Just the past few weeks, my 4.5 year old has unofficially declared himself one of the "big boys". Although he does still want an adult around and comes to check in frequently, he wants to go off and play with the "big boys". Sometimes that means eating outside at the church potluck, while Mom and Dad are inside. Sometimes it means playing in the "fort" in the woods with the older boys, while Mom is a few dozen yards away chatting with the adults.
I am equal parts incredibly proud of him, and absolutely terrified that he's not old enough for this new freedom yet.
I'm generally not much of a worrier when it comes to my kids. I don't have a baby gate on my stairs (although I'm pretty sure my two year old would just climb over it), we haven't really put many plug protectors in our new house, I let them play in the backyard by themselves as long as I'm outside, or play in the cul de sac or road as long as I'm keeping a watch out. In some ways, maybe I am a bit too much of a helicopter parent, though.
Either way, I'm trying to let my oldest be a "big kid" while still keeping him safe. As I was talking with one of the other "big kid" parents. She said that she worries about her son because he doesn't meet any strangers. I can totally agree with this sentiment, but I hadn't yet worried about it, because he was always supervised. My oldest will walk through a store and introduce himself to everyone on the way through. He'll tell everyone his name, his brothers name, how old they are, what color house we have. At the park last week he tried to follow a "dad" who was probably not even a dad, but was trying to get a workout near the playground (shadowboxing and then jogging the trails). I had to holler several times for him to come back.
Then, when he was "playing with the big boys" at the church potluck, we checked on him, and he had gone through the church building to the other side towards the woods and the fence. While I know that the older boys are big enough and mature enough to keep an eye out, I also think that if someone on the sidewalk or busy road nearby asked him to get in a car or walk home with them, he probably would without thinking much of it, and the boys at church might not realize that he wasn't related to the stranger. He treats strangers as if they are close friends or family.
How do I get him to realize stranger danger without scaring him or closing off his open and outgoing personality? I love that he doesn't see danger or fear in his everyday life, but I don't want him doing anything foolish. We've had some conversations since then about Mom and Dad needing to know where he is and that he can't change locations without telling us. We've had the conversations about coming to Mom and Dad if anyone touches a "private area". Honestly, I know that most abuse takes place at the hands of people within a circle of trust, but I also worry that my child would be the one taken advantage of by a stranger, simply because his circle of trust includes everyone.
He knows not to keep secrets from us, and I still try to keep a close eye on him. I do everything that I can to avoid a bad situation. I have a feeling that this new-found freedom will be good for both of us. I just have to keep the worry off my plate and trust God's plan for us.