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Teaching a social, verbal toddler to "don't talk to strangers"?

post #1 of 20
Thread Starter 
My dd is very verbal and wants to be friends with everyone. She likes ordering her own food (with our help) in a restaurant, she waves at everyone, and talks about people as being "my new friend" if they so much as make eye contact! She will walk up to much older children at the park and ask them to play with her.

I LOVE that she is so trusting and social. But I worry that down the road, this could be sort of dangerous. She is exactly the kind of kid that would get in a stranger's car to help them "find their lost puppy".

I've told her that she should never talk to people she doesn't know unless she's with Mommy or Daddy, but she is so curious about others, she'll just introduce herself to people. In her mind, once she's done that, they're no longer strangers, they're "friends".

How are other moms handling this with their chatty, social butterfies?
post #2 of 20
Well, my son is definitely not a social butterfly, but Gavin de Becker has a lot to say about teaching children about strangers in his book, Protecting the Gift . He emphasizes teaching children how to interact with strangers rather than teaching them not to talk to strangers. This way, in the event that a child is surrounded by strangers, he or she will feel confident in choosing which person to go to for help.

If you haven't read it, it is a really great book regarding safety and strangers.
post #3 of 20
I was going to recommended Protecting the Gift as well. Excellent book. Required reading for parents.

My DS is exactly like you described your DD. I have always encouraged him to feel free to talk to anyone as long as he feels comfortable doing so. Instead of teaching stranger danger I emphasize trusting his judgment. Kids have wonderful instincts and I think they can be trusted. There have been people that just totally repelled my DS, they are usually the people that give me bad vibes as well. I don’t want him to be fearful of people and afraid to be social. I think teaching strangers=bad can do that. I also don’t want to teach him that strangers are bad because that can leave him open to thinking that everyone he knows can be trusted. And like the above book mentioned, it states that your child is more likely to be abused or abducted by someone close to them rather than a stranger.

Like the pp said, I want him to know what strangers are the safest to go to in the event that we get separated. Not that all strangers are bad and not to talk to them at all. And of course it’s important to discuss not going in anyone’s car and such unless he has my permission, right from my mouth, etc.

Anyway… I could go on, but I'll let someone else have a turn I'm sure you'll get a lot of great suggestions here.
post #4 of 20
Thread Starter 
Vermillion, I agree with most of what you said. I really don't want to teach her that "stranger = bad" but I guess I'm not totally confident in trusting her judgement, either. So far, there really hasn't been anyone that she's decided is unapproachable (even when they gave me the heeby-jeebies). She just says "I'm Taryn, what's your name!" and then wants me to bring them home with us so she can play school and eat ice cream!

Good points, too... about her needing to rely on strangers if she gets separated from me, and about her being more likely to be hurt/abused by someone she knows. I "know" both of those, but wasn't really thinking about them initially.

Anyone else...?
post #5 of 20
How old is your DD btw? I’m guessing young toddler. 2ish?

I should mention that my DS (4 in April) has learned to be a bit more selective this past year. When he first became really verbal he would talk to anyone and everyone. And yeah, they were best friends after that too But lately, while he is still really, really social, it’s not to the extent that it was.

So my point is, you can probably expect the interest in talking to anyone and everyone to wane a bit as she gets older. As she gets older it will also be much easier to teach stranger safety and her instincts will mature. At least this is what I've experienced with my own DS.
post #6 of 20
Thread Starter 
Yes, she's about 2 1/2.

I'm hoping you're right - that her gregariousness will combine with a better sense of judgement as she ages. We shall see!

I'll definitely check out Protecting The Gift, too.

post #7 of 20
Yep, read "Protecting the Gift". It is one of the best books I have read about any parenting issue. He talks a lot about how "stranger danger" really backfires because of course you need to talk to strangers sometimes. Like the cashier or the waitress or the police officer. So a kid that was told never to talk to strangers but it urged to order thier food get confused. My dd is 2.5 too and she has zero inhibitions.....but I have noticed that there are people she will not warm up to. They are not necessarily strange or dangerous looking. They may or may not actually be strange or dangerous, but it does seem that she has the beginnings of judgement on these things.

