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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Why I’m letting my kids develop ‘bad habits’

If parenting is about keeping your kids at a distance. And teaching them to cope on their own. And refusing to give them things. And restricting, and routine, and ‘letting them know who’s boss’….. then i am happy to admit, i am really really rubbish at it.

My eldest son and i took a huge sack of stuff to the charity shop (thrift store) the other day. We have an agreement – if he helps me, he can choose a ‘new’ (used) toy from the same place that we  deliver our bag.

When i was speaking with the shop assistant, i happened to mention that agreement. Her response really threw me. “You’ll create a bad habit there if you’re not careful”. I can only assume that by ‘bad habit’ she meant that my son will expect something for helping me.

Some people might call me ‘soft’, but when did being a parent become ‘them against us’? I mean, its ok to give my child a gift right? And its ok to ‘reward’ him for his help? We’re on the same ‘team’. And i love them. And this is not a military operation. I’m not raising a little army.

I’m regularly offered advice (aka opinions) on how to raise my kids. My neighbour will openly tell me that my ‘downfall’ (as she so kindly put it) is that i carry and cuddle my kids too much……that i pick them up when they want me. And that thats wrong.

There’s an army of folks ready to tell me how i should put my kids in their bedroom and let them cry to sleep. How thats the only way i’ll ever get them to sleep alone. The only way i’ll ever stop them waking in the night. I’d really rather not. I like my kids. Even if they do ‘play me like a fiddle’ (to quote another warning i received). Even if i don’t get nearly enough sleep. Even if i often wake with a tiny foot in my face, or a finger in my ear.

I’m not a perfect parent. I probably get it wrong at some point every day. But i love my kids, and i also like them. And here’s the ‘bad habits’ i am happily letting them develop:

1. When they cry, i cuddle them. And i love it.

2. If they need me in the night, they can have me. Anytime. For as long as they want.

3. I carry them. Albeit for less time than i could when they were tiny. But they like to be carried. So i carry them.

4. If they don’t want to eat it, they don’t have to eat it.

5. I buy them treats. When i feel like it. As often as i can afford.

6. If they help me, i reward them. Sometimes its a biscuit. Sometimes its a trip to the park. But i reward them.

7. They can make a mess. This is their house as well as mine. They can leave their toys on the floor, they can leave comics lying around, they can pull out the contents of the bookcase. We’ll tidy it before bed.

If cherishing and treating and keeping my kids close is creating ‘bad habits’, so be it. My kids won’t always be ‘kids’. For now, I’m just throwing myself into it. They’re kids – lets throw caution to the wind and just enjoy it.