Stranger Danger on the Playground

Updated on January 26, 2015
S.C. asks from Geneva, IL
47 answers

Yesterday, my son came home with some baseball cards from school. I asked where he got them and he said a guy on the playground. Wait, WHAT?

He didn't know who he was and yes, I asked about 100 questions. I finally called his teacher. It is a volunteer dad who frequently gives small gifts out to the kids while he helps out at recess after lunch.

We are working hard to teach our children the very, very difficult task of being able to identify dangerous situations that do not look dangerous on the surface. At the top of that category falls adults who look nice but have terrible motives. One of the first rules of thumb: if an adult you don’t know offers you a gift, candy, puppy – whatever – you should run.

The whole thing raised my predator alarm VERY quickly.

The principal insists this is harmless and he is a kind volunteer. He doesn't want to hurt this man's feelings by asking him to stop. I get that, but I think safety is more important and also think it is extremely dangerous to be teaching children, at school, that accepting gifts from a total stranger is safe, fun or acceptable.

What are your thoughts? Am I over-reacting or is the school under-reacting?

What can I do next?

  • Add yourAnswer own comment
  • Ask your own question Add Question
  • Join the Mamapedia community Mamapedia
  • as inappropriate
  • this with your friends

So What Happened?

Let me clarify a few things here. The children did not know this volunteer, and they did not KNOW he was a volunteer.

My issue is not that he is volunteering. Yay, Dad, for doing that! I'm glad he's there! My issue is with him giving gifts out on the playround to kids he doesn't know. No one else finds that unsettling? He does it a lot and the other parents I've talked to admitted to me that they find it kind of unsettling.

I'm getting responses that I don't want dads volunteering. What the heck? I am not saying that -- not at all.

I will also add that I was nearly abducted once in front of my house at age 6 by a man who kept softy asking if I wanted a ride in his car. I kept inching closer trying to understand what he was saying until without realizing it I was close enough to grab. Guess what? He seemed SUPER nice! My mother and grandmother saw what was going on and started screaming and ran out -- he sped off with the passenger door still open. All these years later, and I'm realizing this experience is probably what makes my mama bear radar a little extra sensitive in this area.

Just love my kids, folks, and sometimes like to double check if my gut is being too overprotective.

One final thought... RK summed up my question much better than I did. I am not worried THIS GUY is going to run off with my child. I actually think he's a nice guy. My issue is that the behavior being reinforced is NOT a healthy situation. Grownups don't randomly give gifts to little kids they don't know. This time it was my child, but -- he gives gifts to a lot of kids, and not all of them know him beyond being a volunteer on the playground. And even if they DO know he is a volunteer on the playground, I just don't think it's healthy to reinforce the idea that it's okay to take gifts from grownups like that when your parents don't know about it.

Thanks for all the feedback. I'm not out to change anything at the school. I was mostly irritated that the principal blew off my concern wihtout even having a conversation.

ETA: OK, last thing I'll post on this topic. I think most people -- and our principal -- just miss my point. I think volunteers are great, male and female. I don't expect my son to know everyone at school, not teachers, not volunteers. I'm fine with them being friendly. Frankly, I'm even fine with my son being alone with volunteers. Yes, we are all background checked. I'm great with these volunteers building relationships with kids for that matter. My issue was the behavior of one volunteer who uses small gifts, frequently, to build relationships with these kids. It is an absolute fact that this is a common predatory behavior. Again - my issue is not that I think THIS volunteer is a predator. I do NOT believe there is anything devious going on with him. I think he is a nice guy who likes to lavish things on kids. My issue is that I think he is inadvertnatly making kids too comfortable with that type of behavior, and at school, I just think it's crazy that educators -- who are educated in areas like this -- do not see the pitfalls of making kids comfortable with that. So my concern isn't even just about my kids, it's about what it's teaching the masses of children at the school. I do volunteer at school, by the way.

To me, I guess it's equivalent to offering a child a ride home if I saw him standing outside. Kind? Nice. Helpful? Yes. But just becuase it's safe to accept a ride home from ME does not mean it is a good thing to make kids comfortable with (accepting rides from a stanger trying to help.)

Finally, I would be okay with it IF the school used it as a teachable moment. "It's okay to take those cards -- and remember to say thank you! -- becasue we know Mr. So and So. He is a volunteer and your teachers say its okay. But here's when it's NOT ok for someone to do that..." But they don't do that. :)

Anyway. Thanks to everyone who took time to provide some constructive feedback. It was helpful.

