Strangers with Candy

Or in this case, a grape.

We had to have a talk with Spencer that I hadn’t thought to have yet – not taking food from strangers. I think he was confused, didn’t understand and he was frightened because I was upset. The day after, he said “I ate a grape and made mama sad.” But let me back up.

Spencer went back to preschool on Tuesday after two weeks off. Our normal protocol is to pick him up at noon, run an errand and then he falls asleep for his nap on the way home, around 1ish. It works out great. I give him portable food for lunch and he eats some in the car and some in the cart or whatever.

On Tuesday, I thought we’d stop at Target. My husband had been craving a coke icee and they finally had them back at the food court and Spence loves soft pretzels. And looking at vacuums. We ran into a friend and her kids in line and decided to eat together and then the kids wanted to play. We headed to the mall play area, even though I loathe it.

What is it about me and mall playgrounds? This one has cute squishy climbing stuff, Spencer is the perfect age and he loves it. But, I hate it so, so much. It feels dirty. It’s usually crowded and there always seems to be 1 or 2 kids playing that are way too old and way too rough for the environment. Luckily, my husband was there because situations like this ramp my anxiety up to 11. Our friend took her baby to the MAC counter (for her, not the baby) and we watched her daughter and Spencer while they played. Despite the crowd, the kids played great.

I, on the other hand, was a nervous wreck. Watching two kids was too much for me. They kept running in different directions. We took a little break and did a few rounds on the 3-seater carousel and went back in for more. My husband and I settled in on the benches near the exit. Overall, the place is pretty small, so I figured we were better off by the opening in case Spencer decided to run out. Which he did. Of course. But he did stop and come back when called.

I was watching our friend’s daughter when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw Spencer interacting with a woman at the other end of the play area. She looked like she was probably there with a grand-kid. And then she handed him food and he took it and ate it. I couldn’t get there. He came running to me right after, but he had chewed and swallowed. I managed to not lose my shit completely and started trying to get my friend’s daughter together so we could leave the play area and ride on the carousel again. And I could just run away from the situation, but she wasn’t ready to leave and I try not to drag other people’s children out of play areas against their will.

Spencer ran back over to the far side and towards the lady, but this time I ran some gentle interference. The lady looked at me like I was a total freak show. She probably thought I should be thanking her for giving my son what turned out to be a grape. We finally got out of there and on to the carousel, my friend came back and mercifully we could leave.

The usual nap time was blown, so we skipped it completely. The turned out to be the best part of the afternoon. Spence stayed in good spirits for the day and fell asleep in 6 minutes from lights out to bed. I think that might be a new record. After a week of struggling with bedtime, it was a welcome respite.

I had another talk this morning with Spencer about taking food from strangers. I framed it as “you don’t take food from someone who isn’t mama’s friend.” I don’t know that he understands the concept of stranger. I don’t want him to freak out about getting snack at school or in non-home situations, but I don’t want him grabbing random food at the park either.

Have you had this talk with your child? What did you say?



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20 Responses to “Strangers with Candy”

  1. Rebecca says:

    The same thing happened to us!! Only it was a chocolate with nuts from a man who was at the mall playground with his too old and too rough children – and their (completely inappropriate) arsenal of toy guns.

    I did lose my shit.

    I walked right up to Kadyn and the man, made Kadyn spit every bit of the chocolate in my hand, threw it in the garbage and told him, while standing directly in front of the man, to never, EVER take food from someone he didn’t know.

    The man looked at me like I was insane.

    I wanted to scream at him.

    What in the hell are you doing giving a child you don’t know nuts!?!?!?! My son doesn’t have a nut allergy but what if he did?? And who said it was okay to give him a bucket of sugar anyway??

    No part of my brain fathoms ANY part of what this man did.

    Especially his revenge-like act of repeatedly giving Kadyn toy rifles despite me loudly taking them away and declaring that the toy was not appropriate for him or for the mall play area.

    I despise mall play areas.


    Amy Reply:

    Agreed on the nut thing, but unless people know someone or their kids go to a nut free school, lots of people have no idea. It just isn’t on their radar. The toy rifle revenge is weird. Way to be aggressive strange man with candy and guns!


  2. Suzanne says:

    That woman probably thought she WAS doing you a favor.

