For a very long time, I had major social anxiety which I believe resulted in what my mom told me in order to instill stranger danger in me as a child. When I was 4 or 5, my mom told me that if I talked to strangers, that I would be taken away, dressed as a boy, have bad things be done to me and never see her again. As a child given this information, I needed to know what qualified as a stranger and my mom told me that a stranger is "anyone you don't know." That's pretty darn terrifying for a child! From then on, I never spoke to anyone I didn't know and that included kids since I over-generalized and had no idea who the bad people who would take me away would be. Then when I was about 6, my grandmother got a divorce from my "Pop-Pop Ray" (who I later learned was abusive) and was only told that "Pop-Pop Ray is now a stranger. If you ever see him anywhere, don't talk to him and never go anywhere with him." Well if someone who was once family could become a stranger, who on earth could I trust??? At the bank, where the tellers gave lollipops to the kids, I would burst into tears and refuse that candy because those tellers were strangers, and I once turned my best friend's mom down for a ride home from school and opted to walk home since I figured I had no idea what kind of person she really was. It took me a very long time to get comfortable in situations where there are many people around and I actually had panic attacks in any groups of people, including school. Even now, I don't fully trust anyone and always carry pepper spray on me just in case.
Given the barriers that social phobias caused for me, I am now questioning how to best teach my dear J about strangers. Yes, there are crazy people and sadly, child abductions do happen. BUT what my mother told me when I was a young child clearly scared the living daylights out of me and I do not want to give him the fears that I had. Right now, he is almost 2 years old and still either holds my hand everywhere we go if he is walking OR rides in a shopping cart or stroller always under my watchful eye. So him being taken by anyone isn't something that's possible right now; however, I am aware that J will not always be willing to hold my hand and someday he may not even want to walk anywhere near me in public places. When that happens, how do I stress that people can be dangerous without making him fear everyone as I've always done? Some amount of fear is good but not to the extreme that mine was...I think. Further, at what age do I even broach the subject of strangers?
Any suggestions from my readers?