One thing I know for sure is that moms, on countless days, are a hot mess. Or is that just me?
While there are many of us out there, the role of mother often comes with a shared feeling of loneliness. Which is strange considering we can’t even do our daily errands without running into another mom. And yet here we are, alone. Alone in our endeavours to raise healthy, happy children that feel safe and secure. Alone in our fears that we aren’t.
Here’s something else we may have in common. You’ve probably told your kid(s) at one time or another, “Don’t talk to strangers.”
Four little words. Yet not so little because behind those little words are our big fears of someone abducting our babies.
There’s a fine line between bringing awareness of the evils that exist in the world and protecting our children’s innocence. We want them to be mindful of their surroundings and at the same time, we want them to laugh at clowns and feel comfortable sitting on Santa’s lap. And yet both are strangers.
If you think that’s confusing, imagine my surprise when my eldest daughter, now in her 30s, confessed to me that when I used to tell her, “don’t talk to strangers”, she had no idea what I was talking about. Why? Because she didn’t know what a stranger was.
Thinking back, she’s absolutely right. I used the word stranger as an attempt to keep her safe but never really explained what I meant. I was trying to walk the tightrope between keeping her out of harm's way and wanting to maintain her innocence.
How do you describe “a stranger” to a child?
A stranger is someone you don’t know.
But then, the world is full of strangers. Strangers are all around us, from the family that lives two doors down to the cashier where we buy a weekly bottle of wine (or two).
Don’t talk to strangers.
And yet we talk to them all the time, from wishing the bus driver a good morning to asking someone on the street for directions during a family vacation.
This is what our children see: a contradiction between our words to them and our actions in the real world.
So how do we close the gap? How do we keep our kids safe without casting a shadow on their childhood innocence?
It’s an ongoing conversation, one about basic body safety, teaching guidelines as to who is a ‘safe’ adult, even coming up with a family password in case you send someone else to pick them up after school or from an extracurricular activity.
You can even turn it into a game and act out scenarios so your kids have ‘muscle’ memory if a situation ever arises. Things like teaching them who they can go to if you get separated in public.
Oh, and it's not always about strangers. This article explains about all those 'sorta know' people we run into on a daily basis.
Lastly, you can't go wrong by reading age-appropriate books on the topic together. From “Once Upon a Dragon” by Jean E. Pendziwol to “The Berenstain Bears Learn About Strangers” by Jan and Stan Berenstain and “Never Talk to Strangers” by Irma Joyce, all these books provide a gentle way to introduce young children to what a stranger is and the potential dangers. Plus, you get bonus points because you're reading together.
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and while we don’t want to instill fear into our children, we CAN teach them in a way that helps keep them safe without being scary.
Keep the conversation going and keep it clear.
You’ve got this, mamas.