Featured Answers


answers from Washington DC on

So I get the idea if this was at a neighborhood park and not school. Where I live, volunteers go through training, finger printing, and strict regulations before they are allowed to be around children. I think it's great that this volunteer (mom or dad) is involved with the kids.

I would possibly use this as a lesson and give it a different scenario (neighborhood park), but I wouldn't make a deal about it at school.

I also would put money on it that the kids have seen him before since he comes a lot, just without having interaction with him, they are busy playing and don't notice.

I wouldn't stress over this.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

I agree with you, I think it's probably harmless but a little strange, even stranger that the school principal is aware of it and allows it to continue. The principal at my child's elementary school would NEVER allow something like that to go on. It's just not appropriate in a school setting. I believe in teaching kids that they should run or scream if offered a gift, candy, puppy...those are tactics used by predators to steal children. Better safe than sorry.

2 moms found this helpful

More Answers


answers from Albany on

Here's the way I see this: Your son's exemplary behavior (when he could've been defiant) was rewarded by a kind, generous parent (who could've just as easily been a grouchy old poop) trusted by your school. I hope he said thank you.

(Even if you live your life by the notion that all the world's a predator unless proven otherwise, it's already been proven otherwise, so I'm not really clear on what this post is about.)


18 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

Just going to bring attention to the "stranger danger" thing - best to focus on him trusting his instincts, being able to say "no" to an adult if he's uncomfortable, being in charge of his own body.

90% of the time, it's not strangers that are dangerous. It's someone you know or have some sort of contact with.

Also, those who will HELP our kids ARE strangers - cops, store clerks, firemen, etc. So avoid categorizing strangers only as the bad ones. It's the behaviors, not specific people, that need to be protected from.

15 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

I strongly suggest that your son is safe on the playground. There are several teachers and volunteers there.keeping an eye
on the whole playground. Because he's a volunteer the adults know him. Otherwise one of them would've gone over. Your son sounds young. I suggest that he recognized the man but didn't know how to explain about him.

Have you ever heard of a child taken from the play ground or given something inappropiate during school hours. I haven't and i'm a retired police officer.

I have been trained to teach children and adults how to be safe. We used stranger danger but not now. There is another more helpful program that talks about other issues in addition to strangers. Most offenses involving kids are committed by someone the child knows. One reason not to focus on stranger danger is that for some children hearing it expained to them creates fear rather than safety. Sounds like strangers danger created fear for you. You were frightened as a child. You are now an adult. Try to let go of that fear for your son's sake.

Your son is not in danger during school hours on the playground. His situation is different than yours as a child. You were alone on the street. You were safe because your mom and grandmother were watching. Several adults are watching and there are lots of kids in your son's situation. You were safe and so is he.

You want voluneeds not to give children small things. You suggest when they do the school is setting the kids up to take gifts from strangers elsewhere. I suggest that you teach him that it is safe to take things from a volunteer on the playgrouND because he is not a stranger. He has been cleared by the school district. Tell him if he's uncomfortable or unsure to ask a teacher what to do.

Do tell him to only talk to people he knows if you're not with him. At first my grandaughter took not talking to strangers literally and would not talk with my friends. Smile

I suggest the way to handle this is to ask the teacher to introduce him to the volunteers. I suggest you be aware that not all adults that you and your child do not are unsafe. Trust the school to keep him safe. Ask the teacher about situations like this before asking your son a 100 questions I suggest you scared him unnecessarily. There is such a thing as taking fear too far. One can be safe in many places. School is one of them.

BTW this volunteer dId know your son. And your son, until you put fear in him knew adults on the playground are OK and if he ever feels uncomfortable he is to talk with a teacher. That was taught to him over and over in the classroom. Schools are very aware of children being safe.
Also volunteers wear badges. And there are teachers on the playground that he won't know. At the school I was at teachers and volunteers carried a first aid bag and wore a whistle. Life is just not black and white.
Their are many nuances.

15 moms found this helpful


answers from Columbia on

OMG! A *GUY* ON THE PLAYGROUND!?!?! Could it possibly be that he has a child that attends that school and wants to be involved in that child's education? You wouldn't bat an eye if it were a mom volunteer, but a MAN. Stop the presses. He *must* be a predator, right?

