Tuesday, June 23, 2015

"You have to give me a hug first."

Many schools are out for the summer now, so at 2pm, the playgrounds are no longer run by the under 5 crowd during the day. The "big kids" like to hang out on the playground, chatting with friends, but also blocking slides and climbing equipment. For the most part, it's fine. If the little ones want to use the slide, they'll move.

While at the park yesterday afternoon, the girls and their friend were playing on a playground structure that had a small tunnel. My friend and I were sitting close by on a bench. We could clearly see the playground structure, but couldn't see the corner with the tunnel very well. Several minutes later, we got up. I went and stood near T & Q. Teagan then tells me that the big kids had been blocking the tunnel. She asked them to move so she could crawl through with Quinn and their friend. The big girl told her that she would let them through if Teagan gave her a hug. Alarm bells went off in my head, but I didn't let T see that. I calmly asked her a few more questions. Teagan did hug the girl, who then let the three of them pass.

I know that the young girl was likely harmless and simply wanted a hug from a cute little kid, but the fact that Teagan obliged so quickly concerned me. I get it though. She doesn't see danger (in the form of strangers) yet. Big kids are cool to a 4-year old and she just wanted to crawl through a tunnel.

While I've talked to them for over a year now about what to do if they get lost, we hadn't had stranger conversations yet. I tried to bring it up last night, but they had no interest in listening since we were getting ready to read books.

At breakfast this morning, I brought it up again. I asked them if they knew who strangers are. They didn't. We talked about who would be a stranger and who wouldn't be. We then talked about something a stranger might ask them to do or offer to them and what they should do. Teagan asked what to do if a stranger follows them. Awesome question, T. I told her to scream as loud as she could and run towards a group of people. She thought that was great. This sparked a conversation about screaming inside the house (a new thing that they've started!) and screaming at other times.

This is a tricky conversation to have. Like everything with young children, it needs to be talked about simply. I also didn't want to scare them. I want them to develop reasonable street smarts without being afraid of their own shadows. I think that I definitely got through to them this morning, but it is something that we need to talk about regularly for a while until it sinks in.

How do you talk to your kids about strangers?


  1. We go with a "trust your gut" approach. I really do not want them to fear the outside world, but I certainly drive home the point that not everyone is friendly and that they are allowed to say NO to anyone (no matter who that person is). We also have a "rule" that you do not go anywhere with anyone or take something from anyone without checking with Mommy or Mama first. There are some excellent children books on the topic if you would like me to share. I'm sure the girl at the park was just exercising some "big kid" power but it sounds like you handled it very well and T nailed it with the follow up question!

  2. PS-you still need to get your summer bucket list up!!!! ;)

  3. We talk about it a lot. When we're out and about and I yell because they're taking off and not listening in a store, we will talk about how it makes me upset because they could get lost and a bad person could take them. I don't mind if they think certain situations are safer by my side. I let the older two ride their bikes around the block now and I have said, don't talk to anyone and if anyone pulls up in a car or comes near you, stay away. Adults do not approach kids for help or to chat, especially in a car. I grew up in St. Catharines when Kristen French was taken by a car right near my house. I don't mess around with that. The kids don't live in fear but I want them to be aware that they are young and some people aren't good.

    I also talk about people touching you and how you never let them touch things that are covered by your bathing suit. And no one should ask you to touch them or look at them in those spots. Anything that makes them uncomfortable is not okay and they do not have to do it (hugs, kisses, etc.) I say that some adults may say that if they tell us they will get in trouble or that person will hurt someone but it's not true--they can always tell us.

    Some books: Berenstain Bears: Learn About Strangers (talks about how not everyone is bad and we don't need to view the world that way but we do need to be safe), Never Talk to Strangers by Irma Joyce (my favourite book as a child) and It's Not the Stork (covers parts about people touching you)

  4. What a strange thing for that kid to request. I agree with you that it was likely harmless, but still: strange.

    The Bean is pretty aware of "strangers" and in theory knows not to talk to them. He's such a social guy that it's not unusual for him to strike up a conversation with a stranger though. I think (hope!) he knows when it is safe to do so (i.e. when we're close by) and trusts his gut when something doesn't feel right. Sprout is way more wary of people she doesn't know and doesn't usually stray too far from us, so it's not as much of a concern with her right now. Sounds like you did a good job of talking to the girls about things. But you'll probably want to be prepared for some screaming. ;)

  5. Kids are so weird. Grace is in a summer program with 3-5 year olds and it's been interesting to see their interactions and how they differ from the 3 year old class she was in this past year. I've noticed that the 5 year olds treat the 3-4 year kiddos like they're babies. It's too funny. They talk to them in a baby voice, pat their heads and I've seen some hugs. I'm thinking this is probably what happened at the park but what a great opportunity to open up dialogue about stranger danger. We all know what an important conversation that is to have. I should probably start talking to the Bean about it too!

  6. I've watched the TV specials where parents who have been very vigilant about teaching their children not to talk to strangers failed when the hidden cameras show the parents their children walking off with said stranger. We've talked to our kids....we've explained to them all about strangers looking nice and normal. We've talked about actual situations using pets and other kids as lures. I can't say that my kids wouldn't go "help" some guy find his dog. or walk over and pet the strangers puppy. It's hard and scary. I think what you did was perfect. Talk to them. Keep talking to them. Keep your eyes open.