    I hadn’t thought about this before but I’m afraid my poor kid is going to be TOTALLY confused by the concept of not taking food from strangers because he gets fed SO OFTEN by people who are not me. At playgroup, at Stroller Strides, at the yarn store, at the deli counter at the grocery store…Wow, maybe I let him accept too much food from other people. For a while it was the only way he ate – snacking when he saw other kids doing it – so it’s become our norm. But it is always from people we know and trust. There is a DEFINITE difference between that and a stranger offering a kid food without at least checking with Mom.

    I think as they (Spencer and Evan) get older and understand the concept of “strangers” more than they do now it will be easier – right now Evan still thinks anyone within 100 yards of where I’m sitting is my friend.


    Amy Reply:

    I think you just have a wider circle of “mama’s friends.” I forgot about taking lollipops and whatnot from cashiers. They normally ask me candy or stickers and I always choose stickers, when they ask Spence, most of the time he choose stickers, too. Kid is a fiend.


  3. Mrs. Wonder says:

    Oh man, I know this. Since my son is adorbs and can get any female in 50 feet to fall in love with him he gets handed stuff constantly- fruit, drinks, candy… most of the time, they ask meforst, even though he’s asked for it.
    He knows to say please, so usually he’s over there turning on the charm. But when a grown person pulls out a low pop and gives it to him as we’re heading home for naptime, THAT pisses me off.
    I would have ran over and told him, no we don’t need to eat people we dont know’s food. I’m THAT mom sometimes and will drop a hint to a stranger.


    Amy Reply:

    I’ve had pretty good luck with cashiers asking first if he could have c-a-n-d-y. Only at Starbucks did a cashier just hand over cookie. It was a tiny sample, but still.


  4. Amanda says:

    I don’t think we have actually had THAT conversation with Madison (bad mommy) but we have talked about strangers and that you always stay with mommy and daddy and we don’t talk to strangers. My pediatrician had the best advice about that too- if your kiddo does get lost teach them to find a mommy with a baby carriage because no (well most at least) mom will not help a lost child find their parents.


    Amy Reply:

    That is great advice. I haven’t even thought to tell Spencer about getting lost.


  5. Cole says:

    That’s insane! I can’t imagine anyone giving someone else’s child food without asking first – ESPECIALLY with so many food allergies now. That said, I am completely capable of turning on the charm, and get offered treats on a regular basis – which Mommy usually allows me to accept. We haven’t talked about it, since she doesn’t think I’d understand, but I’m always out with her or another family member anyway – althought that didn’t help in your situation!


  6. the grumbles says:

    huh. i haven’t had to deal with this one yet, but i am totally NOT okay with strangers giving my kid anything that goes in his mouth. i would be equally flipping my shit. however, i would say that the one concession is that i’ve let jude share a snack that came from other parents at our local playground who were also feeding their own kids and oh hey, would he like one too? but, those are locals. and it’s pretty much completely different.

    and handing out nuts? seriously?


    Amy Reply:

    I never know what to do at the park. We rarely see the same people, so it doesn’t seem like locals. Except for the neighborhood 5 pm group that snubs me. Maybe I should go offer their kids some peanut m&ms.


  7. Swistle says:

    I don’t think anyone should be offering a child food without asking the parent, and that’s the only kind of experience I’ve had—like when another mom I was talking to at the park (I’d just met her that day) got out crackers for her child and then said “Is it okay if he has one?” But I can definitely see doing it without really thinking about it: we get so accustomed to sharing food with our own kids.

    The classic rule about not taking candy from strangers isn’t about the danger of the food itself (at Halloween, for example, many of us still do let our kids take candy from strangers), it’s actually about not going WITH a stranger who offers a bribe. I can’t think of a situation where a stranger would be offering food with some other bad motive. It seems like it’s either a ploy to get a child to go with them (which wouldn’t apply when you’re right there) or else an innocent but not very good idea (because of possible allergies and so forth).

    But in the latter case, it doesn’t seem like a situation for panic or offense, just a situation where someone is being impulsively/casually generous without thinking things through. Like when a stranger touches a baby’s face: they’re not deliberately trying to do harm. Their intentions are pure and good, they just haven’t thought it through.


    Amy Reply:

    One of the issues that I have is that I don’t know where the food has been. Years of work experience in a hospital left me quite paranoid about food born illnesses and communicable diseases in general. Add to that some cultural differences in food safety and a resurgence in hepatitis A and a grape will freak me out. I sat through one too many seminars in which an entire ward got sick from shared food hosted at the nursing station and one person’s dirty hands or artificial fingernails. *shudder*
    Plus, the rule follower in me was extremely annoyed that it happened in an explicitly “no food allowed” play area.