Your dc will not be alone in the world for quite some time. And if she happens to be you want her to talk to strangers so they can help her find you. So i would skip the stranger danger and let her get adept at listening to her judgement. It may take awhile, but I would not worry too much. As she gets older you can start to explain the tricks people use to entice kids, like the puppy line.
post #8 of 20
Another fan of Protecting the Gift here

I think her discernment will grow as she does.

One thing I do is talk out loud in front of my daughter (and son but he's a tot) about what I'm thinking in certain situations. For instance when I'm backing out of the driveway I'll say "okay I'm gonna go slow here and really look out for kids and cats". This is something we all do a lot - it's kind of second-mommy-nature.

But I think purposefully talking to "yourself" in front of the kids when you're in a sketchy situation, or just coming out of one, can really help them learn the red flags they'll need to know. "Whew I'm glad I got out of there fast - that man was standing way too close - that was weird!" etc. For some reason I think when they "overhear" stuff it can make more of an impression than if we have a "talk" with them. Of course the "talks" are part of educating our kids - but I think the "overhearing" thing is another tool that's helpful - especially with young children. Okay - does that make sense? - I'd better go to bed - Eve

Oh and role playing helps too - what do you say if a nice man comes up and says he'll give you a lolly if you'll come to his car to help you get it - what if he begs and pleads and falls on his knees? what if he tells you he'll call the police on you if you don't go? we really ham it up but always end with running to check with mom. but what if you're not with mom at the park? play out tricky situations like that - just a few times on the way to the park every now and then helps I think. Just a heads up here - be ready for the "Why?" questions as she gets older. I'm sure there are some good threads here re how people have explained evil to youngsters.
post #9 of 20
Another vote for Protecting the Gift!!! Great book.
post #10 of 20
I have a 2 yr old. I haven't read Protecting the Gift yet. But I don't worry much about it at this age. I'm always with her, and I can help her negotiate interactions with strangers. Also, my understanding is that sadly children are much, much less likely to be harmed by strangers as they are by someone they know.
post #11 of 20
She sounds like my daughter to a tee. Who is 4 and no it hasn't wained, or barly any. Other day we go to a cafe and a man who dh knows casualy says hi. So he's waiting to give his order and dd starts chatting then she says to him 'I can button my shorts myself"! and stands up on the chair were she was going to show how she could! arrgggg !!!

This is my whole take on the whole stranger danger thing. Firstly as pp have said abuse and ubduction is more common in people the child knows. Secondly I don't think it's effective at young ages at all. If it is 'effective' i think its only that it has made the child generaly fearfull of all unknown people. Because how else are they going to 'get it' about why not to talk? unless they are scared. I don't want my kids to be fearful of people, nor of strangers. Everyone is a stranger at first, what about if they go to kindy? other kids, strangers? teachers, strangers? or what about if they got lost? cahier, stranger? police officer, stranger? I don't think little children can or should have to distingwish between ok strangers and possibly not ok strangers. Thats then making the child partly responsible for their own safty, when it is really the parents job.
Does your daughter have chance to talk to people without you there? Highly unlikly, so if your right there then it's perfectly safe, and if your not there, then there shouldn't be that oppitunity kwim?

Older kids can have things explained. When it's more about never going with a stranger, and teaching kids to scream. That in these situations it's ok to kick and scream and yell no! Because some kids have been abducted who were taught never to say no to an adult.
post #12 of 20
When I read your post it reminded me of dd when she was that age. We were living in Germany and she would just talk, talk, talk to people (usually in English, her primary language or Armenian, her 2nd language). She finally learned that she had to speak German, but it kind of... I don't want to say stunted, but it impeded... her openness. She was shy with her German as she was learning it, but wanted to talk up a storm. I don't know this book, but I hope you can find a way to both foster her openness and teach her to be cautious. I realized too late, and now my dd is very quiet about her wants and needs.
post #13 of 20
Again, another vote for Protecting The Gift. A FABULOUS book!

