Parenting in Public – Dealing with Strangers

We have always encouraged our children to be polite and greet people with a smile and/or a hello regardless of whether or not they know them. Thankfully we live in a small, safe neighborhood with heavy security so we’ve never had any issues, but it’s still important to have that conversation with your kids about “stranger danger.”

The most difficult aspect of this for me was explaining that “not everyone is nice”, it felt like I was taking a little bit of their innocence away. I told them that while it’s nice to greet everyone, not everyone is a safe person to talk to because some people make bad choices and can be hurtful, either with words or physically. I said that it’s my job to protect them and I outlined the following guidelines:

  • At home, they are not allowed to open the door without an adult’s presence even when they know who to expect.
  • When we are outside, they can say hello to anyone they like but they shouldn’t have an extended conversation with a stranger unless I am present.
  • They must never get in to or even go near a car with someone trying to entice them with something e.g. asking for help finding a building/shop, or asking if they want to pet their dog etc.
  • If they are at the park and someone begins to talk to them, they should not share their full name, which school they go to, or where they live, and come find me soon thereafter if I am not with them.
  • If someone offers them a snack they should decline it politely, saying it isn’t snack time for them or bring it to me to check it first.
  • In the event that someone comes and tells them that I am calling them, they should ask for the magic word (a secret word that we have discussed previously); if the person doesn’t know that word they must never follow them.
  • If for some reason they get separated in a large crowd or a public place, they should look for a “mama with a stroller/baby” and ask her for help if they can’t remember our designated meeting spot.

Of course, sometimes we also have to deal with the grown ups who don’t find the children’s greeting particularly endearing. They are the ones who don’t respond with a smile, or turn up the volume on their Iphone, or quickly brush past my children, at which point I have to explain that they might be in a rush or perhaps having a bad day – only to be reminded by them that it’s polite to greet everyone no matter what!

Sara Zaidi is a child therapist and the creator of Building Healthy Minds and Happy Families. With advanced degrees in psychology and mental health and over ten years of clinical experience, Sara helps parents navigate through the challenging early stages of their children’s lives by explaining the cognitive, emotional and social development of children from a neurological and behavioral perspective. Read her parenting blog at and visit to learn more about her work. 

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Sara Zaidi

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