Teaching Your Kids About 'Creepy' Strangers

stranger dangerHaving outgoing kids can be a really fantastic thing. Especially when you're waiting in a long line and your chatty three-year-old makes friends with everyone and people chill out. Both of my kids are super friendly, which I love since I was a very shy kid myself. We can't go to the grocery store or the auto body shop without my son or daughter making a new friend and gathering information along the way. In fact, my daughter once got a free blow-out at a hair salon because she so totally charmed the woman doing my hair.

What I'm saying is being friendly to strangers has its advantages. But a series of incidents with strangers that set off my mom alarm made me realize that my kids don't have a filter yet. They really can't figure out who is a nice check-out lady, and what guy should probably not be allowed to work around children, if his creep-tastic leer is any indication. And I have no idea how to inject that information into their two- and five-year-old brains.

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I tried after one encounter to explain that "You don't have to talk to strangers," only to have my daughter say, "But he was funny." Yeah, he was funny. If you think an inappropriate interest in toddler swim class protocol is funny. Still, I was there to protect my daughter and a little bit of bizarre conversation in my presence did not harm her in the slightest. But if I'm not around, I don't want my kids thinking they can open up to any weirdo on the street.

Granted, I would be hard-pressed to think of a time my kids would be unattended and talking to random people in public. It would be nice, however, to trust that they have any instincts when it comes to weeding out potential dangerous adults from the majority of people in the world. As small as those numbers might be, it's not unrealistic to think they could encounter one such adult. We did twice in a row at the grocery store and then the coffee shop.

I don't worry about my children being abducted. I think the odds are in my favor as I don't have an ex-husband with custody issues, nor a weird cousin who believes these kids are really hers. I just want my kids to "get" when someone is off. And there's nothing in their experience thus far that can serve as a reference. We don't have a neighborhood drunk to avoid, or "that crazy Uncle Charlie" who usually stays in his mother's attic.

I'm simply hoping that this friendliness is someday tempered with self-preservation. After all, there will surely be a time they go to the grocery store without me. Right?

How do you teach your kids to recognize creepy people?

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