Learning how to talk to strangers

4 years ago

In second grade we were all encouraged to create a secret code word so that if our parents ever sent an intermediary to pick us up from school, we would know it was safe to leave with that individual. (I can't remember if my word was kitten or Strawberry Shortcake.)

Background image by Shawn Campbell

Ahh...the crack security of our youth - where we were taught to say our parents were "in the shower" when answering the phone unsupervised at home (latchkey kids unite!), the house key was hidden in a fake rock, and we were taught to never ever talk to strangers.

I don't agree with that last one. I want my son to know how to talk to strangers.

So, we practice. I have him place his food order in restaurants. I prompt him to talk to other people in grocery stores. And because I lead by example, we start random conversations with strangers in elevators and while in line at the post office (older women love us).

Are you shy? Don't be shy. Here are some conversation starters:

  • If you didn't have to work, what would you do with your days?
  • Ask for advice on something, even if it is a "What do you think of this color?"
  • Say something simple like: How's your day going so far?
  • Hit them with a crazy random fact like, "Did you know that most human brains aren't full functional for learning until after 10 am?"

Why am I doing all this? Easy: I want my son to know that most people are helpful. And if my son is ever in a situation where he feels uncomfortable I want him to know it's OK to go up to a group of strangers and say "I don't feel comfortable right now. Can I stand here with you for a moment?" Or, "Can you help me?"

So yes. Talk to strangers. Just don't leave with them. There is a difference. Now that we are getting the hang of the talking part down, we can start to work on the second lesson. Maybe we'll need to resurrect those code words.

How do you handle "stranger danger" in your household? Tell me in the comments.

Follow me, don't stalk me. (There's a difference.)

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