Tantalized by the prospect of a rare meal out, my children agreed to the experiment. I reviewed some basic safety rules (see tips, above right), then, to ease them into this new territory, I told them they could earn the first two stamps by talking with relatives. Ian took up the challenge by asking his grandma, "What do you do at work?" which led to an animated discussion. My mom was pleasantly surprised.
Then it was time to venture into the wider world. Ashlyn, for example, talked with the school librarian. Eventually she became brave enough, when visiting her dad's workplace, to ask one of his coworkers if she could help in any way.
After visiting a new house of worship in our area, Tanner told our hosts a few things he liked about the building. And each child earned a stamp by properly answering the phone and taking a message from the caller.
Finally, with seven stamps each, we boarded the van and headed to a favorite restaurant. Did Operation Talk to Strangers turn my kids into social butterflies? Not exactly. But it did teach them that most grown-ups aren't scary monsters. In fact, as Tanner found out when he asked the waitress for a dessert menu, sometimes adults can be downright helpful!
Be sure to set guidelines about when it's safe to talk to unknown adults (for example, when a parent or caregiver is present and gives permission). Point out trustworthy adults in public settings, such as police, firefighters, and store staff.
Right: Lori and her family get chatty in their hometown of Blackfoot, Idaho.
Originally published in the February 2013 issue of FamilyFun magazine