Thursday, February 11, 2010

Walking the Fine Line between Safety and Fear

I've tried to teach my children to have a healthy fear of strangers while encouraging them to be friendly and outgoing with adults. It's a tough balance between having kids who will talk to store clerks, other parents and "family friends" and knowing when someone is a real stranger.

We have a family "code" word, rules about going to new friends' houses, and about sharing too much information on line or give away too much information to those we don't really know. But I also allow the older children to have some freedom when playing outside. They have free rein of our street and can, with permission, go to the park in a group and they have even walked to the neighbor gas station for a Slurpee when it's hot outside. I want them to feel safe to have fun without strangling their freedom.

Miss A, as our youngest, is normally my shadow when she's home and her sister's buddy when they venture outside to play. Lately, it's been too cold and snowy for much outside stuff, but we hold out hope that spring will come soon! However, she does like to be independent and have some "alone time" too. She'll play alone in her room for hours. I sometimes will have to check her to make sure she's still OK. She always is and normally tells me to leave her alone.

She's been so confident lately that she told me yesterday that I could just drop her off outside at preschool not walk her in as I normally do. She knows the way! Silly me, I like to follow the rules and made her walk with me inside.

Yesterday afternoon, I needed to run upstairs to change my clothes from sweaty workout-cleaning clothes to something presentable. It was about 15 minutes before her brother would be coming home from school and I decided I had better unlock the door since he'd be carrying his trombone home. Normally, our front door is locked during the day!

About 5 minutes later, Miss A yells up that there is someone at the front door to see me. I hustle and come down the stairs to see the front door wide open and a salesman on the front porch. There was only a little glass door separating him from my precious little daughter.

I'll admit right here that I have no idea what the gentleman said to me. My heart was racing 500 miles a minute and my stomach was doing flips thinking of all the "what could have happen Scenarios." I graciously told the gentleman that I needed to have a little conversation with my daughter and while I'm sure his pitch was great, I just couldn't listen. His response, "I was surprised to see a little girl answer the door." So was I sir, so was I.

We've talked numerous times to our kids about not answering the door while we are gone and not answering the door themselves even if they are expecting someone. When the doorbell rings at dinner, either my husband or I jump up to get it just in case.

Nothing happened. Miss A is fine. The salesman was perfectly innocent and just doing his job, but I think I just shaved years off my life.

I thought I had set the limit. I normally have the door locked and Miss A can not unlock it as its a tough latch. I've talked to her about stranger danger. But, maybe I haven't done enough.

I'll admit that when I closed the front door I jumped all over Miss A. I told her how scared Mommy was and how she can never ever never open that front door again. She looked at me with huge blue eyes, started to cry and hid her face in the furniture. After a five minute cooling down time, I told her I was sorry. She had scared me. C came home from school and we all talked about safety and caution.

I don't want to scare my children, but this incident scared me. There were lots of hugs and snuggling last night. Lots of bedtime talks about how much I love my children. When Mr C came home today at noon (1/2 day today due to conferences) I kept the front door locked until his arrival. Again, we talked about not opening the door unless Mommy or Daddy are right there.

I want Miss A to walk in confidence and not fear anything, but I want her to be prepared too.
Any suggestions you have on walking this fine line, bring them on!

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