Friday 9 December 2016

Friendly Strangers and Your Children

I took my youngest, Baby, for a stroll to the shops today. She is quite small with a petite pixie face and I often get comments from people saying she looks like a little doll, obviously they can’t see that she has a temper like a little wasp. It’s always nice when people stop to coo over your little ones or say hello to them or make a nice comment. It’s even more gratifying when you live in times that are not very child friendly or even Muslim friendly. A kind comment can make your day. 

But where do you draw the line? It’s one thing when a smiling elderly lady says a nice word, but often people can come into your space or touch your child. I recall one occasion when Little Lady was two or three years old and a very elderly, quite frail, gentleman approached us in the shopping mall. He said hello to Little Lady and started to talk to her. I thought it was quite sweet until he took hold of her hand and started to walk away with her. He walked a few metres with her and then said goodbye and left us there. I had followed, but I had absolutely no clue what to do. The man was about 90 or so and looked so fragile. He was also from a generation where there seemed to be less of a terror of stranger danger or child abuse. I am embarrassed even now writing about it, but I could not bring myself to say anything to the man and was utterly relieved when he said goodbye.

I think part of it was his frailty, another part was his age. We have been brought up to respect and think well of our elderly and to indulge them. 

Today, Baby got cooed over by two men in the charity shop I went into. They kept commenting on her smile and her face. Both appeared to have mild learning difficulties and it seemed to make them happy to say hello to her. One reached over to tickle under her chin which made me a little uncomfortable, but he then walked away. When I went to the till, he strolled past again and kneeled down to talk to her and tickled her knee, which made me reaaalllyy uncomfortable. She pulled a face to show she didn’t like it and I mentioned that I didn’t think she liked it. He didn’t seem to notice and did it again until the other man on the till told him to go and do some work. 

I couldn’t bring myself to tell him bluntly not to touch her. He wasn’t frail or elderly either. Perhaps it is the English habit of being too polite and not being direct about things, certainly I didn’t want to be rude. I think if he hadn’t stopped then, I would have said something, or just swung my pram around away from him.

Curiously, some other countries are known to be more child friendly, and it’s not a big deal for a passing stranger or fellow traveller to engage with your child. Certainly in Pakistan people will randomly start talking to you or want to pick up or even kiss your child. It’s not as much of a big deal I don’t think, although people have become more wary and protective over time.

I’m curious, what would readers have done? Would you have been very clear and told the man not to touch your child? Would you not mind if the other person had become offended or embarrassed? Or have you dealt with these things differently? Do you come from somewhere where this is normal behaviour from strangers? Do you routinely interact with people’s children and feel that there is no harm in it, or that parents are too protective these days? Would love to hear people’s thoughts.

I have no idea why she decided to sleep like this...


  1. Salam

    I've had this happen to me whe taking out my children. It's nice when people smile and engage with your child. In England I feel we are too shy just to talk to a stranger so children will often be an easier focus of attention and conversation.

    I think you did the right thing in not saying anything in both cases and i know that if your child was in any kind of danger: psychologically or physically, you would have put a stop to it immediately.

    The strangers who approach or try to befriend our children when we are not there are the ones to worry about. The world is full of dangers but also there are lots of lovely people with good intentions; we must teach our children how to be wary and not be too easily led but at the same time not too fearful and mistrusting that it affects their confidence. If we steer them away from everybody it will teach them to be fearful of everyone.

    As usual you have raised an interesting topic that is relevant especially in these times of fear and mistrust against Muslims.


  2. As salaamu alaiki. I am enjoying your blog. I would have stayed very closed and if it occurred a third time would have held her closer to or try to move further from the man.