My dd is like this too. Anyone she talks to is her new friend. I agree with the pp who said that at this point in their lives (and for many years to come) it is primarily OUR job to keep our kids safe from danger. While we can start teaching them about safe and unsafe things, they just don't have the judgement yet to make all of these decisions on their own.

Also, how can I tell my daughter not to talk to strangers when I do it all day long (a point from the book, btw)? I can tell from watching her that there are people that she will NOT approach and I'm assuming she senses something there that she doesn't like. I also try my very hardest not to pressure her in any way to speak to a stranger that is speaking to her. If she feels comfortable, great. If not, I am not going to make her talk to someone to be "polite."

So, let your dd spread her joy by being everyone's friend but keep her at arms length (or closer) as she's doing it. Read the book and I promise you'll feel more confident about how to protect your child.

post #14 of 20
Yea, the other thing that he mentions in the book is that at this age (and much older, even) your child is not responsible for keeping her/himself safe ~ you are.

This idea is consistent with what I believe about child development in that you don't start teaching a child about what they need to do in the future by starting when they're young. You do it by meeting their needs in the moment. IMO, a child this age nees to be getting used to people, developing their ability to judge character and learning to interact effectively.
post #15 of 20
Another vote for Protecting the Gift. An absolutely mind-blowing and changing book about how I look at the world and how to protect my children. I just really wanted to emphasize this, as I saw it mentioned and mentioned and mentioned on threads forever and when I finally read it, it was just so much better than I had anticipated.

Get it now. Even you, you lurker
post #16 of 20
At that age, unless she's going to be in situations without you or another supervising adult, I don't see the point in inserting discomfort/ fear of strangers to her cheery perception of the world.
post #17 of 20
I can so relate. Just this evening, my two year old dd made at least three "friends" at the grocery store. "That's my friend!" she happily exclaimed. One friend was a young girl with a bunny, but the two others were strange looking men. Honestly, I love that about her. She's so open and generous. Is her judgement suspect? I don't know, and I don't plan on leaving her to her own devices to find out!

Although I have to admit - she ran off once in a Mervyn's and I didn't see what direction she went. After alerting the store that a child was on the loose, I found her happily chatting about Christmas trees with two sales associates in the jewelry department. They were utterly charmed and had taken protective "custody" of her.
post #18 of 20
I like the idea of learning what kinds of strangers to go to if dd needs help and we're not there for some reason. We haven't really got there yet, and I'd need to learn more about how to work on that.

Right now, we don't talk about strangers being dangerous, we just talk about how the safety rule is that she doesn't talk to folks or go with them without checking with me or her dad first, even if someone says that we said it's ok. She needs to actually talk to her dad or I, to make sure it's ok.

That doesn't cover all the bases, I know, but it's a start, and she's really good about it. We'll be standing right next to her in the park and she'll ask us if she can talk to the toddler standing next to her, then if she can talk to the toddler's mom...
post #19 of 20
Originally Posted by mammastar2
I like the idea of learning what kinds of strangers to go to if dd needs help and we're not there for some reason.
DC and I talk about that. I think we started at about 3. Last week we had a great learning experience because DC saw a lost child get help from some people at a museum. But, for me, it's more about helping DC not totally freak out than it is about helping her find the best person to talk to.

If you feel more comfortable having your child ask you who she/he can talk to, I would definitely include some discussion about what they think about the person. How they made them feel, what kind of vibe they get and etc.

I lived in a place where DC would be really independent from me while I was still available to help her and I prefer that she was out and a little "alone" so that she could test her skills while I was there. I realize this is not within everyone's comfort zone but I do recommend a little of this.
post #20 of 20
If your duaghter is a toddler, then she won't be having unsupervised contact with strangers. Therefore, I don't think you need to worry about teaching her not to talk to strangers.

When she gets older, you can teach her about being aware of her surroundings and that she doesn't have to do things that make her uncomfortable just to please an adult. You can let her know that she can always leave a situation that is making her uncomfortable.

I don't plan to teach my kids not to talk to strangers. I talk to strangers all the time. But I will teach my kids how to avoid dangerous situations and what to do if they find themselves in one.

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