Monday, May 19, 2014

A Tricky Situation

How social is too social?

Madison is our social butterfly. She is a chatterbox, she's friendly, she loves to tell stories, and she loves to interact with people. She's the kid in the grocery store, cheerfully calling "hello!" and "have a good day!" to everyone we pass.

Our Social Butterfly!

She talks to kids, she talks to adults, she talks to teachers, she makes small talk with receptionists.

I really do love this particular personality quirk of hers. She is a genuinely friendly kid who just loves interacting with others. She's not rude, she's just chatty. All her teachers have made mention of the fact that she talks to them and tells them stories all through their interaction with her. She happened to be the only kid in her particular gymnastics class the other day, and the coach made sure to tell me that she kept up a steady stream of conversation with him for the entire class. He got a kick out of it, and I know she enjoyed that class more than any other.

However, last week, at her cooking class, I got a comment from her teacher that got me thinking.

First of all, I love this cooking class. Preschoolers get to cook, craft, play and eat together for 90 minutes at our Parks and Rec building. Madison loves cooking and it's relatively inexpensive. They seem to alternate sweet desserts with veggie dishes, and she's so excited to bring her little container home for all of us to try. Then she's even more excited to help me in the kitchen with her own set of knives. Win all around.

She's actually dying for me to get her THIS chef set so she can be "Chef Madison". So far, I'm resisting. It's that fine line of making sure this interest doesn't fade, with letting her really explore. We just got THIS cookbook, and she's totally obsessed with cooking our way through it, so I'll probably give in before long.

The kitchen in the rec center is located right next to the bathrooms. Usually during the class, both bathroom doors are propped open. The cooking kids go in and out to wash their hands as necessary, and the doors are open so the teacher can hear them and keep track of them. Last week, Madison was in there washing her hands after she finished breading the veggies and a group of the high school tennis girls walked in to use the restroom.

Madison was happy to chat with these new friends, telling them all about what she was cooking, why she was washing her hands, what the craft was going to be, and the girls were cooing over how adorable she was. The cooking teacher eventually called her back, when it was clear that she would probably have washed her hands indefinitely to keep the conversation going.

When I picked her up, her teacher told me that she'd made some new friends. I laughed at my little chatterbox. Then she said something that got me thinking. The cooking teacher laughingly said Madison was clearly not concerned about "stranger danger".

Well that got me thinking. Have we, loving how warm and friendly our daughter is, done her a disservice? Clearly, she was completely fine with standing in a bathroom, introducing herself to older girls who were in there. Is this a red flag that she's on a dangerous path?

We've talked about it in an age appropriate way of course. Rather than "don't talk to strangers" we've stressed the "tricky people" philosophy, teaching Madison that grown ups don't need to ask kids for help, and that she should never be told to keep a secret from Mommy and Daddy, but should we be teaching her to put her guard up all the time? If we do that, are we also teaching her everyone should be assumed bad to start?

Obviously, Madison feels safe when we're around. She feels safe in her classes. She's comfortable in her dance studio, gym, preschool, and while she's in her classes. She's heard me make small talk and she's happy to consider most of her world to be made up of old friends and friends she hasn't met yet.

I don't want to stifle her, make her scared, and tell her that being social is risky. I don't want her looking at everyone as a potential bad guy. I don't want her afraid to use the restroom, afraid to have me leave her at an activity, afraid to be polite and friendly with the world around her. That's one of the reasons I love the idea of teaching about "tricky people". It's not a stranger we need to be worried about, it's someone who wants things that don't seem right.

In this situation, I'm not worried one bit. The door was open, her teacher heard the whole thing, and everything was totally innocent. She didn't break a single "tricky person" rule, even though she was talking to people she didn't know.

But it did get me social is too social?

Have you read about this approach to what we used to think of as stranger danger? Do you think it's more appropriate? How do you teach your kids to stay safe without making them think the world is a place to fear?
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