Uhm, no.

Isn't YOUR son's dad a man? Aren't dads usually men? Men who love their kids just like your husband loves his own son?

Not only are you overreacting, your implication that women are the only trustworthy people who should be on the playground is an insult to all the amazing dads out there. I would be BEYOND pissed if some mother with ridiculous beliefs about "stranger danger" caused my husband to be unable to volunteer at our kids' school. How would you feel if this man were your husband?

Stranger danger is stupid. Because it's not based upon reality or even probability. It's based upon unsubstantiated fear propagated by an overly imaginitive and dramatic media. Shame on you for making assumptions about the intentions of another woman's husband and another child's father. It's a baseball card given on school property by a school sanctioned volunteer, not a condom given in a dark alley. FFS.

ETA: I'm LOL at the backpedalling. Mmkay.

13 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

He's not a stranger, he's a playground aide. I'm sure that your school has done its due diligence in screening all volunteers and has trained the volunteers to look for adults on the playground who do not belong there. Just because your son doesn't know every single staff person and volunteer at his school doesn't make them strangers or dangerous.

Per your SWH...your kids might not have been able to articulate clearly that he was a volunteer because they inherently know that any adult at school in the presence of other adults belongs there. They don't think "hey is that a teacher, a para-professional, a non-classroom staff person or an unpaid volunteer?" They just know that they're at school among friendly adults who take interest in the students. Why is that an issue?

To recap - you are overreacting, and there is nothing predatory about friendly adults at school who connect with kids in appropriate ways. Would you freak out if you had a daughter come home with a sticker that a playground aid gave to her? A baseball card isn't exactly a "gift" anyway.

13 moms found this helpful


answers from Grand Forks on

Sorry. You are totally over-reacting.

I don't believe in teaching kids "Stranger Danger". In fact, I think that is the worst thing you can teach a child. I teach children about personal space, good and bad touching and never to go anywhere with anyone without asking a parent or trusted adult. I teach them to look for a stranger to help them if they should ever get lost or hurt or scared. I teach them to use good judgment when choosing a stranger to help them.

In my children's school the only adults on the premises during the school day are trusted adults, staff or volunteers. My children understand that any adult working (or volunteering) at the school is a trusted adult.

I would never want to teach my child that a nice dad volunteering at school probably has terrible motives in giving a gift to a child.

If a trusted adult (or even a stranger adult) wishes to offer my child a gift my child is to be polite and say "thank you". Not get into a car with that person, or give them a hug, but use manners. Not run. I teach my children to be polite to all adults.

Many of the parents who do lunch duty at school hand out prizes as initiatives for good behaviour or helping out.

This whole "stranger danger" thing really annoys me. It doesn't keep children safe, but makes them fearful and distrustful.

12 moms found this helpful


answers from Cleveland on

Yes - I think you are overreacting. This wasn't a stranger while your son was alone at a playground. We have tons of parents volunteer at recess and some are dads. Why is that an issue? It wouldn't be an issue if it was a mom? Your son in a way is using common sense. It's school. Only parent volunteers and staff are allowed on the playground at school. Hence, this man may be unknown to him but is part of the school community and ok. As someone said, you need to explain the different settings to your child. If no one at school knew who this man was and therefore strange adults are roaming the school, then that is definitely an issue. But since that's not the case, you are in effect asking that no males be volunteers and that's wrong.

11 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

If he is a volunteer dad at the school he IS NOT a total stranger to your child. Yes you are over reacting.

11 moms found this helpful


answers from St. Louis on

Totally overreacting.

Per your what happened, only you find this unsettling. The other parents are only agreeing with you because you are standing there and the other option is to tell you to your face you are kind of out there on this one.

There is a huge difference between a dad volunteering and some guy trying to get you to go for a ride. That is an important difference your child should know because at some point he may need help. if everyone is a stranger per your rules, he is screwed.

True story, there was a kid lost in the woods that was almost never found because everyone looking for him was a stranger so he kept hiding from them.

Per your millionth update to your what happened, I think you are missing the huge point, this is a trusted person, you can take things from trusted people. A cop gives you are dare pin, fine, trusted person. Teacher gives you a small present, fine, trusted person. Mom buys you birthday gifts, fine, trusted person. It is only when it is not a trusted person that there is an issue so rather than keep trying to justify your overreaction by claiming we are missing the point, you need to understand the point and teach your son the difference.

