Stranger Danger

By Stranger Danger, I mean: Whatever you do, don’t talk to your four-year-old about the dangers of strangers, especially if he’s the kind of kid who’s afraid of lawn mowers, chicken nuggets, squirrels and Finding Nemo.  It began at the grocery store where I had to drag the boys in with me after school to pick up a prescription at the pharmacy counter.

It was a nightmarish ten minutes that included Dylan and Riley attempting human pyramids smack in the way of shopping cart traffic, doing army crawls on their bellies all over the filthy floor and systematically pulling cans and boxes off the shelves just for the hell of it.  The climax was when, as I was swiping my credit card and signing the pharmacy privacy policy, Dylan bolted.  He was nearly outside the automatic doors of the store and into oncoming traffic when a lovely supermarket employee stopped him.  She yelled “Dylan!” after hearing me yell his name half a dozen ineffective times.

I thanked her for her help and she said something like, “Oh, eventually you’ll miss these days.”  Why do people say that?  Note to people: Don’t say this to mothers after their children have just destroyed the supermarket and nearly run in front of a car.

Needless to say, I was upset.  I tried to calmly explain to Dylan (without raising my voice…not so successful) why it’s so important for him to be a good listener and to stay near me in a public place like the grocery store, but he just got upset.  I said, “I don’t want you to get hurt or lost” and “I get sad when I don’t know where you are.”  The importance of the lesson wasn’t sinking in and without thinking I blurted out that I didn’t want a stranger to take him away from me.

Big.  Huge.  Mistake. 

I sparked his curiosity and for the whole car ride home, we talked about who is a stranger (anyone you don’t know) and who is not (Mommy, Daddy, Grandma, Sophia’s mommy, etc.).  We talked about how some strangers are mean, but most of them are nice, and we talked about how as long as Dylan stays close to Mommy and Daddy, he will be safe.  When we got home, the house and all of its distractions (the dog, popcorn, Bubble Guppies, etc.) took over and the stranger talk, thankfully, was over.

Until bedtime.  After prepping the boys for bed, I read them some stories, sang a song and said my bedtime goodbye, “Happy, happy sleep and sweet, sweet dreams.”  As I walked out the door, Dylan said, “Mommy, a mean stranger is going to put me in a cage and blow fire on me, and then I’m going to get burned and it will hurt and he will make me touch poop.”

Bewildered doesn’t even begin to describe how it felt to hear these words from the boy who is afraid of EVERYTHING (and who conveniently inserts poop into every conversation!).  And it was me who handed the topic of strangers to him on a silver platter.  I spent the next twenty minutes curled up with him in his bunk bed watering down his fears and fantasies about strangers and shifting his attention to happier and sweeter things.  Sigh.  He’s asleep now, but I’ve opened Pandora’s box, for sure. 

If anyone out there has advice on age-appropriate conversations about strangers and other the scary things, please share! 
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