From Tami: Stranger Danger

Police Officer Protects Baby
We talk about life being a great balancing act, but nothing qualifies you for the circus quite like parenthood. Everything about being a parent is about balance—teaching your children healthy eating habits while encouraging body positivity, allowing them independence while protecting them as well as you can, encouraging a certain degree of caution without instilling fear in them.

I could tell you a few stories about each of them, but today I am going to share a story about that last example. How do you teach your child to be self-protective without terrifying them? Here is a time I almost failed the balancing act, and how I fixed it:

My son was an anxious child. He had lots of nightmares, he would fixate on worst-case-scenarios, and he was very sensitive to the stress levels of those around him. Even so, I didn’t quite anticipate his reaction to our talk. When he was small, we had the stranger-danger discussion. I explained that some people in the world are not good people, and we talked about how to safely interact with people we don’t know. I explained about trusting your feelings, and what to do if a bad person ever tried to touch/hurt/take him. Knowing my son, and the fact that he was prone to anxiety, I was very careful with how I spoke about these things. I was gentle, I spoke gingerly, and I made it clear that he was safe and surrounded by lots of good people. But, oh, how that boy was frightened.

No matter how much I reassured him, he was a nervous wreck. He would jump when the doorbell rang. He wanted to sleep in my bed at night, to ward off nightmares of bad-guys. He was afraid that the bad-guys would get his siblings. One night, he wanted them to sleep in my bed with him, so that he could guarantee that everyone was safe (that was a very crowded night).

The day after the night of the living sardines, I called our local police department. We live in a sleepy little town, and I hoped that the local police would have the time to help us out. I explained how afraid my poor baby was, and I asked if we could tour the station. They agreed, and the whole family went on a field trip.

The police showed my son (and the other kids, as well) how the dispatches work, where the police cars are kept, and the holding cell where they would keep any bad-guy who tried to hurt him. (It is worth noting that our town’s police blotter is more likely to record stories of sick raccoons than bad-guys).

My son sat in the police cars, straddled the police motorcycles, and shook hands with the officers. They were wonderful, and he left a much more confident kid. The bad-guy panic was over.

Looking back, I think that the concept of a bad-guy was too abstract and all-encompassing to my son. Because he had never met anyone dangerous, the idea that there were shadowy people in the world who could hurt children was too much for him to handle; with nowhere to direct his fear, it began taking over his days and nights.

Meeting with the local police was the antidote, I think, because they gave him a concrete way to think about the issue. Clearly, the bad-guys were only human, because the police weren’t afraid of them. The station had a special room for bad-guys. The officers were smiley and reassuring, and the fear faded from my son’s eyes.

I think all parents have these moments, when they try to protect their children and end up with a new problem on their hands. In this case, a field-trip was the cure; but every child and every situation is different, so we all figure out what works as we go.

Tell me in the comments about a time that you “overshot” in your parenting somehow and had to correct your balancing act. I know you have those stories…

That’s why you’re a Super-Mom.


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