No one was making your son comfortable with receiving gifts from strangers because these people are not strangers. If you can't teach him who is or is not trusted and where to find them he is going to be in big trouble if he ends up lost.

11 moms found this helpful


answers from San Antonio on

Just one other side to this. My dad and husband both volunteer at my son's school as "Watch Dogs" which is a program to get male volunteers at the school both to assist and keep a watch out. When the volunteers check in they are given a set of stickers, bookmarks, baseball cards, etc that they can give out to students if they see them doing nice things for others during the day.

My bigger question would be: What is the security like at the school? Is the playground open, or is it fenced?

11 moms found this helpful


answers from Columbia on

If he's a volunteer he should be "sanctioned" by the school, which means he has been background checked and should have some sort of "official" status - at my daughter's elementary school all the playground volunteers wore the same jacket / vest. Plus if he's an actual volunteer - he isn't a "total" stranger.... he's the same as a teacher in a different class or the office assistant - just not paid.

I don't want to be all lax about your concerns.... but the odds of someone abducting your child on a playground are super slim. You are better off to teach him to beware of Uncle Bob or Cousin Missy - something like 90% of all "bad" stuff is at the hands of relatives or people who you give access to your kids.

In my opinion.... the owness on refusing *gifts* is on your son. I'm not sure how old he is.... but if he's in 1st grade or older he should be able to remember to say "no thank you" to gifts / food etc of things he knows he shouldn't take. That's just manners.... not stranger danger.

10 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

Adults at school fall into the "helper" category, adults that can be trusted. My kids have always known that any adult working at school, from teachers to janitors to volunteers are people they can trust and go to if they need help.
So, yeah, I wouldn't consider this person a "total stranger" not at all.
And your kids can't possibly know every single adult that works/volunteers at their school, right?
Also the schools are so careful about monitoring adults coming and going, any true stranger would be noticed and reported/confronted immediately.
I would try to relax on this, and think rationally. Your child is soooo much more likely to be hurt/abused by a family member or other trusted friend than they are a stranger, THAT's what you should be worried about :-(

9 moms found this helpful


answers from Springfield on

It wouldn't occur to me to teach my children to be leery of adults on the playground at school. My boys would not be able to identify most of the volunteers at their school. There are numerous parents, grandparents and other community volunteers. There are also many teachers that they would not recognize. I want them to know that volunteers at the school are safe.

Adults who volunteer at the school must go through a background check before they can volunteer. They also need to sign in and out at the office. There are never random adults on the playground.

I think this is a situation where you need to explain the difference between adult you don't know during recess and strangers at the local park.

Per your SWH - Don't you want your children to assume that adults at the school are volunteers or school staff?

8 moms found this helpful


answers from Austin on

after reading your "so what happened", then the only problem that I see is that the school does not clearly label or identify volunteers, or so it seems. When I have volunteered at various positions in my kids' schools, I had to wear a badge or a clearly labeled sturdy sticker or wear a lanyard with an ID on it. I've seen schools where recess and pickup/drop-off line volunteers wear vests (just simple cloth ones) or other clearly identifiable markers. That way if there's an accident or incident, everyone knows that the adult rushing up to help is a volunteer (background checked, school approved, with a certain amount of authority) and not a stranger or a person who doesn't belong there.

I think that establishing a rapport with kids you're going to see every day is a nice thing (in a situation like a school volunteer) and that the school needs to clarify to the children who the volunteers are, what their duties are, and what their responsibilities are. Or else you as the parent need to find out how volunteers are identified, and help your child recognize them.

That seems to be the problem here, not the fact that a volunteer gave out simple little gifts.

8 moms found this helpful


answers from Austin on

I understand you would prefer that no one but teachers and approved people be around your child at all times. This man is an approved volunteer.

The deal is that your child is in school, will probably be on sports teams clubs etc. Parents of other children will be around. Birthday parties at friends homes. swimming parties.. All sorts of situations where you will not really know these people but they will be assisting your child, giving them food, drink, prizes will not know anything about these people.

But this volunteer has been screened, he is there on campus with the staff. That is what you tell your son. If the teachers are there, he can ask them, if he is allowed to accept these gifts/prizes, etc..

