Stranger Danger and Your Instincts: how to talk to young children

We are very fortunate to live in a close community in which we feel comfortable and safe with our neighbors. The local recreation center is a revolving door of friends and neighbors throughout the week, with most attendees being familiar and friendly. My child care program children frequent the young children’s play time each week in which other families and children gather to socialize with each other and enjoy riding trikes and tossing basketballs at child size hoops.

Just last week, I was over at the recreational center’s gym with three of my child care kids. There were other families and a couple of nannies with their charges present. Kids were happy doing their own thing, and adults were engaged in their usual hovering and chatting. And then in walks a middle aged man with a basketball…not too unusual for the gym, but not typical for this time of the day. Immediately I felt uncomfortable, and I had a feeling like a rock in the pit of my stomach. He was unfamiliar to me, but otherwise no obvious reasons for concern. He proceeded to change into his basketball shoes and walk over toward the hoop with the smallest crowd. On his way over to the hoop, he crouched down and started to talk to my kids, got down low and close. I immediately stepped in and told him that he should not be talking to the children, since he doesn’t know them. He says, “its fine”. My response was to turn around and say, “it’s time to go kids.”

Now typically, when it’s time to go, the kids take their time cleaning up and get distracted. Not this time, they walked right to the door and followed me out with no problem. I think they felt it too…that uneasy feeling. It’s quite likely that this man offered no threat whatsoever, likely a friendly person who enjoys talking with kids. But I chose to listen to that feeling, and I have no regrets. (I later contacted the local police and provided a photo of the man. The officer had some knowledge of this person, and felt something was off as well.)

So my point…how do you talk to kids about this? First things first, get safe. For us, this meant going into the hallway. I sat the kids down and told them I was sorry we had to leave early. I told them about having a bad feeling in my tummy when the man tried to talk to them, and then I told them that I felt like I had to listen to my tummy. The children were satisfied with this for the moment. We got all of our gear on and left, and when we got back to the program, I asked the kids if they had any questions. They seemed to be fine, and talked about the man a little bit. I tried to instill the idea of trusting your feelings as opposed to making a a visual assessment, since that’s a natural reflex for some.

Interestingly enough, the next day we went back to the gym and encountered the very opposite type of feeling. A woman playing with her granddaughter came up to me and asked if she could talk to my kids. I looked to the kids and asked them what their tummies were telling them. They said it was okay. She asked them how old they were, to which the kids just smiled and became shy. She then said goodbye and went on her way. Afterwards, I asked the kids about it, and they said even though she was a stranger, they felt safe and their tummy felt good. How amazing is this? Now it is completely possible that this grandma might do them harm if that was her goal, after all, you just never know. But this was an opportunity for the kids to explore their intuition and that feeling in their gut.

Let me know what you think! Have you and your children ever had an experience like this?

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