How To Politely Explain To Someone That They Terrify Your Child

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I think it’s a normal stage of development, that time when a child is terrified of random people for no discernible reason. When you think about life from the view of a four-year-old, it’s easy to see how especially large people would be intimidating. Or maybe the sound of a gruff voice is a little more jarring when heard by a little kid.

I think it’s understandable that children can get nervous around strangers. It’s part of our natural instinct to protect ourselves. It’s like being scared of spiders or snakes, which I’d like to point out is also completely normal and shouldn’t be considered a weakness. At all.

The problem with your child getting petrified by random people is trying to explain to those people that they’re utterly terrifying. Most people don’t like hearing that they scare little children, as if they’re some demented Disney villain. I mean, it wouldn’t brighten anyone’s day to hear, “I’m not sure why, but you just seem to remind my daughter of Ursula the Sea Witch.”

Recently, I’ve had to practice my talents at informing people they’re scary without offending them. It’s not as easy as you would think. But my dear, brave little girl has decided that men over the height of 6’3” are monsters out to get her. My child who tries to pick up snakes with sticks is suddenly hiding behind my skirt when men of above average height walk into the room. And between employees at her new school, friends’ parents at birthday parties and a couple recent family reunions, my daughter has spent a whole lot of time behind my skirt. So, I’ve started to get this whole, “Hey, you’re scary,” thing down to a science.

So if you have a child who gets scared of random strangers that are trying to be nice in the grocery store, teacher assistants in their classroom or even a distant relative that you don’t see often, here’s how to let them down gently.

  • Act like your child is a crazy person. Sure, we all understand why kids get a little “Stranger Danger.” Most parents agree that it isn’t a horrible thing. And it’s not bad that our kids act on that instead of suppressing their feelings. But you don’t have to explain that to the person you’re currently calling scary. As long as your child isn’t in earshot (or isn’t paying attention because they’re quivering with fear), smile and explain that it’s just this super-weird phase your little one is going through.
  • Let the person know that you don’t think they’re scary. No one wants to be terrifying. That person doesn’t want to induce tears of fear in kids. (Unless they’re really twisted.) Reassure this person that you aren’t scared of them. And if we’re talking about a relative or employee at the school, let your child know that while their feelings are valid, Mom and Dad aren’t scared of this stranger. Let your child see you calmly chatting and interacting with the person. Once Mom is okay with someone, kids will often follow suit.
  • Don’t force everyone to endure the awkwardness. Your initial instinct, especially with someone that you know is harmless, might be to spend time with this person in hopes that your little one will warm up to them. It’s an understandable thought, but it also means lots of time where your kid is ready to pee their pants and the person is being made to feel like a monster. Not fun for anyone. It’s okay to say, “Well, let’s give it a little while and try again later.” Maybe your darling will grow out of it quickly. Or you’ll just avoid this person for the next couple of years.