Stranger danger

Every week, my daughter and I walk my sons down to Scouts. They’re big boys and they’d rather we didn’t go with them – it’s not cool to turn up with your mum and sister. But we like the little walk and they know the deal – if they don’t let us walk down with them, they don’t get a treat from the fundraising tuck shop.

Often, my eldest tries to give us the slip and runs off early. He’s halfway down the road before we’ve even shut the front door. Last week, my daughter decided to beat him at his own game. I crossed her over the road and she sprinted off as fast as her little legs would carry her. Which is pretty fast.

Scouts day is also ballet day, so my daughter goes down to Scouts in a leotard every week, a quality which I find both endearing and hilarious. Endearing – because it shows she is still young and innocent enough not to realise that she is walking the streets in something which is pretty much indecent. My feeling has always been that, until she realises that (which will hopefully be before she hits puberty), that she can carry on wandering around in a leotard. Life is too short for worrying about what people think about your appearance and it certainly doesn’t need to start at 8. It’s hilarious, of course, because my boys ARE old enough to realise that their sister is walking around half-dressed and my eldest in particular is at an age where he gets easily embarrassed. And isn’t the role of parents and younger siblings of teenagers to embarrass them?

It was as we were walking back home that my daughter said to me: ‘When I was running, a man in a car looked at me. He was staring and he went like that.’

She showed me how the man had turned his head to keep watching her and how he had driven slowly past her.

I tried to stay calm, not to react and to find a rational explanation. But inside me, everything felt all wrong. Mixed up, frightened…

Maybe he’d been lost and looking for somewhere and not really looking at her? Maybe he’d been concerned for her safety and had been looking at her wondering why she was running on her own? (I know if I saw a child, particularly one younger than my daughter, that I might do this.)

But somehow these explanations didn’t cut it. He had obviously been looking at her in a way that made her feel uncomfortable.

I wondered how she knew about paedophiles at her age. But of course she doesn’t. When you’re in year 3, it’s called ‘stranger danger’. Kids know when something is wrong. They know they have to tell an adult.

She went inside and she told Daddy. I knew he wasn’t listening. She’s a chatterbox and sometimes Daddy zones out. When she was out of earshot, I asked him if he’d been listening to her and he said he hadn’t. I briefly explained what had happened and he went to talk to her. I was very impressed by the casual way he brought the subject up, and how he managed to get as much information as possible without making a big deal out of it or showing he was concerned. And then I couldn’t listen any more.

I had to walk away. I carried a pile of washing upstairs just so I could be on my own. I felt sick. Maybe it was something and nothing and maybe it wasn’t? I trusted her instincts. What if he’d tried to grab her – would the boys and I have got to her in time? What if it happens again to another child, but this time he doesn’t just look?

I wondered if I should report it to the police – as a ‘near miss’ type thing. Just in case. For next time.

But what evidence did I have – an 8 year old girl thought a man looked at her? Pretty flimsy stuff when you see it written down like that and maybe that’s what you’re thinking as you read this. Paranoid mother over-reacting.

The car was dark green. The man was Asian and ‘about 46’ (the very precise ‘about’ being based on the fact that he looked a bit older than me and Daddy). She didn’t recognise him. My kids don’t know about cars, other than the really distinctive ones like Beetles and Minis. She probably wouldn’t even know if it was a hatchback or an estate.

I hugged her a bit tighter that night. I could see she was still feeling strange, and so was I. I didn’t want to talk about it more than necessary and make a big deal out of it.

As she went to bed, she said: ‘I’m still worried about the man’.

‘Don’t worry about the man,’ I said, ‘You’re home and safe now.’

But I was worried about the man.

There will be no more running off on her own and no more leotards.


Author: Sarah Mummy

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  1. As you said it could have been absolutely nothing, or he might have slowed down to look at something else. Definitely best to knock the leotards on the head though. Hope you’re ok, sounds like it’s really shaken you up!

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    • Thanks very much, was quite shaken at the time! Am over it now, but it’s served as a bit of a lesson about how far ahead she runs and what she should wear – probably useful to remember these things anyway.

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  2. That sounds really scary. With so much of it in the news I think we’re all a lot more aware and sensitive about this kind of thing going on around us. Hopefully you never see him again but you know what to look out for and I think you all handled it really well. Hugs to you xx

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    • Thanks very much! I think we did OK, we listened to what she had to say and didn’t make a big deal out of it. Decided not to tell the boys and alarm them either. x

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  3. That sounds really scary but it could of been innocent….It’s not everyday you see a young girl in a leotard….Hugs to you all x

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    • Thanks very much, it’s quite true that it could have been innocent. I know I might have looked out of concern/ surprise, but not kept on looking. x

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  4. Sarah I am so sorry you and your daughter have had to witness this – it’s such a disgusting feeling which like you comment makes you feel sick to your stomach. I went to stage school where we wore leotards in the playground, to and from school and back and forth from central London for auditions aged 6-16. When we got older and a little more modest we slipped ballet skirts or jogging bottoms over but I don’t think this would’ve done much to avert the filthy imagination. I remember many incidents of perverts being ushered from peering into our playground and whilst this made us vigilant and aware of ‘stranger danger’ it made us no less naive to the motives of these people.
    Later I became a classroom assistant (of our daughter’s age group) and on outings it is shocking how vigilant you need to be and how often we’d need to move children away from unsavouries in parks and public places – it’s impossible to know how many were completely innocent and just happy to watch children enjoying themselves but it’s never worth the risk.
    This long comment is leading somewhere to my point that, yes as parents and carers we have to be incredibly vigilant and aware forever weighing risks against allowing our children to grow natural, healthy and free. So what saddens me about this piece is your closing statement that the leotard should go. To me it is never healthy children’s behaviour that should be stopped as a result of individuals with unhealthy minds. This stands too close to suggesting you or her did something to attract this unwarranted interest and the belief that girls and women wearing revealing clothing later in life are ‘asking for it’. Whilst she’s still comfortable in that attire it is such a shame to change it and I sadly feel do nothing to reduce anyone’s risk from perversion.

