"Don't talk to strangers!" 2008

  1. I need advice fairly urgently.

    My son is coming out of shell and is getting friendlier by the day. He often says "Hi!" to random people and answers and asks questions of strangers. I am happy that he is so friendly, but today we were on the train and he randomly told a bum his full name and our building no. :nogood: I'm seriously afraid that he could walk off with someone and/or give out too much personal information.

    I am aware that it's simply not practical and actually quite harmful to tell a child "Don't talk to strangers!", period. It's an understandable tack and I realize that parents who do it have the sense to realize that not every conversation with a stranger may be dangerous, but do it anyway because small children often lack the discernment to tell the difference between which topics are ok and which ones aren't.

    I have a problem with the mantra because 1) not talking to a stranger may be impolite (depending on the question) and children may actually need to talk to a stranger in dangerous situation (i.e., approaching a cashier in a store when separated from mommy) AND 2) because telling children not to talk to strangers period may build up fear unnecessarily.

    My mother was a very paranoid person. Of course, she warned us not to talk to strangers at all, and advised us that if we say things, we might get kidnapped. I remember being young and stiffening with fear whenever a stranger addressed me directly. I was convinced that every stranger was a child welfare worker (homeschoolers have to be wary of them) or a crazed kidsnatcher. When people talked to me, my eyes would just open wider and my mouth close. I'm sure people thought I was crazy or simple, or both.

    I don't want to scare the crap out of my son, but I want him to be safe!

    FYI, my son is three, so I need answers tailored to his level. I believe that this conversation is easier with older children, as they develop better judgment.

    Thanks in advance!
  2. I know exactly your feelings - my 5 yr old is so gregarious and social, he will talk to anyone, and they are immediately his friends. 3 may be very hard to start the conversations yet - as hard as it may be to watch then converse with someone you would rather they didnt. At 4 I started to tell him that not all strangers are friends, that if mommy doesnt talk to them, they are not ok to talk to. I'm now trying to explain why he cannot use the men's room without daddy, or has to go to the womens room with mommy, which he does not want to do, he knows he's a boy and doesnt belong in the ladies room.

    There are some cute books about strangers out, that you could read to your little one and try to start the idea that not all strangers are good. Three is just so little still, they have a hard time comprehending right and wrong, so the difference between a good and bad stranger will go right over them.

    Keep your child close - dont worry about hurting strangers feelings - if they start talking to someone you do not want them to talk to, take their hand and lead them away - until he gets old enought to understand, at least you can control who they are talking to.

    Best of luck!
  3. I think 3 is a little too young to explain. I had the same thoughts myself, as did my mom - I think mothers the world over fear their children talking to strangers! I believe saying very firmly to the child "Don't talk to anyone that mommy doesn't talk to first" will work. Then he will still be encouraged to speak to people, but watch your body language.

    It's still a little too young for a 3 year old to recognize a cashier from another person, for example, but you could point out policemen as being okay to talk to, maybe.
  4. My son is almost 2 years old, extremely friendly, and loves attention. Literally, you just reach your hand out to him, he'll take it and follow you.

    The hard part is that my son attends a Montessori school that encourages a curbside drop off service in the morning. His teacher is usually the one who I hand him off to. However, there have been a few days where she wasn't present. Once I found out, I would say, "Oh, I'll park my car and walk him in myself." Their response: "The purpose of this dropoff is for children to feel independent. We also want your son to feel comfortable with whoever takes him into the classroom, whether it be his teacher or not." Well, I'M not comfortable with this. If I coax him into being led off by a strange person (albeit to his classroom), what message am I sending him about going off with strangers? So I walk him in if his teacher isn't around.

    But overall, I keep him close. Whenever he happens to solicit attention, I keep the contact and communication short. Fortunately, he doesn't know how to say too much so we're okay for now. I'm sure we'll have to work on this once he can talk more.