Encouraging Social Success

Safety versus courtesy

Fears about how your child will interact with strangers when you’re not around can be stressful—not just that he might not be polite, but worse, that someone will take advantage of his sweet disposition. Disconcerting as that can be, don’t make strangers out to be scary for your child, says Irene van der Zande, co-founder and executive director of Kidpower International (kidpower.org), headquartered in Santa Cruz, Calif., and author of The Kidpower Book for Caring Adults: Self Protection, Personal Safety, Advocacy and Confidence for Young People. Instead, teach him boundaries and how to advocate for himself early on.

“If you try to hug your child and he backs away, notice and support it,” explains Abby L. Bleistein, MD, a board certified pediatrician in Lafayette, Colo. “Say, ‘You don’t want a hug today, and that’s okay.’ Let him know he’s allowed to make that choice.” This goes for other family members, too. “Let him choose whether he wants to be hugged or kissed, even by Grandma,” says van der Zande. Teach him to move away from unwanted touch and say, ‘Stop. I don’t like it.’” Ask other children and adults to respect your child’s wishes.

Talk with your child about his interactions. “Teach him that problems should not be secrets,” says van der Zande. Even if his worries sound trivial, get him into the habit of talking with trusted adults and believing that he will be listened to with respect and love. Ask plenty of questions about his day—what happened, who he played with and, occasionally, if there’s anything he’s been wondering or worrying about that he hasn’t told you, van der Zande advises.

NEXT: Playing Well With Others