At parties you can decide if the people in charge are trustworthy. Again when you drop your child off you tell him, "if you need anything, be sure to ask Tommy's mom or dad."

If it is at a team function, tell him "Coach Jones is in charge, so let him know if you need something."

Eventually this will be natural for the both of you. You will tell him who is in charge and he will be able to refer to them.

At some point you will be the volunteer that parents do not know, maybe escorting a child to the library, tutoring them away from others etc..
You will be scrutinized by others. We all walk the fine line, you have baggage, you may need to speak with a professional. You will be more sensitive to possible situations so you need to learn the words to guide your son without scaring him.

It is normal to worry, but to try to change this for the entire campus, because of your worries is not fair to patents that want to volunteer and be kind to the students.

8 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

I have not read all of the responses so forgive me if I step on toes.

My initial thought is yes, you are being paranoid about it. I don't know about your schools but around here NO ONE WHATSOEVER has any access inside the school, library, recess, cafeteria, volunteer, etc without a yearly background check and is cleared by the ISD.

Maybe YOUR child does not know this volunteer. EVERY person in the schools around here has some sort of id that is readily available on them from teachers, substitutes, student teachers, volunteers, etc. EVERYONE is identifiable and there are routine "checks" done by the local administrators and police liasons to make sure ALL schools are in compliance with this rule. To enter the building, you have to buzz in and present your id's at the front before you are allowed inside. ALL playground access is gated and on camera.

All volunteers and school personnel are not women. Yes, there are a lot of men teachers and dad volunteers so a child should not be scared to see a male at school. Our schools have routine police patrolling the premises at different times of the day.

Keep in mind that it is rare for a stranger to abduct or harm a child. In most cases, the person who abducts and harms children is someone the child already knows and trusts (Uncle Joe, Aunt Sue, cousin Bobby, etc)

I hope you are able to find a balance on communicating stranger danger to your child and not teach your child to be paranoid.

8 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

You are definitely over-reacting. This was a man who works at the school. By your criteria, your children should not go into their classroom because you don't know that teacher from Adam or Eve. And they should NEVER go to the playground at recess because they don't know the supervisors and neither do you. This man wasn't any more a stranger than anyone else at the school unless you personally know everyone but him. Maybe you do, but I doubt it.

7 moms found this helpful


answers from New York on

You are definitely over reacting. Your child will know adults you don't know. Just a fact of life. Yes there are predators out there but most of them are people your kid does know and some of them you would know too. The most important thing is to teach your kid to have healthy boundaries as it relates to their bodies.

Understand, volunteers in school have to go through a process which includes being fingerprinted to see if they don't have any crimes charged against them.

With all of that said, I don't want you to discount your momma bear radar but try to find some balance.

I was a kid that was molested as a kid but it wasn't from anyone at the school or at the playground.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Houston on

When I first read this I thought it was at a local playground. This happened at school. This father has been vetted through the school district. How do you know that the man didn't have a tag on? Your son might not have remembered it. I'm a little put off by your attitude frankly. What the principal should do is make sure the volunteer dad has on his tag but again how do you know the children didn't know. If he is volunteering everyday, seems to me the kids would know who he is.

I'm all for the safety of our children, my kids were approached after getting off the bus in front of our house by a guy in a van. I had taught my kids to not talk to strangers and to not get near vehicles. They ran into the house screaming. I ran outside (I normally stood at the door but I had to go to the bathroom) screaming. I then called the police and the school. So I totally get it but I think in this instance, you are a little off base.

You might want to volunteer and then you would meet the other volunteers and feel more comfortable with the program.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

Good practice would be for adults to verbally praise students. Children love real attention and conversation.

You are correct that giving small gifts is often used as a grooming behavior by predators. When schools and other organizations responsible for children have volunteers, it is the school's responsibility to teach them to model appropriate practices, to keep children safer. The real danger is not that this person is a predator, but that he is reinforcing any child's belief that it is ok to take gifts from anyone without his parents' knowledge. It is responsible for all adults to reinforce safe behaviors, and it is the principal's responsibility to explain this to the volunteer.

