For the past two weeks I have been obsessed by the story which is every parent’s worst nightmare – little April Jones who is only five years old and who was seen getting into a jeep with a man last Monday evening and hasn’t been seen since. It reminds us all of the dreaded ‘stranger danger’ which we were all warned against as we grew up. But of course, the horrid truth is that it is often those known to us who can cause the most danger and it is likely that this is also the case with April Jones. The man stood accused of her abduction and murder is a local family man who attended the same parent’s evening as April’s mum and dad on the night she disappeared.
My friend, whose little boy has just turned two, recently told me she had received a visit from her health visitor who questioned her about child safety in and out of the home and asked how she was teaching her little boy to be aware of potentially dangerous situations. I’m not sure where I sit on the merits of educating children on stranger danger. In any case, Maggie is much too young to understand this. It is difficult enough to get her to look out for cars as she crosses the road. Even worse, it is unlikely that she would pay any heed to me. She is such a sociable little bunny and absolutely craves strangers’ attention. On the train to Scotland for Conor and Katie’s wedding she wandered up and down the carriages saying ‘Hey-yo’ to every single person who dared to look at her (and even those who didn’t). On the tube and on the bus her conversation-with-strangers skills have reduced the most uptight businessman to a cheery disposition. Even when she was a baby she would get really bored looking at and playing with me, but her face would light with animation when the postman arrived at the door with a parcel, or when a stranger arrived to attempt to sell us all sorts of crap. At the laundrette the other day she had a full-scale conversation with an old man who waited on his clothes drying, which mostly consisted of her saying ‘Hey-yo’ over and over again, a bit of jibber-jabber in the middle (which he seemed to understand perfectly) and finally ‘bye-bye’ as we left.
To teach our children that every stranger is a potential threat is surely not right. To teach them to ignore or turn away from strangers when they speak to you; to scream and run away when they offer you to help you if you fall down seems downright rude if you ask me. The truth of child-abuse cases teaches us that we should in fact be more wary of those who aren’t strangers, but instead friends and family members and indeed people in the spotlight who on the face of it are charming, funny and ‘safe’. But teaching our children to be wary of those people closest to them? This is just too downright sad and dreadful to contemplate.
The best way of teaching your child to be safe is if you are with them when they are learning the lesson. If they can feel safe with you, then they can explore and test the boundaries of ‘safety’, knowing that you’ve got their back in case they wander too far out of their comfort zone. This is much easier of course when your babies are younger. Maggie’s adorable little ‘bag o’tuff’ is a present from her Nanny and is a cleverly disguised set of reins! She insists we put the bag on Maggie whenever we are out and about in case she wanders off. I have a thing against reins, but I know she has a point and there are some cute options now which make you feel less like you have a dog on a lead. When she outgrows reins she will have to know to stop and wait for traffic, to look out for potential danger and to never, ever get into someone else’s car but for now she isn’t let out of my sight.
>Maggie wearing her Littlelife toddler rucksack which is available in a variety of designs.
Goldbug’s Harness Buddy is a cleverly disguised harness which is as cute as your favourite teddy. It is available in a variety of animals, each with a 3 foot tail for parents to hang on to.
We wait for years to have our family, and we would do anything to protect them from harm. The reality we all live in unfortunately means being wary of certain situations and being more on our guard than we would like to be. Reins, curfews, safety gates – they are all a necessary part of keeping our family safe. But we can’t stop the evil people in our society infiltrating our happy little worlds and that is the scariest thought.
God bless little April Jones and her family.