talking to 3 yr. old about strangers — The Bump
School-Aged Children

talking to 3 yr. old about strangers

I brought my 3 yr. old to the playground today and there was an older women...maybe a young grandmother, who kept talking to my son and his friend. At first I thought my son's friend knew her because she was talking to him so much. She was sitting right in the middle of where my son and friend were playing. It's one thing for someone else to make small talk to kids at a playground but she just kept going and going. At one point she had said Hey little boy how old are you and what's your name! It wasn't exactly what she said but the way she said it that really bothered me and got me thinking about talking to my son about strangers. I don't want to scare him but definitely want him to be more aware. He starts preschool this fall and I'm so nervous about him being around new people. This will be the first time he'll be away from me. Any books recommendations would also be great!

Re: talking to 3 yr. old about strangers

  • You're conflating two separate issues.  The first is how to begin to teach kids about appropriate interactions with various types of people in public.  The second is your natural anxiety over the transition to preschool.  

    Young preschoolers need a really black/white explanation about strangers, because the issue is confusing, and they're too young to be told the truth behind "stranger danger."

    We tell them "don't talk to strangers" but then we encourage them to answer when the bank teller asks them if they'd like a lollipop.  Or when a little old lady in Wal-Mart compliments our child, we respond with, "say thank you to the nice lady!"  So, we tell them not to talk to strangers, but then we often encourage them to... talk to strangers! 

    I handled the "stranger" problem when my kids were preschool age by telling them that they could always talk to close family members, babysitters, and teachers without asking permission.  But if anyone else talked to them, they should ask the adult with them if it's okay before answering.  Since my kids were never unsupervised in public places, this worked well.  

    Although preschool is a big transition, and your child will come into contact with new people as a result of going to school, you don't have to be afraid that your child is at an increased risk of "stranger danger" because of school.  Any preschool worth its salt has a strict routine for dealing with security.  Pick up will be incredibly structured, especially for 3 year olds who are new to this whole "going to school" thing.  Plus, most preschools work on "stranger danger" as a part of the socialization curriculum.

    So, yes -- the preschool years are a good time to begin to talk about how we interact with different types of people in different ways.  But school itself won't increase the likelihood of stranger danger. 

    High School English teacher and mom of 2 kids:

    DD, born 9/06/00 -- 12th grade
    DS, born 8/25/04 -- 7th grade
  • Our rule was they could talk to strange kids but had to ask for permission to talk to strange adults, except teachers at school. I didn't really explain why at that age.
    Proud Mommy to Kaylie 12-04, Alaina 5-06 & Annalise 6-08 imageimage
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  • At that age my children were instructed to respond to any adult they did not know who spoke to them with, "I am sorry, but I am not allowed to talk with strangers." They were polite, but got the point across to the adult. Any adult who did not respect this, we did not want to be around. My children are never unsupervised in public and this worked well with the parents of other children in parks. I also make a point of never talking to children when in public without first asking the parents. I am a firm beleiver in doing what you are saying. Children frequently speak to me when we are at the park and other public places. I make a point of saying "where is your mom/dad" and going to meet them before engaging their child in conversation.

    Mother of two wonderful boys! Blessed through adoption.

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