As for your son, good for him for showing you the card. I would think it would be helpful to him to let him know he did exactly the right thing showing it to you, and that you checked with the principal to make sure this gentleman was a school volunteer. That reinforces that he can and should share with you, and that your job is to listen and inquire if appropriate. All my best.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

I agree with the others. The volunteers should be clearly marked, but other than that I would take no issue with the occurrence.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Minneapolis on

I guess I'm in the minority that thinks it is odd for a school volunteer to be gifting students at random. At worst, this could be "grooming" (which I would doubt but you never know) The fact that other parents also find this practice unsettling is worth noting. Are the gifts for all the kids, or just certain ones? If he's really giving trinkets to all the kids, that's at least reassuring. I mean, who could come to a school playground to work with kids and only give trinkets to a select few of the kids? That's bound to cause problems. Wouldn't that go against common sense? Also, I'm surprised the school doesn't carefully scrutinize what kind of "trinkets" he gives out. Most schools don't want to run the risk of offending anyone these days. Even if there is no evil intent, it would seem to go against what is acceptable these days.

Your kids may not have known the guy's name. But did they at least recognize him as a school helper? If they truly didn't know he was working with the school, I'd tell the principal that all volunteers should be more easily identifiable by kids. And remind your kids that they shouldn't interact with adults on playgrounds unless they are sure it IS someone connected with the school.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

i'll bet if it had been a S. granny handing out pooh bear picture cards you wouldn't have raised an eyebrow.
when i read the title of this post i assumed it was a public playground and an actual stranger, not the school playground and a volunteer, who has almost certainly been through a background check.
i think you're way over-reacting, perhaps naturally due to your own scary experience. not surprising, but you need to recognize that and dial it back.
if you are really adamant that your child will learn to be too trusting from accepting a gift from a well-vetted 'stranger' in a safe circumstance, then it's on you to teach your child your rules. i assume she doesn't get to visit santa in the mall either.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Las Vegas on

Another ETA: As a clinical psychologist, I worked with sex offenders for two decades, so I'm familiar with the way they operate. Yes, offering gifts can be part of their grooming strategy, BUT the man in this situation is not singling out this particular child alone for the cards, and he is not doing this in any hidden, secretive way outside of the watchful eye of teachers and other volunteers. BIG difference and a very important one to teach kids. Most schools these days use small, inexpensive tokens, tickets, cards, and such as a reward when kids are observed being kind or displaying some other good behavior. We should be teaching our children the difference between accepting a card or token that is given in a school setting and sanctioned by the teachers/school and those gifts that are offered in unknown, unfamiliar situations.

Per this poster's own "first rule of thumb," her son should have run in this situation. That would seem a little drastic on the school playground. At some point, we have to help kids see that if the school has allowed these other adults on school property to help teachers, and if the teachers know who they are, they should be considered safe persons.

Eventually, every child's sphere of comfort will have to expand to include relative strangers who will be part of the child's social life in a variety of settings. There will be coaches, religious school teachers, scout leaders, and other volunteers in these settings etc. Many of these people will be unknown to the children. There's no way for us as parents to take that factor out, so it's incumbent upon us to teach kids about being keeping themselves safe AND learning to incorporate new people into their lives.
Haven't read any of the other responses yet, but I'm thinking your reaction is out of proportion to the situation. Of course it's good to be cautious and teach children how to avoid danger, but you can also go overboard by teaching them to be frightened and suspicious of everyone and everything. It's understandable coming from the lens of your experience as a child, but I think your radar may need some recalibration.

This man has been approved by the school administrators to be on the premises as well as hand out these baseball cards. I don't see the big deal with this. It's not like he's some random guy in the park who just wandered up to your child. That's where you have to differentiate between your traumatic experience as a child and normal, everyday interactions with regular people. Then you have to explain these differences to your children and teach them about risk factors in various situations.

This case is different because it doesn't take place in isolation. Rather, it takes place in public, with lots and lots of "eyes" on the situation. He isn't trying to lure your child away with gifts. You've got to teach your children these distinctions or they are going to become suspicious of everyone in every situation, and that is not a useful life skill or heathy way to interact with their world.

While it's up to you whether you decide to let your son accept the baseball cards, you children will be better served if you teach them how to evaluate low-risk vs. high-risk situations so they can develop good judgement about people and be better prepared to handle social situations independently as they grow.

Hope this helps.

ETA: It might help you to know what your school's policy is regarding volunteers. In our school, NO ONE outside of staff gets in without logging in on a computer which takes our picture and then prints out a name and photo badge that must be visibly worn at all times. And then, you still have to be "buzzed in by staff who make visual identification of you. If you know what your school's policies and procedures are, it might help you feel a little more relaxed about who's coming into your children's school, and that information will help you to present a more relaxed, reasonable explanation to your children regarding school volunteers.

