“I just love talking to strangers!”

We were taking my sister’s dog for a walk last week. The large animal gets a lot of attention – she is a beautiful dog and a breed rarely seen. Nearly everyone along the trail stopped to chat with us and pet the dog. The Bear quickly learned the answers to the common questions that were being asking and soon did all the talking for us.

“She’s a coon hound…. She’s still really a puppy and not fully grown yet…. But she’s not our dog, she’s my mom’s sister’s dog…. And this is my cousin. And we don’t really live here, we’re just visiting….” If we let her, she would keep chatting.

As we approached the car, the Bear turned to us grinning and exclaimed, “I just love talking to strangers!”

I’m sure many parents would balk at their child expressing their thrill with talking to strangers. We are inundated with warnings and educational programming that prepare children to avoid this very act. The aim, it seems, is to not teach them to be wary of dangerous situations or people, but to cut them off at the pass – teach children to avoid talking to strangers, then they will never suffer the fate of a child who actually wanders off with one.

Teaching children about ‘stranger danger’ seems drastic. We seem to forget that all of our friends, our children’s friends, our neighbours, babysitters and librarians were once strangers. In fact, teaching children to not speak with strangers quickly turns children into very unfriendly people. The ‘stranger danger’ lesson paints the world a very dark and dangerous place where the only safe place is at home.

Heck no! I want my children to be outgoing, friendly and engaged in their community. I want them to learn the skills to identify when a situation or person could be dangerous rather than paint all strangers with the same brush. These are skills that can only be honed through practice and exposure. These skills will not be developed if children are encouraged to avoid strangers at all cost.

So, the Bear and Banana (in her waddling infant kind of way) are encouraged to be polite and talk to someone when they are spoken to. They are learning to be friendly and aware of different types of people and social cues. And the Bear will hopefully soon learn when to stop gabbing:

“We didn’t have turkey, we had lamb, but I didn’t eat it because I think killing a lamb is mean. My Mom says that we only eat the mean animals but I don’t think that a lamb could be mean….”

Yadda Yadda Yadda.

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