His lip began to quiver as he turned his sun-kissed face and buried it into me. The train’s horn signaled its departure from the station. Its cars were packed full of tiny passengers grinning from ear to ear. My boys watched from the sidewalk, their hopes crushed with each toot of the train horn.
I tried to explain to them that it was a pre-season test run; that its passengers were a group of preschoolers on a pre-scheduled ride. But how do you explain such things to a three-year-old with his heart set on a train ride?
Beside us stood an older woman with her daughter and grandson. They, too, tried to explain to the young boy why he couldn’t ride the train. The woman was kind. As we had stood by waiting to see whether we could ride, she’d asked about my boys, about my husband’s work, about our recent move to Colorado.
A silver-haired woman in purple tie-dye came around the corner. She had been busy boarding the passengers moments before. “I just can’t do this,” she began to explain to me and the women beside me. “I’m a grandmother. And look at those tears….” She pointed to my heartbroken three-year-old. Then she bent down until her face was level with my sons’ faces. “You can ride as soon as they come back.” My boy’s lip steadied, and curled into a smile.
As we boarded the train, we chose a seat next to the kind woman and her grandson. My boys beamed as we rode over the small wooden bridge, then through the train tunnel. The woman asked me whether we had found a church; her husband used to pastor one here, she says; they’ve been here for over 25 years. Her daughter explained that she used to ride this train as a young girl. Now her little boy sat next to her, making the same kind of memories.
We exchanged cards before we parted ways. “Call me if you guys need anything!” she said. Then I went to rejoin my boys in the sand, digging endless holes with tiny construction trucks.
She was only one of the handful of woman I spoke to at the park that day. My children have gotten used to it—to Mom striking up conversations with strangers. In fact, I often encourage it by packing our bag full of Matchbox cars, sand toys, or bubbles—something to draw some new friends over for my boys to play with, while I talk with their Moms or caregivers.
After all, I would rather that my children learn how to interact safely with strangers by observing me, right now when they’re little and close by my side. I want them to see how I interact very differently when I am talking to a fellow mom, with other people around, then I do in situations like the other day, when we shared a plate of food with a homeless man—and I asked their Daddy to take it over to him, instead of me. I want them to see the caution. The wisdom. The discretion. And I want them to understand how to put these things into action, so that if a situation arises—they’ll know exactly what to do.
And while we are having conversations about never going anywhere with someone we don’t know, and telling Mom or Dad if an adult makes them feel scared—I want them to also know that sometimes it is ok to talk with strangers.
That sometimes that is how we make friends.
That someday, they might need to talk to a stranger– if (God forbid) they get lost or separated from me.
I need them to know how to identify a safe stranger from a potentially dangerous one. And I want them to know that there is still good in this world. That sometimes a great conversation and even a friendship can be born out of talking with strangers. But only if they know how it must be done—with caution and wisdom. And those are the things that I want to build into them and give them a chance to observe now, while they are near.
A couple of weeks ago I read this story from a woman about when her two sons were approached by strangers—the dangerous kind. These two young boys were well prepared with sound wisdom in how to identify good strangers from bad strangers—and that knowledge saved their lives.
I had also just read this story from a mom who lost her daughter for 15 minutes. Because of conversations they had prior to the event, this young girl knew exactly what kind of strangers she needed help from in order to locate her mom.
I think we go amiss if we teach our kids to not talk to strangers. Because one day they might need a stranger. And that’s why it is so important that we teach them not only what kind of strangers to stay away from—but what kind of strangers are ok.
That is why I love these two books that I came across while reading those stories. No Trespassing—This Is My Body, and Super Duper Safety School, are incredible resources for you to talk through scenarios with your children in a way that won’t gross them out or terrify them—but will instead empower them.
These books show them exactly how to identity a “Tricky Person”—one that could be dangerous, and how to stay safely away from them. They also show them how to identify safe adults, if they need help. Further, they show kids how to talk these things through with their parents or another safe adult, if something makes them feel uneasy, frightened, “or just plain yucky”.
Knowledge is powerful–powerful enough to save our children’s lives. As Patti Fitzgerald (author of these books and founder of Safely Ever After, Inc) , puts it: “REMEMBER: The ONE thing that deters a child predator or a molester is the possibility that they could get caught….If they think your child is confident enough to recognize thumbs down behavior, or may speak up, you significantly lower the risk of being their target!”
Let’s equip our children with that knowledge and confidence.
These books open up and guide the conversations that could save our children’s lives. They are most certainly a new part of our regular reading list—and I’d love to make them a part of yours, too!
Enter below to win a free copy of both No Trespassing—This Is My Body, and Super Duper Safety School.