J. F.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Lakeland on

I would be more worried about so many teachers doing "very bad things" to the kids these days. Every time I read the news there is yet another teacher having sex with the students, age and gender don't seem to matter. Most recent was one in my SD's school district whom she had regular contact with.

If you teach your child that EVERY stranger is bad then what will your child do if he needs help? Sometimes we have to rely on the kindness of strangers because they are not all bad people.

You should be teaching your children about your experience and what signs to look for from strangers. Obviously they wouldn't take gifts form strangers on the street, but someone working/volunteering at the school is a different situation.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Oklahoma City on

You have a very valid reason for being wary of strangers. Please rest assured the teachers and staff on your child's playground do know the people on there with your child.

I don't see any reason to freak out about a card once you figured out where it came from. He was a volunteer. Perhaps the school can come up with a big yellow vest that EVERY parent who enters the school grounds has to wear so that even if they are simply going to the classroom to take a cake or read to the kids they'll be easily recognizable to you.

Please know that stranger danger has done more harm than anything. Kids are afraid of strangers and not afraid of uncle Bob or the preacher at church or sister's boyfriend or mom or dad or the neighbor's mom and kids.

Strangers are a tiny tiny part of the threat against our kids. It's the people they know and go off with by themselves or in small groups without other parents present that you have to worry the most about.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

To add to what Julie F. said about how your school admits adult volunteers to its premises:

Does the school have every person who enters the building sign in, and is that sign-in computer or list right in the main office where a staff member can see each person who comes in? I sure hope so; that is pretty standard procedure these days and I know every school in our county does it that way. If your school somehow does not do this, you can address that and try to ensure that all volunteers are signed in, in front of someone. (For instance, no volunteer, even a "regular," should just walk straight from his or her car to the playground; that person should have to sign in first and get, and wear, a sticker or badge.)

And yes, volunteers should wear a clearly visible sticker with their names on it. Our schools' check-in computers are linked to a small specialized printer that generates and spits out a printed (not handwritten) name tag with the word "volunteer" on it nice and large, as well as the person's name and the person's destination in the school. Example: "Volunteer, Jane Smith, library, after-school tutoring." All people who are not staff are required to wear them. I'm not saying that school security tackles you if you're not wearing one. But believe me, I know parents who forgot to sign in and were questioned by a teacher or janitor or aide within a dozen steps down the hall.

If your school has a check-in policy but somehow does not require name tags on all volunteers, then work with other parents to donate money for a name tag printer and if necessary a sign-in computer. Then kids will know that any adult with that specific tag (ours are very bright yellow) is indeed a volunteer who's been to the office and is OK. Is that why your child didn't know this dad was a volunteer--because there is no official way your school identifies volunteers while they're on the school property? If that's the case, it's easily fixed if you get the front office on board. A small, inexpensive laptop to record sign-ins and create name tags would do a lot to ensure kids and adults know who's who and when to question a person's presence.

If you decide to lead any effort to improve the check-in and name tag procedures in your school (if that's needed), then please take care.
Don't make it look like you're out to punish this one dad or like you're petrified that strangers could sneak into the school or you won't get cooperation and will be seen as overprotective and excessive. Just make it about getting up to date with the best procedures.

I do get why your child coming home with items he didn't have earlier gives you the willies. I too would be questioning it. But I also think your own past experience is making you see problems where there aren't any in this particular situation.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

Try a different approach with the principal that volunteers need to be introduced to the kids so they don't think he is a stranger. From what I've seen at our school volunteers are always introduced and always wear a name tag with their picture on it.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Seattle on

I think what you are asking is " how do I teach "stranger danger" to my child when a volunteer (who my child does not know) is giving him gifts randomly", not if your child is safe on the playground. If this is what you are asking, then yes, it makes is difficult to teach a child whom it is ok to accept gifts from and from whom it is not. You, and the other parents you spoke to who are uncomfortable with this, should go together to the principal and revisit this issue.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from New York on

I would bet your son sees he all the time since he is a volunteer. He probably just does not know him personally. Initially I thought it was someone who just walked up to your son offered cards etc. thank heavens for volunteers to watch over our children.

