their kids out of the house out of fear that something bad will happen to them, but I also don't want to leave us vulnerable either!

So...if you please...HELP!!!


  1. I started to tell my daughter that she had to hold my hand/stay with me/blahdy blah because I was scared that someone might steal her; she seemed to understand better the whole 'steal' deal and it didn't scare her at all, which is what I was hoping for! It needed (like all 'disciplines') constant reinforcement and I somehow managed to convey that it was my fear that made me worry and she could stop me being fearful by being sure not to get stolen... I never had to explain why being stolen would be a bad thing - after all, we teach 'em not to grab and pinch and borrow without asking and steal from early on. Now 16, my beloved daughter is repeating this with her baby cousin, now 3....'hold my hand Madeleine, then no-one can steal you from me' is what she often says, unprompted, so it must have really sunk in! Might help? Might not...everything's worth a try, and anything not to make them paranoid and terrified whilst trying to make them aware - I was constantly worrying that she'd end up too afraid to approach someone to ask for help if she ever needed to. Gah, am glad to be over this stage! (I know, and then some!)
    Good luck!

  2. Wow, this is a tough one. My daughter is very very very social, no one is a stranger. She's also really pretty. Scary combination. She's 6 now and knows to never go with a stranger or even talk to them if I am not there with her. But when she was younger it was really hard. I'm sure you feel the same way I want to explain somehow that not all people are good people, that there are people who hurt little children, but at the same time you don't want to terrify her! I don't feel like a child that young should have that fear, it robs them of their innocence. All I knew to do was to make sure she knew that she isn't allowed to talk to grown ups we don't know unless mommy or daddy are there. The other thing is to be super paranoid and vigilent as a parent. Fun, huh? I don't know if that helps at all except to let you know that you are not alone.


  3. This is a pretty long post--please bear with me, I hope to help you with both advice and peace.

    This is a whole different era than that in which I raised my kids. Nonetheless, while there are morons out there who do prey upon kids, the media and schools would have you believe that there is a kidnapper or child molester hiding behind every single tree. There is not.

    In point of fact, there was a report out on 20/20 last year, giving the statistics on "real" child abductions. Turns out that out of the so-called "thousands" ... (in a 2-year period... NATIONWIDE).. only 200 were "stranger abductions." The rest? Family custody disputes of one sort and another!

    Sure, 200 is not a small number, especially if it is your child who is one of that number; still, I feel that we are now raising a generation of victims. Much of this comes from the political right...."keep people afraid, and you can do what you want with the laws." Thus are our freedoms gradually being eroded and curtailed.

    Better idea, teach your child common sense about "not going with anyone without mom & dad knowing about it, and 'stay within sight.' Sounds pretty much like what you already did... (though, I personally, might have handled the actual even differently.)

    To a small child, though, the concept of "stay within sight" is difficult to grasp. They can't put themselves in another's shoes, and figure out whether or not you can see them.. Best way is to tell them, to "always make sure YOU can still see ME." That way, there is no doubt, and they can deal with the concept.

    Next, I'd enroll ALL kids in self-defense classes, so they will never need to be a victim to anyone. There are plenty of techniques for escape that do not require muscle power at all. ... one of which is not even physical at all: simply scream "FIRE!"

    Kids scream "eeeek" screams all the time while one pays attention... and like car alarms, which have but become annoying, sadly, folks often don't respond to yelling 'stop!' or 'help!' either for the same reasons...especially with kids..again, since they often use these words in play.

    But "FIRE!" ?? EVERYone will listen up in a hurry!

    And if the worst happens, and someone does snag a child and picks them up...they must keep their feet moving, hard, fast and strong... nothing like a well-placed kick to the groin to make the perpetrator change his mind..... and that's my self-defense lesson for the day...

    I'm 61 years old, and have a purple belt in spite of a bum knee and sometimes needing to walk with a cane. EVERY technique is adaptable for any age and ability. It is the best thing you can do for your kids to inspire confidence in them and peace of mind in yourself.

    Best wishes always.

  4. I already had this speech with my 5 year old girl. Told her that she should never accept candy/food from strangers. That she should never walk away with a stanger even if he/she tells her that I'm hurt/at hospital/dead and he/she is going to take her to me. If we get lost at a store, she should stand still and wait for me to find her, instead of running around looking for me... She knows that there may be bad people out there wanting to hurt children. She knows that her body is private and she has the right to tell anyone if she doesn't want to be hold/touched/kissed that way. Maybe it is too much to handle for a 5 year old, but better safe than sorry...

  5. the best advice i can give is to buy the book called: Protecting the Gift by Gavin de Becker. i really think this book should be required reading for all parents. he is a security specialist that has worked for presidents & very high profile situations. his book will make you cry because it has real life stories and situations in it, but the way he explains human nature and our intuition is just amazing. he really gives you the tools to understand the mind of a predator & how to prepare your kids in the event of them getting lost or kidnapped. if a child gets lost the first thing they have to do is talk to a stranger, and also a child's world is only so tall so the reason they got lost in the first place is they were following the wrong set of legs. what is pointed out in the book is that if your child gets lost you should teach them to seek out a woman (maybe one with kids) for 1: she will stay with your child until they are found, 2: women are most unlikely to be a sexual predator, 3: even if she doesn't have kids it will kick in her mothering instinct & women are more likely to notice a child that looks lost. i really can't say enough about this book, its truly amazing. also, you will get vital info for your (mama) everyday use too.


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