Letting the kids talk to strangers

I took my boys to the beach yesterday with our big gangly dog. Nothing strange there. We do this every day.

Anyway, I digress. I took my boys to the beach yesterday, and whilst we were there a man arrived with a bucket, wearing waders and proceeded to wander out into the shallows.

It was a very low tide. Lower than I’ve seen it for a long time, and there were small pools exposed, and rocks covered in green slime, and shells and the spaghetti-like cases left by sand worms. And the man stopped by one of these pools, kneeled on the wet sand and began dipping his hands into the water and under the rocks.

It, obviously, caught our attention, and I found myself thinking that here was another great opportunity to let my eldest son ( for the youngest can’t speak yet…) practice talking with a stranger.

Talking with a stranger!!!!! Yes, you read that correctly.

See, the thing is, I know we’re all supposed to be frightened of talking to strangers. And we’re supposed to teach our kids that stranger = danger. But I just get can’t to grips with that.

We live in the north east of England. Up here the people are (for the best part) notoriously friendly.  We chat on the bus, in the street, on the doorstep. We don’t think anything of striking up conversation with folks we might stand next to in the supermarket aisle, or people smiling at us at the bus stop. And smiling…..that’s great shit isn’t it? Costs nothing and makes your day.

I’ve taught my eldest to smile at folks. I’ve also taught him to say hello if someone sits next to him. To say ‘excuse me’ to the shop assistant if he wants something. He’s only 4 (nearly 5) but I’ve encouraged him to approach the lady behind the counter, to speak to the bus driver, to say ‘good morning’ to fellow dog walkers.

And I encouraged him to approach the man in the waders, and ask him what he was doing. I knew what he was doing. But I saw this as another chance for my son to practice politely approaching someone. And of course, to learn something new.

The man responded with kindness. Maybe it’s because we live in the north. But he took the time to answer my son. They both smiled. My son came skipping back to me, buoyant with the new information he had. Excited that he had learnt something new. And confident that he could approach someone he didn’t know.

I had watched from a distance. I knew he was ‘safe’. And I was glowing with pride to overhear his beautiful little voice start “excuse me….”.

How can we teach our kids independence, if we are to control who they speak to? And how they speak to them?

There are so many skills I am trying to teach my kids. Surely, one of the most important is how we integrate into our society, how we make friends, how we talk to others.

I’m not prepared to teach my children to be afraid of strangers.

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10 thoughts on “Letting the kids talk to strangers

  1. I don’t disagree wih what you say unknowingly I have done and am doing wih my 5 children. They say hello and smile and will talk to anyone. But I have also taught my children the dangers along side it. The danger of running off and out of site, the lesson of if you can’t see me I can’t see you. And most importantly that talking is ok but they must never ever ever go off wih a stranger!!!!

  2. I think it’s an excellent idea, as you say he was safe and he gains confidence and the skills to negotiate life. Also it’s a way for him to develop his own radar about when something is off, gain a little street smarts.

    I have had some great chats with people from around the world and learnt some stuff, my dad is the same and is usually to be found chatting to some stranger over a shared interest – sport, music or just in a museum.

  3. I do exactly the same thing and I’m a Southerner. I send my son to ask the shop assistant when we can’t find things, I wait while he chats to people in the street (so long as I can see that they don’t mind), and last week he did the rounds in a cafe telling anyone who wanted to listen that they should be careful because a thunderstorm had just started outside. Most people were happy to engage with him. And those that weren’t, well they were only bothered for a second or two. He’s only three and a half and that’s too young to make him scared of everybody.

    I think the important thing for a child that age is to be there watching. I saw a video of an experiment a while ago where a man attempted to “abduct” (under controlled conditions with the agreement of their mothers) children from a play park, one after another. They had all been taught about stranger danger, but that went out the window and they followed this man simply because he had a puppy with him and a friendly manner. Even though their mothers were present in the play park. Teaching about stranger danger won’t keep little ones safe if you’re not watching.

    What you do with older children who are out in the world on their own a bit more, I’m not sure. I only know about children up to three and a half!

    • Thanks for that. It’s good to know that others feel the same way! And no, I’m not sure what to do about older children……but there must be a book or something to strike up conversation with… I’ll start looking!

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