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In second grade we were all encouraged to create a secret code word so that if our parents ever sent an intermediary to pick us up from school, we would know it was safe to leave with that individual. (I can't remember if my word was kitten or Strawberry Shortcake.)

Background image by Shawn Campbell

Ahh...the crack security of our youth - where we were taught to say our parents were "in the shower" when answering the phone unsupervised at home (latchkey kids unite!), the house key was hidden in a fake rock, and we were taught to never ever talk to strangers.

I don't agree with that last one. I want my son to know how to talk to strangers.

So, we practice. I have him place his food order in restaurants. I prompt him to talk to other people in grocery stores. And because I lead by example, we start random conversations with strangers in elevators and while in line at the post office (older women love us).

Are you shy? Don't be shy. Here are some conversation starters:

  • If you didn't have to work, what would you do with your days?
  • Ask for advice on something, even if it is a "What do you think of this color?"
  • Say something simple like: How's your day going so far?
  • Hit them with a crazy random fact like, "Did you know that most human brains aren't full functional for learning until after 10 am?"

Why am I doing all this? Easy: I want my son to know that most people are helpful. And if my son is ever in a situation where he feels uncomfortable I want him to know it's OK to go up to a group of strangers and say "I don't feel comfortable right now. Can I stand here with you for a moment?" Or, "Can you help me?"

So yes. Talk to strangers. Just don't leave with them. There is a difference. Now that we are getting the hang of the talking part down, we can start to work on the second lesson. Maybe we'll need to resurrect those code words.

How do you handle "stranger danger" in your household? Tell me in the comments.

Follow me, don't stalk me. (There's a difference.)

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Comment by Lauren Markman on January 10, 2014 at 8:33pm

Thanks for sharing, Marcia! I'm glad to see that you are taking a step-by-step approach with your children. I definitely think this is an ongoing conversation that you can continue as your children get older. (P.S. I don't think calling the cops is crazy - we moms need to always think about safety!)

Comment by Marcia Fowler on January 10, 2014 at 10:41am

It's tricky. I tell them not to talk to strangers, yet I say, "HI," to the UPS man as he delivers packages. My kids are friendly and will say hi to anyone. What I've taught my 7 year old is do not ever go near a car even if they ask for directions. I point out "safe houses" on our walk to school (houses of friends or families from school). We practice what to do if someone  calls him over to a car. I know he'll forget, but I'm with him all the time now. it's just a start for when he gets older and walks to school by himself,

I did call the police once to ask about child abductions in our neighborhood. Sounds crazy, but I was getting annoyed with parents who wouldn't let their kids out to play by themselves. Wondered if I was a fool for letting my kids out by themselves from age three on.  But alas, no child abductions. The only danger, according to the police, is balls running into the street and kids going after them.

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