A few weeks ago I was leaving the gym with the kids and Liv asked to go by the pool on the way out. There's a window where you can watch people swim and she loves it, especially when the lifeguards see her and wave. So we sat there for a minute, both of them with their hands and foreheads pressed on the glass.
As we turned to leave, a friendly older man came by and smiled at them, then asked if he could give them a high-five. I said yes, and they all "fived" before we started to walk out. I had Eliza on one hip and the diaper bag on my other shoulder, when Liv wanted me to hold her hand as she walked down the bench along the outside of the building. I adjusted the weight I was carrying, and grabbed her hand. As we got to the end, the high-fiver from inside came up behind us. He made a comment about me having my hands full, and when Liv started her usual climb up a handrail by some stairs, he reached out and helped her over, saying she needed to be careful not to fall.
He was very nice, this man, but little bells started going off in my head. I told him he could give her a high-five, but I did not tell him he could lift her. I did not like it when he picked her up.
We got in the car and I decided it was time to talk to my social little girl about strangers. It went like this:
Me: Liv, do you know what a stranger is?
Liv: Um, no Mommy.
Me: A stranger is someone you don't know. So, am I a stranger?
Me: Is Daddy?
Me (Pointing to some guy on the street): Is that man?
Me: Right! So a stranger is someone you don't know.
Once we covered the basics, we talked about things like not going places with strangers; that she should always ask Mommy or Daddy if someone asks her to go somewhere. We talked about helpful strangers, like Police Officers. We discussed strangers asking for help; I told her that adults don't need help from little kids, they need help from adults. If a stranger asks for help, she should always come find Mommy or Daddy. I told her it's okay to say no to strangers, even if it hurts their feelings.
We did all of this through casual questions and answers, and she seemed to be following along. I wanted to introduce the ideas without overdoing it, without making her unnecessarily fearful. But I wanted her to be able to recognize the difference between people she knows, and people she doesn't.
We've continued to talk about strangers, and I feel like she understands what she needs to. Some kids might not need this kind of talk at this age, but my little social butterfly did. There are lots of helpful resources for talking to kids about strangers, and honestly, part of the reason I was prepared is that I still get weekly developmental emails from Babycenter.com and they'd recently sent me tips for this kind of conversation. So I'd read articles and blog posts so I had some ideas in mind before the friendly man at the gym jump-started our talk.
A few days later we pulled into Target, and as we walked through the parking lot she tugged on my hand and, with great excitement, said, "Mommy, look! STRANGERS..."
So I think it's safe to say she's an extrovert.
Making hi five gesture photo via Shutterstock.
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