While I was making dinner on Saturday evening, my husband decided to casually tell me that he had lost four year old Benny Boy at the hardware store that afternoon. Knowing that I have drilled into my kids’ heads what to do in this situation (and have actually practiced it), I waited calmly for the rest of the story, pushing Nancy Grace-like headlines out of my head. He told me he had looked away for a minute to call me, and the kids were gone. They had walked away together, but then separated, our six year old going one way, and four year old Benny Boy the other way.
Ol’ Benny Boy knew to stay calm, find an employee, tell them my husband’s first name and our phone number, and that he needed help to find his grown up. My husband retrieved little Benny Boy from Customer Service, safe and sound.
When I talked to Benny about it later, I asked him how he felt about what happened and when did he realized he was lost. It can be difficult to get a straight story out of a little kid, especially when it deals with sequence of events. You have to be careful not to ask questions that are leading. I also didn’t want him to think this was a scary memory, I wanted it to be an empowering lesson. Essentially he told me it was fun until it wasn’t, and then he got scared and wanted his Daddy. He went up to “a nice old man” because “his tummy voice told him he was a safe man”. The customer (thank you, whoever you are!!) then took my son to an employee to have my husband paged to Customer Service. Benny told me he stayed calm the entire time and didn’t cry, but he did ask all the ladies behind the counter for hugs.
This is why we don’t make a big deal when our kids call us or other grown ups by our first names. There are more important ways to teach respect.
This is why I let my kids out of my sight, with room to explore and build independence. We have boundaries that are age appropriate, and those boundaries widen as the kids grow.
This is why I do not teach “stranger danger”, but rather my family treats people we don’t know as friends we haven’t met yet. My kids are very comfortable chatting with people. Benny can be very shy, but it seems he had strong social skills when he needed them.
This is why I teach my children to listen to their intuition, what we call our “tummy voices”.
We live in a generation of fear-based parenting, in everything from parenting magazines to news programs. I refuse to raise my kids to be scared of their world. I want them to be safe and aware, but never frightened. I want them out exploring and gaining independence and experiences away from me. I don’t necessarily want my four year old free lancing around a giant hardware store, but when he does, I’m very relieved he had the tool kit he needed to find his way back to us. Yes, I hugged him extra tight that night when I put him to bed, and gave him several long kisses on the top of his sweet head. When I said good night, I simply told him I was very proud of him for knowing what to do and listening to his tummy voice.
The moral of my story is to empower our kids to be self-reliant, and be able to stay safe by being able to get help for themselves when they need it.
Some great books that I’ve read on this subject:
“The Gift of Fear” and “Protecting the Gift” by Gavin de Becker — both teach how to get to a place of awareness and intuition. My kids call this their “tummy voices”.
We also have a top secret family password for these situations. Every family should have a password that only their members plus 1-2 Emergency Contacts know. Growing up, mine was “strawberry”. If someone your child doesn’t recognize says they are to pick up the child because mom/dad couldn’t make it, they have to know the password or your kid doesn’t budge.