To say that my little girl is friendly is an understatement. She loves being around people, young and old. I think I owe it to her being the youngest person in either side of the family and thriving in all the attention she gets. That, and I would take her with me wherever I went when she was an infant because I was breastfeeding her so she is used to be being around older people.
I always thought of her confidence and friendliness as a positive thing. Except for one evening while we were at the ladies room of Makati Shangrila Hotel. A nice looking lady and her mom were dining at the same restaurant we were dining in and said "hi" to her. I usually encourage her to be polite and say hello too. I doubt that the lady had meant any harm when she offered her finger and said, "Come!" But alarm bells went off in my head when my little girl took the lady's finger.
Stranger danger! I took my daughter's hand and said, "Let's go back to your lolas and titas already," and took her back to our table. No offense, they looked like a very nice family, but I will not risk having my child whisked off by someone I don't know and regret it for the rest of my life. Better safe than sorry.
That evening, I resolved to teach my little girl about being wary about strangers without breaking her friendliness towards them.
My daughter is two and half years old. I wasn't quite sure if she understood the concept of strangers. I do know that she is somewhat aware of danger, because every time she hears thunder, she would run to me and say, “Mommy, we are safe right?” But let’s save that for another story.
Realistically, children at age 3 and below can’t really understand this type of conversation yet. It takes a certain amount of maturity to grasp the idea. However, I started off by reminding her to always stay close to me or her dad. Without scaring her, I told her in not so many words that Mommy and Papa always want to make sure that she is safe. It’s okay for her to be with her yaya, titas and titos, lolas, cousins, and teachers. But when other people ask her to go with them, she should politely tell them that she has stay with her mommy and papa.
I did some research on how to make this more concrete for my little girl. I gave the example of a dog she didn’t know. In general, she likes dogs because we have our own that she has been playing with since she was months old. She hugs our dogs and calls them her brother and sister. But I pointed out to her that not all dogs are friendly. Sometimes, she sees a dog that barks at her and it scares her. While there are dogs that can also be friendly with her, she knows not to hug them the way she does our dogs because she doesn’t know how they will react. The same goes with people. They may seem nice, but they may not be very nice when mommy and papa are not around.
In cases of emergency where we absolutely get separated from each other, we made sure that she knows her full name, our names, and where we live. While this is most likely an extreme situation, it doesn’t hurt for her to know these details.
At any rate, the key is still constant vigilance. As much as parents would love to give their kids some freedom to roam and play, it is always safe to keep a close watch on them. For instance, when at the toy store, I never keep her more that two steps away from me. And if I am doing some gift or grocery shopping, I never allow myself to get distracted enough from watching out for her. I also always reinforce the habit of letting her hold my hand when we are out.