Taste buds, tactile pleasures and the direction of the wind converge to form the basis of my four-year-old boy’s decision-making criteria. No matter how many times I tell him otherwise, he remains an immature and gullible target for any practical joke — or any predator.
However, the truth is that I love his innocence and innate sense of goodness, seeing all strangers as potential friends worth trusting. I’ve witnessed the hearts of the grumpiest people melt once exposed to his larger-than-life smile and bright, almond-shaped eyes. His aura oozes with love and kindness.
So, my question is: how do I teach this sweet boy that the world is not as it seems? That unfortunately, bad people exist. And that even amongst those he knows and within the “safe places” he spends his time, somebody may want to trick him, or worse yet, hurt him.
And because he’ll be pioneering new terrain in pre-kindergarten, I feel pressured to get my message across. Now.
Upon communicating my urgency to a dear friend, she loaned me a DVD called The Safe Side: Stranger Safety, Hot Tips for Cool Kids. It features a super-hero gal that moves the young viewer from scenario to scenario, demonstrating how to act and react “safely” in various situations. As a family, we’ve watched it together many times.
I know my boy doesn’t lack in comprehension skills because after he watches any movie, show or listens to any bedtime story, his recall is almost 100% accurate. Yet somehow, with this topic, when I initiate the post-program Q & A session, it’s as though he has not captured the point. At all.
His relentlessly stubborn, trusting personality refuses to surrender to (the modified-kid-version of) today’s world’s harsh realities. He lacks criteria, common sense and hasn’t a mean bone in his little body.
Making this kid aware of danger, fearful of strangers, and explaining the subsequent “whys” of it all is not only virtually impossible, it has me torn. How could I rob him of his innocence, of his sense of wonder, his good inclinations, and his right to see the good in the world?
As I wrestle with this heart-wrenching dilemma — namely, safeguarding his purity vs. tainting him with the truth — I continue to comment about the “real world” by presenting him with all the “what-ifs” of each scenario.
I hope, one day, my teachings will penetrate through those dense layers of kindheartedness that insulate him from the cruel world and translate into smart, appropriate action “when and if” necessary.