Parenting backfire: Stranger danger

We’re beginning to teach our daughter the important lesson of being fearful of everyone.
This is a slippery slope for all parents, and it definitely has been for us because our daughter is extraordinarily extroverted.

You know how sometimes you are required to talk to a child who is not your own? I have tried that before and it is usually very unsuccessful. The child rarely responds to my inane question or comment and instead stares at me like I am the villain of a recently-viewed cartoon and then cowers behind the leg of a nearby, trusted adult. It is a very uplifting experience.

Our daughter is not like that, which makes me both proud and scared. She will ask a stranger in a grocery store existential questions—“S’cuse me why you be like that?”—from the seat of a shopping cart-car hybrid vehicle before that stranger even knows she is there.

She also has a sixth sense for soliciting strangers who so obviously do not want to be bothered. If you are 96 years old and walking around Trader Joe’s with an oxygen tank behind you and a look that says, “Get out of my way—I only have so much time left on Earth and I need to buy this asparagus,” then you are the person she will specifically target to serenade with her version of “Call Me Maybe.”

She is also not intimidated by anyone. Just weeks ago, while walking around Tolmachoff Farms for some family pumpkin-picking, we found ourselves about to cross paths with a very tall and large man wearing a cowboy hat who had stern eyes and who was walking quite menacingly. Our daughter looked up, way up, and greeted him by saying, “Hey cowboy.” Taken aback, he tipped his cap. It was quite awkward in the moment, but imagining her saying something like that when she is, say, 21, made it much, much worse.

After pleading to hug the older gentleman standing behind us in the checkout line at Safeway, my wife and I decided we needed to have a little talk with her. This talk occurred in the car a couple weeks ago after picking up my in-laws at the airport, so they were included in the discussion. And all the better considering it was my in-laws who instilled in my wife a healthy (questionable) fear of all unfamiliar human beings, a warranted skepticism thanks to the harsh realities of Brooklyn life.

Nevertheless, it was a struggle for all of us to explain to this 3-year-old child how she should not talk to strangers while simultaneously trying not to stifle her outgoing nature. Our apprehension at providing her the wrong message was nullified by the fact that it didn’t appear she was paying attention anyway.

We then stopped at Paradise Bakery for lunch. Upon entering the restaurant, our daughter laid eyes on a middle-aged man, pointed at him and yelled at the top of her lungs, “STRANGER, STRANGER!” The man was a good sport, telling our daughter she did the right thing, even though he posed no obvious threat and just wanted a sandwich. By the end of their conversation, she wanted a high-five and a hug. It seemed in the span of five minutes she had managed to take our advice while also maintaining her personality.

That concludes this week’s installment of “Parenting backfire.” There will be more weeks of this, I am sure.

Note: This column appears in the 11/22 issue of The Glendale Star and the 11/23 issue of the Peoria Times.


Section 36 said…
That's why they don't teach "stranger danger" anymore. Plus, too many lost kids haven't responded to people trying to find them because they were "strangers"