Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Stranger Danger!

Today's little outing was a walk to the nearby Save-on-Foods, with Gwen in the stroller, to pick up a refill on a prescription.

After picking up the medicine, I paused near the blood pressure machine to organize myself, stuffing everything into my backpack/purse. A woman in her fifties happened by and, naturally, remarked on how cute Gwen is. Her husband soon joined in the adoration. He leaned in close, commenting on her beautiful blue eyes and saying how much he and his wife would love to have a granddaughter like her. As is to be expected, Gwen started to cry.

She has a very distinctive fear cry, and these days it happens whenever anyone other than her parents gets a bit too close. As soon as the man approached I got down right next to Gwen and turned the stroller so that she could see I was still nearby, but this wasn't enough to avert the fear response altogether.

The man apologized immediately, and his wife chastised him a bit. "Don't get too close, Jim, you're scaring her. She doesn't know you." I waved away his apologies, saying, "It's okay, it happens all the time. Everyone wants to say hello to her, but she's just going through that stage where she's a little anxious about strangers."

Anyway, we exchanged a few more pleasantries and then I headed out of the store for home. As I walked, I wondered why I had been unable to accept the apology, why I had belittled Gwen's fear. I knew she would respond that way, saw it coming as soon as the man leaned down to greet her. I thought about how I could have avoided it: I could have said "Please don't get too close, she's afraid of strangers," but even to my own ears this sounded so rude and standoffish. I wondered about that. Wondered what right of ownership the community at large takes over babies, and how to balance that with my own responsibility to protect Gwen.

It's true, what I said. Everyone wants to say hello to Gwen, but if they get in her face too much she gets scared, and while we as adults know there is no harm meant and find it cute or even amusing, it isn't amusing to her. How do I respect her boundaries without offending friendly folks who only want a minute to adore her?


Unknown said...

I understand how you would want to prevent Gwen from having to confront the things that scare her. It makes her upset and she hasn't discovered the coping mechanisms yet for dealing with fear of the unknown. At the same time, if you don't let her learn from those encounters that nothing bad happens to her, she will never be good with strangers. Like sleeping, you will just have to find what works best for both of you.

Amberism said...

That's a tough one. As a Mom of the "quiet" kids, I do the "it's ok" bit with the stranger and then talk to Callum or Claire directly to tell them what is going on and its ok for them to be scared. Just to validate them, and let them know that people want to say hi. Kids are cute!

For the most part, the strangers totally get it. Those who love the babies usually have a pretty good idea about their stranger anxiety and understand. A few times I got dirty looks or comments like "wow, he sure doesn't smile much does he?" and I'd defend Callum (kid smiles A LOT, just doesn't want to smile at some strange man who's up in his face - well, I said it more politely than that :) ).

First they start off afraid, and the next thing you know you're at the beach with your two-year old having a tantrum because he wants to go to the park, and some lady offers her hand to take him to the park and HE TAKES HER HAND and turns away from you!! I couldn't believe he did that!


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