Refreshing my kids about stranger danger safety takes priority as I think about back-to-school activities. Stranger danger is a complicated concept to teach children. After the tragic abduction and slaying of a precious ten-year old in our community, it’s even more important to me.
As my children return to school, I entrust them to the care of others. It’s my duty to teach my kids how to be safer when they aren’t with me; yet I want them to enjoy being kids, as well. I am searching to find the appropriate balance as I talk to them about this.
Our society works to instill respect for adults and authorities into young children. We teach them to mind elders, speak respectfully and answer to adults, follow instructions, and be helpful and courteous. These very traits can hinder a child’s ability to do what it takes to be safe when it comes to strangers.
Shortly after the tragic abduction and slaying, I was in a store checkout line. The couple behind me were talking to my kids, asking their names, and trying to engage them. The checkout person then did the same. I took that opportunity to remind my kids that those people were strangers. I take this opportunity to ask adult strangers to engage with me, the adult, instead of my kids.
Adding to the complexity, it’s common for children who were adopted to have impaired boundaries with strangers, in the beginning. Scarily, some newly adopted children can walk up to, talk to, hug, ask to be picked up by, and could even leave with a complete stranger. Children cared for in orphanages, as well as domestic and international foster care, had many caregivers. Some changed on shifts or with rotating placements. All children, even those adopted very young, had bonding breaks prior to joining their forever family.
These early beginnings can cause confusion for the child and has to be resolved by their parents—it’s an un-learning of a survival skill that is unhealthy and no longer necessary. Attachment takes time and is necessary for children to learn that their parents are the ones that will meet their needs and take care of them, not complete strangers. This process is vital and may not be well understood by others.
Everyone can support the attachment process by asking the parents about attachment and resisting the urge to hold kids. Please be mindful when interacting with kids for the first year or two they are home, including providing comfort, food, affection, and special gifts. Initially, it’s important that only the parents meet the child’s needs, to establish the attachment that other families take for granted. This is especially critical for older children coming home and may take longer with them. Eventually, once healthy attachment has taken root, the child’s inner circle of family and close friends will be able to play a more active role in the child’s life. It is worth the wait!
Like so many shocked by the horrific death of that young child, I worry for my children’s safety. I love them with all my heart, and I wish I could keep them safe in a bubble and have their innocence prolonged. That, however, is impossible, nor would it prepare them to live in this world. So I choose to hug my kids tighter as I empower, teach, and role-play with them safer ways to act in different possible situations.
Always with hope, Bobi