My Kids Talked To The Person At The Fence

The other day Liam and I were given a reality check. I’m on holidays at the moment but can’t stop playing it over in my head.

We were in the front garden of our home which has a very high fence with a gate that my children can’t reach but an adult can easily open. We were having a morning of family gardening and Liam and I went inside to get drinks, hats, sunscreen etc. You know, the stuff you remember you forgot that you should’ve collected before you began. It appeared from the outside that we left all 3 of our children unattended but we have a large window we can see out on to the front yard and both had our eye on them. In all honestly, one of us should’ve stayed but we both ran inside remembering different items and having a bad parenting communication moment.

They were approached by an adult. Of whom I’m sure was lovely however we both asserted ourselves to go straight outside and make sure they knew of our presence. But, in a moment of thought, I grabbed Liam’s arm and said, “let’s just watch for a minute.”

So we stood there together watching to see how our children would react.

Malachy is sensitive, a people pleaser and pretty often he is polite. So he moved forward to the gate and started talking to the person. Then Cheska, who is often a show off, ran straight over too and started telling her name, her age and singing silly songs. Then surprisingly, Delphi walked over too. I was surprised by this as Delphi is shy and not very trusting of anyone outside those she knows well but because Malachy and Cheska were already there she also felt comfortable to approach the fence. That was then my heart sank. They were all smiling and talking to this person they had never met.

I don’t want to be a paranoid mother, I don’t want my children to fear the world and generally my children are extremely “free range.” When we went to China most Chinese people were quite frankly alarmed how much room we gave them to do their thing (a very big cultural difference.) But this scene worried me greatly. It was then I thought of poor William Tyrrell. It was then I realised my children could all quite easily have been taken from us if our fate had encountered the wrong person and we weren’t watching.

All this time I have had some sort of cognitive dissonance in believing that child abduction happens but somehow my children’s personalities would protect them, that we lived in the city where there are “too many witnesses” or that “this couldn’t happen to us.” We are not immune.

We both walked outside and the person said hello to us and went on their way. I wanted to grab my kids by the shoulders and say “don’t ever do that again!” But I didn’t want to frighten them. I just said, “please don’t ever talk to a stranger without mum, dad or a teacher being there.”
I’m not sure if Malachy completely understood what we were saying but I know for certain my girls didn’t understand…

 

Edit: I have had a lot of diverse feedback about this post. My advice to my children was extremely basic and not well thought through but it was a knee jerk response to what I had seen and that I was trying simplify the message for two 3 year olds. In hindsight, the issue is more complex and this one sentence of course doesn’t really address enough.

I am in no way an expert in this field. I am just another parent who is feeling my way as things like this arise. I never live in fear of what I see on the media but from personal experience, adults aren’t always kind to children even if they appear to be. I also know that like most parents these days, I have my children online and I am cautious of the implications of this. I also don’t want my children to live in fear and I want them to enjoy interacting with people.

I welcome advise, expertise and personal experiences to my blog. Thank you if you take the time to do so. But please, no nasty, non productive commentary. I am honestly trying to learn, better myself as a parent and create conversation for others to also do such.

Much love.

-Annie xxx

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Comments

  1. Hey Annie, you must be feeling a bit lost as to what to do or say to your three.
    I had an experience when I was about 10, my brother (4) and I were walking around with one of those school chocolate boxes to raise money.. We were halfway through the neighbourhood when we approached a house to which we didn’t know who lived there, I knocked and a man answered the door and invited us in. Everything I was taught about strangers and social situations in school came straight into my head, I refused and we carried on our way, without him even offering to buy any of the chocolates.
    My brother if he were alone would have gone straight in so I’m grateful he wasn’t and I used my head.
    Anyway school helped ALOT with learning about situations like this, and I believe children can sense danger and dangerous people, it comes down to where they are and who they’re with at the time.
    Hope I relieved your worry a little 🙂

  2. Hi Annie. Not sure if you’ve considered this, but one of my girlfriends has a ‘password’ with her kids. Her youngest is three, but she knows that if someone approaches her, they must know the ‘password’–which is an agreed word between the kids and their parents to know that someone is safe. For example, if I have to pick her up from day care, I have to tell her what the password is or she won’t come with me–and she’s known me all her life. Maybe you and your family could come up with a solution that works for you? Good luck 🙂

  3. how sad it is that we have to fear such an event? it would be great to go back to the days where the ‘village raised the child’. I had a child fall in the shop and the oldtimer (who is delightful) was too scared to pick her up in case he was in trouble for touching her….when I was a kid two girls were abducted from the football in Adelaide – it was front page news for weeks and I wasn’t allowed to go anywhere alone for months (in small town Penola…lol). now my fb feed tells me of several children going missing every single day….time for harsher punishments I think

  4. In your shoes, I probably would have done the same thing. There is such a fine line between wanting your children to be polite and wanting them to be safe. Young children are naturally trustworthy of all adults unless they have already been through a bad experience. Thankfully it was only a learning opportunity.

  5. Christopher Horner says:

    Get a grip, this kind of hysteria is one reason why modern children have no communication skills. Children are more likely to be abused by someone they know.

  6. Hi Annie…I’m a grandmother and very aware of how life has changed in terms of stranger danger. We were taught and my chid also never to speak when spoken to by a stranger and to run and find either our parent or teacher. I don’t think u can do much else because even though u don’t want your children to live in fear the harsh reality is that it is a more dangerous world in many places. May I also say that any adult with good intentions and a sensible head does NOT encourage young children playing in their own yard behind a high fence to come over and chat.

  7. I understand your situation is hard and sympathise as the world is a scary place these days. You don’t want to stop you’re children talking to a friendly passerby. And on my opinion you shouldn’t. Your children need to occasionally be friendly to strangers or civil to people they do not know. They just need to understand not to put themselves in danger. There’s a difference. The world will be an awful place if a child cannot tell someone their name or engage in small talk. You were close by so not at risk. As long as children know not to go to a strangers car or away with them then that’s enough.
    There may be some risk in that theory perhaps but if you stay close, educate but not suffocate them you are doing your best. You can’t live in fear.

  8. Chasitti says:

    Hello Annie. I came across your blog post on Parents.com because the words Stranger Danger caught my eye. It said that your post sparked a debate and it made me wonder why. After reading the article and your blog post… I agree with you COMPLETELY. I think you were/are well within your parental rights to be concerned about your children. I am a new parent and I have a 16 month old daughter and my response would have been the same if not worse. In the greater scheme of things do you A) worry about what other people think and second guess your maternal instincts which may or may not lead to something terrible or B) listen to your gut and do exactly what you did in this blog post. I’ll vote B all day and I hope you will too because the risk in A is not worth taking. Congratulations on being a wonderful mother.

  9. As an adult that was abused as a child by a family friend, I AGREE with you! My children were taught a safeword. They knew that anyone coming to get them after school that was not myself or Dad, would know our phrase. It became a game that was fun and thankfully they made it to adulthood without any incidents. Everyone has their own way of parenting. Don’t let others opinions effect that. You are doing what you feel is right. Bless you all

  10. I think your response was exactly what the situation called for. We do live in a different world than our parents. But you do need your children not to be paralyzed by fear. Think of the situation of the, being lost in a store, fair, park, etc. They are going to have to be able to speak with a stranger to get help. I’ve told my girls to talk with a mom with kids if they can’t find a worker in a uniform. If they were so frightened of strangers they wouldn’t be able to do so.

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