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    • Thank you for taking the time to comment, Emily, I really appreciate it and it’s great to hear your perspective.
      I’m sad to see the leotard go too – it doesn’t seem fair to take that bit of innocence away from her, but she just wore tracksuit bottoms over it today.
      Shocking that you had so many unsavoury characters hanging around the school, it just shows that there are a lot of them about. You’re right, that children really have no idea what ‘stranger danger’ really means, and it’s best that it’s left like this for as long as possible.
      I went on a school trip with my daughter’s class a few weeks ago and a man asked if he could take a picture of the kids. Could have been entirely innocent again, but of course I said no.

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  5. My Eldest is 7.5 and we recently had something similar that made my eyes sting with rage. It is incredibly difficult to not show them what you’re really thinking and take away what few years they have left of their childhood. They do know when something isn’t right and as parents so do we. It is difficult to stay between being a vigilant parent and taking away your child’s freedom and honestly I’m often torn between the two. I know exactly how you feel and I have seen the confusion on the child’s face when they know something isn’t right but they don’t know quite what. I hope that you manage to shake the feeling soon. It takes a little time. x

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    • Thank you very much for taking the time to comment. I won’t say I’m glad it happened to you too, but it’s good to know that someone understands. It’s a fine line between giving them their freedom and being careful. x

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  6. This is such a tricky one. As you and others have pointed out, it could have been a totally innocent thing but for a prolonged period of time, is rather odd. So sad that at 8 years of age, our children have to grow up and lose their innocence. I wouldn’t make too big a thing out of it for her sake and also sometimes stewing on ‘what might have been’ only make it more enormous in our own minds. Terrifying thoughts but try and put them out of your head. It’s a scary world we live in but the chances of something like that ever happening are so, so remote (that’s what my husband is always telling me anyway!). x

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    • Thank you, I’m sure your husband is right! We haven’t mentioned it since as we don’t want it to become a big thing for her. We had the same routine of Scouts and ballet this evening and she didn’t mention it, which is good. She did hold my hand all the way there and back though! x

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  7. What a horrible thing to happen. It would be a real shame though if something had to change for her because of it. Is there maybe some way you could make it work for everyone without making her feel uncomfortable? Make sure that you or one of her brothers is with her or keeps her within sight all the way maybe? It seems wrong that the innocent should have to change their behaviour/dress because of a small minority. I hope you can find a way to keep her safe and happy. x

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    • Thanks. I think we will just keep her in sight in future. It’s rare for her to run that far ahead, although she often runs a little way ahead. A pair of tracksuit bottoms would probably be a good idea too. We don’t want to make a big deal out of it for her because we don’t want her to feel frightened or worried, we just need to discreetly keep an eye on her.

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  8. Oh no that is so sad. It makes me so angry that you feel you can’t let her out wearing a leotard again, why can we not allow our children to be children any more? Like you, I would fear the worst and I can completely understand why you are so upset. It is very hard to strike a balance between making our children aware of the dangers without frightening the life out of them.

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    • It most certainly is! We haven’t mentioned it since and nor has she, so hopefully it’s not going to be something which she spends any more time worrying about (even if it is a bit of a wake-up call for me!).

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  9. Although it worried you I don’t think you can stop all things that could be a risk. I let the older two outgo play when I can’t see where they are. At ten I am giving dyl more freedom and as scary as it is for us as parents we just have to instil the stay safe message which you are doing as she told you she felt uncomfortable.

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    • Thanks very much, you’re very right. My boys go off places on their own too – my 10yo son usually walks himself to his tutor and back on his own. I’m impressed that she realised something wasn’t quite right and told me about it.

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  10. What an upsetting experience for you all, it could have been totally innocent but no parent wants to just assume when it comes to their children’s safety.
    I find it sad that this incident has resulted in the leotard going, children shouldn’t have to change their ways because of the possibility of unsavoury adults, such a shame that she’s been made to feel uncomfortable with something so innocent

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    • Thank you! We’ve compromised on tracksuit bottoms over the leotard and if she feels like wearing the leotard on its own again after the holidays, I think she can do that. I’ll just make sure either I or her brothers are nearby.

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  11. Sorry to hear this, it sounds like you got quite a scare. It could have been innocent, but you never know. It’s so hard to judge. x

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  12. It’s totally worrying and horrifying being a parent in this day and age. I have a five year old and worry about when he wants to eventually venture out on his own. All we can ever do as parents is be vigilant and try to protect them the very best we can.


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  13. Oh no, it is so worrying. You want them to grow up and have their independence but it is much harder with girls… 🙁 your daughter sounds so grown up, knowing how this man made her feel which is good that she is aware of strangers and danger. I want to wrap my daughter up in cotton wool until she is 30!!

    Thanks for sharing..

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