Why I Encourage My Kids To Talk To Strangers

I was exhausted. Kids were bonkers. I finally shoved my cart the last inch out of Costco and into the fresh air. "Oh thank goodness," I sighed.

"What?" Gabriella asked from her perch in the child seat. 

"No smiley face," I answered. 

"What are you talking about?"

"You don't remember last time?" I asked her. "When the receipt checker drew a smiley face on our receipt and the two of you went berserk, screaming and crying and ripping the receipt into pieces in the parking lot? Fighting over a smiley face drawn by a stranger?"

Her eyes widened with horror. Then I felt a little bad, dredging up the less-than-stellar moments from the past. "Mom, that is mean!" Oh dear. Wait. What? She's a little young to be all that was a month ago, and I'm so hurt you're bringing it up now. 

"It is mean to call people strangers, Mom!" she declared with finality.

"Um.. no. Strangers are just people we don't know."

"No," she shook her head with conviction. "Strangers are mean!"

Uh-oh. "Hon, where did you hear that?" 

She launched into an elaborate story that was Little Red Riding Hood-esque in nature, except it involved fruit snacks ("gummies") and some preschoolers. 

As we unloaded a month's worth of Goldfish and Pirate Booty into the car, I tried to redirect her. "It sounds like that stranger was mean. But not all strangers are mean. They are simply people we've never met before." She still shook her head "no", but with less vigor and she looked down as if she needed to think about this new perspective.


I've always been amused at how easily and freely my children speak with strangers. Gabriella sits behind me in the car, and she rolls her own window down at every drive thru. You know, to speak with the attendant. And introduce herself. And her brother. "He's only 2. I'm bigger because I'm 5!" 

With my kids, "stranger danger" is not a thing. Maybe that's why Gabriella is so convinced "strangers" are mean. Because the "people we don't know" aren't strangers - they are simply friends whose names we haven't learned yet. I want to encourage this openness in them.

Mostly because I think many of us as adults are too suspicious of strangers. We let the few mean ones out there cause us to switch our default setting to isolation and fear. We put our heads down, draw ourselves in close, and scurry along. Yet we admit we feel lonely. And all the while, we miss opportunities to spread joy, encourage others, and be a blessing. Why? Because we're too busy? Too scared? Too conditioned to bypassing a simple hello?

What I notice with my kids is how a child can cause others to open up instantly. Teenagers in hoodies wave shyly and return a hello. Gruff seniors lean down and raise their voice an octave. Homeless folks compliment them and ask them questions. Fast food employees cover their multitasking microphones and pass us free cookies. Everyone smiles.

I know some of these reactions are simply because my kids are young. But I also think there's a simple freshness and freedom in their unbridled friendliness. You are not a stranger. You are someone in my path. Let's get to know one another. 

Of course I know my children will need to learn wisdom. Right now they are young enough to still be with me (or another adult) at all times, and I pay attention to and trust my own instincts. But I'm sure we'll have ongoing conversations about how we relate to strangers.

But I want them to hang on to that joy of meeting new friends. I want them to welcome newcomers into their country, communities, and homes. And I want to encourage them to "show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it" (Hebrews 13:2).

That's why I encourage my kids to talk to strangers. They may just be friends we haven't met yet.

P.S. One recent national challenge in welcoming strangers has been the refugee crisis. My friend Matt Soerens has a book coming out this summer: Seeking Refuge: One the Shores of the Global Refugee Crisis. You'll want to check this one out!

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