  8. Susan says:

    My son has peanut & tree nut allergies so I have been trying to prepare him to only take food that Mommy & Daddy give him. And he is the type of kid who puts EVERYthing in his mouth still at 3.5yo. Just the other day, he broke open a Minnie Mouse plastic morocco and I caught him eating a piece of what was inside! After a frantic call to Daddy, I determined it to be just small plastic pieces. Still comes from some foreign land so who knows exactly what’s on it, but thankfully he’s okay! Oh and I have high anxiety wherever we go! Poor kid loves Chuck E Cheese ads, but I know we can never go there because I’d be so worried about the food brought in & left behind. Not to mention all the germs (like mall play areas). Because it is so hard to say you can have this plain chocolate chip cookie because it’s Nabisco, but not the Keebler kind Grandma buys (“may contain”). Same with Rold Gold pretzels that he always eats, but make sure your future classmate doesn’t share his Snyder’s ones with you! And no birthday cakes unless Mommy bakes them. So needless to say this post and comments totally increased my anxiety if even possible lol! Thanks for sharing though! Just makes me realize even more so that we have A LOT to do as parents (food allergies or not) to keep our kids safe in every situation!


    Amy Reply:

    I don’t know how I would handle allergies in conjunction with this. I had no idea about rold gold vs snyders. Spence goes to a nut free school (but no one in his class has a nut allergy). I know they’ve had pretzels for snack, I wonder what brand they were.


    Susan Reply:

    I have no school experience yet, but I bet ones with peanut/tree nut policies probably just include the stuff that actually contains them. It would be too hard to also include everything that may contain them (like what the Snyder’s bag says). That takes a lot of ingredient reading, plus companies aren’t required to use a “may contain” statement. So what I do is compile a list of companies I trust that do use it. That way when one of their products doesn’t list anything about peanuts/tree nuts (contain or may contain), I know it’s most likely safe to eat. That would be way too much to ask other parents to do, and yet we still have to make sure our son will not eat anything that could potentially make him sick. I think I’ll be volunteering to bring A LOT of snacks and treats to school!


    Amy Reply:

    I think the class that has the severely allergic child has an approved snack list. The school is just nut free to avoid cross contamination. I’m sure it will stay nut free, I think it is just safer for the small private ones. It is also nominally sugar free, but mostly they mean don’t bring cookies.

  9. MommySaidThis says:

    Yikes! This is one of my biggest pet peeves. If you don’t know me, please, please, PLEASE don’t give my child anything to eat, drink or put on their body. I’m sure the majority of people out there are wonderful, who don’t have anything but good intentions, but I don’t know them. Like you said, I don’t know where the food, drink (or your child’s hat!) has been. 

    On a side note, I have to wonder what we’re teaching our kids about being too trusting of strangers. Someone has to teach them about healthy (and safe!) boundaries. I don’t want my kids to be afraid of everyone, but I do want them to be cautious. I try to teach them to be friendly, but not treat everyone like they would grandma.  We smile, say hello, chat with people we encounter, but that is where we draw the line. No gifts, treats, hugs, sharing of personal identifying information, etc. w/o asking mom or dad 1st. Does that make me a freak or über protective? Oh well! :)

    My philosophy has always been ‘you parent your kids your way, I’ll do the same with mine’ I would, personally, would rather be safe than sorry!


    Amy Reply:

    I lean towards paranoia, so I am not sure how I am going to handle strangers. Spence is so friendly and nice and I was brutally shy as a child, so I don’t want to scare him and send him to the other extreme. Your guidelines seem perfectly reasonable to me.


  10. TMae says:

    I’m still shaking my head about this. I have a friend who was that person handing over a cracker at a park to a kid she didn’t know, and caught hell from the mom. And my friend was really stung by it, because she’s a good, good person, and the boy asked if he could share some of her daughter’s snack, and it was a goldfish cracker and who doesn’t eat goldfish crackers? She hadn’t considered AT ALL that this behavior was weird. And I had to stop myself from laughing at her in a “are you kidding me, you fed someone else’s kid without asking” way. Because, ARE YOU KIDDING ME? You fed someone else’s kid without asking and you’re surprised they weren’t happy about it?

    Here’s hoping it was a well washed grape!


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