Like every parent, I’ve always taught my children not to talk to strangers. “Even if they say they’re going to give you candy,” I’ve warned them, “you don’t talk to anyone you don’t know.” I’ve stressed, “Even if they say they’re going to take you to mom…you never talk to strangers.” And none of the boys had a problem with it…they got it: no strangers!
For my youngest, the only girl, it’s surprisingly different. Don’t get me wrong, she gets it. She just takes it VERY literally.
When I first took her to daycare, I noticed she was more reserved than she normally is. “What’s wrong? Why aren’t you playing with the other kids?” And I sort of did a double take when she said to me, “But they’re strangers.” Her comment made me realize that I had to qualify that term; not everyone she didn’t know was a stranger…at least not in the respect that she needed to be weary of them. I didn’t want that warning to turn her into someone who is always reserved and anti-social…and apparently that’s where we were headed. So I tried to narrow the group of ‘strangers’ somewhat: “Well, yes, you don’t know them, but they’re little, like you. You can make friends with them. And your teachers, too. You can talk to them.”
“So if they’re little…like me…I can talk to them?”
“Yes. And all the teachers and nannies at your school, too. You can talk to all of them.”
It still took her some time, more questions about which kids she could talk to, but eventually she got it. Of course, now that she understood that she could talk to some people she didn’t know, this had to be followed up with the whole, “But you never go out of the school with anyone! No one! And you never let anyone touch you…and if they try to you have to tell them no. And you have to tell me right away.” All these new warnings which, unfortunately, we must arm our children with.
The other day she was with me at a store, and the clerk asked her something. He was just trying to be friendly, trying to get her to talk and laugh. But she just hid her face behind me and ignored him, which isn’t her style at all. And I couldn’t figure out why she would act so shy.
When we left I asked her why she didn’t answer him. “But you told me not to talk to strangers!!”
See people, it’s just not as easy as it sounds. It’s not just one sentence we repeat over and over until we’re assured that they fully understand it. It is so much more. If we leave it unexplained, our children may be safer, but they also risk losing some important social skills, not to mention being frightened by everyone they come across. So we take the time to explain, and give examples, lots of different examples, and repeat.
May God protect all our children…and may He fix this world so that one day, we won’t have to give those warnings to children. So that one day, they will be safe without those warnings. We certainly can’t make that happen…but nothing is out of His Power.