A trip to the fabric store probably wasn't a dream outing for my son, Tanner, age 8. And now, to make matters worse, the clerk was trying to be friendly, asking him about his interests and schoolwork. Tanner met every question with horrified glances my way. I answered for him rather than endure the uncomfortable silences.
On the ride home, I reflected on the incident. Was this a case of shyness? No. I'd seen Tanner enter a playground and make new friends within minutes. When addressed by an adult outside of his family, though, he often silently stared, unable to respond.
Like many parents, my husband, Zac, and I had preached the motto Never talk to strangers! Could it be that to our kids those "strangers" might include church members and neighbors? Were they afraid to ask a school staff member for help? Would they be too scared to tell an adult if they were lost?
I realized that if my five children, ages 1 to 8, were to become outgoing and independent, I was going to have to reshape our stranger policy. I decided to launch Operation Talk to Strangers.
I made paper passports and gave them to my three eldest: Tanner, his twin sister, Ashlyn, and Ian, age 5. The challenge was for them to converse with eight different adults (and simple yes or no answers didn't count!). After each chat, the passport would be stamped. When each of them had seven stamps, we'd go to a restaurant, and the kids would order their own dinners, thus earning their final stamp.