How do you react when a stranger gives your child a treat?
The lovely lady who works at my local bakery has one mission in life — to give my toddler a lollipop. She is convinced that it is the source of every baby's happiness and doesn't want my kid to miss out.
The offers started when my daughter was about 7 months old. Since at that time she had no teeth and was busy discovering her own feet, she wasn't really into it. As the months have passed and she's turned into a toddler, however, she's changed her mind.
Now at 15 months, my daughter is interested in anything anybody is willing to give to her. It doesn't really matter what it is — if a stranger offers her a rock, she's just as likely to toddle after them as she is if offered a lollipop. Not great for me, but right in line with my baker's sugary aspirations.
Lately each of our bakery visits end the same way: with the kind woman waving around a jar of lollipops as my toddler excitedly flaps her arms and I launch into a dance of apology, while politely declining and manoeuvring my kid out of the store. I don't hate lollipops or kids or lovely bakers or anything, I'd just like to keep things sugar-free for as long as I can.
But there will come a time — sooner rather than later, if my baker has anything to do with it — when declining the treat on the grounds of sugar content won't be necessary. Even then I'm not exactly sure where I stand on allowing my daughter to accept candy from a stranger. Is it just a bit of harmless fun that'll make shopping trips a bit less painful? Or is it setting a dangerous precedent around accepting treats from strangers?
Divided in my opinion, I took to the Internet and asked mothers how they react when somebody offers their kids a treat.
It's all about context
Most mothers agree — they would not be cool with their child taking candy from a crazed lady waving a chocolate bar around. However when it comes to working professionals, like bakers, butchers, bankers and sales staff, most parents feel completely at ease with allowing their kids to accept treats.
"When people offer the kids treats I try to use it as a teaching moment — how to use manners, say thank you and be polite. But these are not people handing sweets from a windowless van or a candy house in the woods," says Andrea.
"I think it's sweet when people go to the effort of being kind to your kids and I'm right there with them saying thank you, so they know it's all right," agrees Sarah. "It's only happened a few times, usually in shops, and it's a fun and happy transaction."
Personal views on health, sugar and snacking behaviour also take a backseat to manners for Roxy, who says that she encourages her child to accept treats, unless they pose a choking hazard. "I want to teach gratitude and accept the little things that people do to brighten our day," she says.
Don't throw caution to the wind
However a few mothers are a bit more cautious. Dawn says that while she wants to teach her son to be polite and accept treats for the sake of social decorum, she'd prefer that the treat itself be thrown away rather than eaten.
Filipa also errs on the side of caution, "We've decided to always decline treats. That way we pass on the clear message that accepting things from strangers is not okay. We are still polite about it and just explain our reasons. Most people understand and if they don't, oh well, I'd rather my kids be safe."
But what about stranger danger?
We've all seen that video with the puppy. Most parents use treat situations as an opportunity to teach kids about stranger danger.
"I've taught my kids about stranger danger and they know they can't accept anything without checking with me first," says Andrea. " I don't want my kids to be so scared of the world that they can't eat lollies from kind old people. Everyone needs to learn judgment of character and discernment and these are good moments to teach these skills."
"I think it's really important for kids to know and understand they're part of a community of people who, on the whole, love and enjoy children," Verity agrees. "I also don't think being afraid of strangers is a good thing — they need to be able to distinguish between people that are good and those that make them feel yucky early on… and those that make them feel odd aren't necessarily strangers!"
Several creative mothers are also building in additional security measures. To protect their toddlers, Rochelle and Katarina are both planning to introduce special stranger passwords. "I'm going to try to teach my daughter a safe word, so that she never goes with anyone unless they say that word," explains Rochelle.
For Carrie, it's all about setting lines of familiarity. She declines treats from strangers until she becomes familiar with them. The message she hopes to send is that it's only safe to accept a treat once trust and friendship has been properly established.
The way Bettina deals with stranger danger is by telling her kids that it can be okay to accept treats when she or another parent is around, but not when they're alone. "My children know the difference and follow our instructions at ages 3 and 5," she says.
Learning opportunity for kids
And many mothers encourage their kids to be responsible and check in before they eat a treat. "I really like the method of saying, 'Yes, you can have that, but let's take it home and have it after dinner,' and if there is anything about its source that makes you uncomfortable, you then have a private chance to talk to your kid about it later," explains Roxy.