Tricky People, Tummy Voices, and Trusting Strangers

As many of you know, my family has spent the past 18 months in some drama-rama while we were stalked by a neighbor. The situation has been handled, with much thanks to our city’s police department and courthouse personnel. While it was going on, one of the things that scared my husband and I was that our kids knew our stalker – his name and where he lived (two doors down). He wasn’t a “stranger”, my kids saw him nearly every day. This was both a blessing and a curse, but it is exactly why I’ve never taught my children Stranger Danger.

During the entire ordeal, we called the suspect the “Creeper”. After the night he tried to break in, Benny changed the name to “Robberness Creeper”. Every time I spoke to the police (kids were almost always present, and it was many times) I referred to the suspect both by his name and by “Robberness Creeper”. I had my kids shake the police officer’s hand and talk directly to the police about what they saw and their “tummy voices” (intuition).
I consciously made the kids active participants in their safety, instead of victims of a crime. To their credit, the police were wonderfully wonderful with the kids. But in this situation, the police officers were strangers to my kids, and the Robberness Creeper was someone they had become familiar with.
While child abduction by a stranger are simultaneously horrific and sensationalized, they are rare. Very rare. We need to give our kids practical, smart safety guidelines to follow. I love what is covered in this blog post and the highlighted website (I agree with 98% of the website). I think these guidelines have a base rooted in critical thinking about personal safety that extends well beyond the childhood years.
I’ve been asked to explain what “tummy voices” are — It is a term Amelia came up with, but we talked about the feeling of knowing something or someone is unsafe. Like the feeling right before going down a really big slide for the first time, or swinging high on a swing and thinking about jumping off — that should I/shouldn’t I voice. Or taking a walk and thinking about a mean dog, just when a neighbor’s dog rushes to their fence and starts to bark, that is a “tummy voice”. She described it as her head feeling “fizzy” and her tummy having a voice — and when you think about the biophysical effects fear has on the body, she is spot on.
The word “intuition” or “instinct” doesn’t mean anything to a preschooler who pretty much lives day to day on instinct. But preschoolers have some of the strongest tummy voices around because they don’t rationalize like adults do, they just observe and feel.
In the end, we took our Robberness Creeper to court, got a restraining order, his family moved him out, and we haven’t seen him since. During all of this, the police officers, court clerks, bailiff, lawyer, and judge were all strangers to my children. And every single one of them had my children’s safety and best interest at heart. It was the man we knew who was a danger.