Go over the difference between a volunteer who is always working at school vs a real stranger. Now is the perfect time to discuss

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

Ahhhh...I'm sure this is your first experience with something like this--it kind of smacks you in the face to realize the little guy will HAVE to make these determinations all by himself sometimes.
But I'm sure he's safe.
Our schools really screen volunteers!

Funny the concept of stranger danger... We were just talking about this with regards to drugs & alcohol.
The myth being the dope pusher/stranger giving a kid a first, free sample whole sneering "he'll be back" to himself. In reality, our kids are offered drugs and alcohol by the people they know best, love, respect and hold the most closely: their friends!

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Boise on

I do not think you are over reacting at all. However, this is an excellent learning/teaching moment for you and your child.

Be sure to not scare your child. Not all adults and strangers are bad. Be sure to teach your son about staying safe distances from people he doesn't know; about "bathing suit areas" and that they are no touch zones. Teach him that if someone offers him a gift again, to ask an adult he knows and trusts if it's okay. Also, there is NO REASON for an adult to EVER need a child's help to find a lost puppy or anything else - even if offered money, candy, toys, etc... You get the point. Teach these things in a controlled manner and don't scare your son. :)

As for hurting the man's feelings, so what?! He's a dad and a volunteer and he should address children he doesn't know as such. It's also the school's responsibility to inform parents/guardians that there are such and such volunteers, and their names are "Tom" or "Susan" or whatever.

Sorry if I repeated what others have said. I am short on time, as my house is a flu zone! :(

ETA: There was a story several years ago about a person who made their way onto a school campus and lured a child off school grounds. Just because it's school grounds does not necessarily make it a "danger-free-zone" for children. Volunteers should always wear some sort of I.D. and parents should always be told who they are. Just my opinion. :)

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

What is the protocol for volunteers at the school?

Our schools protocol:
1. They MUST be a family member of one of the students there.
2. They MUST attend a volunteer meeting and meet with the teachers.
3. They must give information for a background check to be conducted (yes, I's the ones that DO NOT get caught).
4. They are put in a class where their child is.

We have a "mentor" program as well. Where parents come and have lunch with kids. They talk about what they do for a job and get the kids involved in thinking about their futures and all they can be.

I think you need to get your principal, PTA and local police together to institute a program where parents can feel (because really - that's all that can be done is to "make you feel") safe and set up rules.

If the dad does NOT have a child in that school? Yeah, that would creep me out.

If the principal doesn't want to upset a volunteer? Im sorry - he's not there for the BENEFIT of the children. Sometimes, principals (as leaders) have to make tough calls to protect children.

Have ANY other parents stepped up and voiced their concerns?

It's sad that in order to protect our children, we have to tell them to run away from someone who is giving something to them or being nice. Not everyone has ulterior, ugly motives. Have you considered going to this man and meeting him?? Taking some time off work and going to the school when you know he is going to be there and addressing your concerns with him??

On school grounds? I would tell my child that he can play with the cards, say thank you and give them back when recess is over. I would reiterate that NO ONE is to touch him and he is NOT to go ANYWHERE with him.

Do you have a password set up? We do. Change it and your son is NOT to give it out to ANYONE...he is only allowed to HEAR it. If you are unable to pick up your son and you have someone get him? They should say "Jimmy, Mommy sent me to get you. The password is: ****." that is Jimmy's cue that YOU sent the person. IF by chance you are incapacitated? You can have an ICE card in your wallet...just keep it updated.

Keep the lines of communication open with your son. Remind him that not everyone is nice. He needs to be observant, not go into a room alone, or be alone.

Do I believe the school is under reacting? Maybe. If his child isn't in the class? That would bother me. No sense really to have ANY parent volunteer for a class where his/her child is NOT there.

Instead of freaking out - which I don't blame you, really - take action. You CAN do it!

Good luck!

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Glens Falls on

I think I would get the willies in this situation as well. Not for a dad volunteer, or any real threat of danger, but the classic predator grooming/luring behavior being presented at school. I would casually mention this to a staff member. If enough parents have questioned it, there may be a change in policy. Really there's no reason for kids to be receiving gifts from a volunteer, they are there to watch over kids at recess or provide help with classroom tasks.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

I guess maybe I'm overreacting too, but I don't like the idea of someone giving my kid gifts like that. It's just a little weird.

ETA: It did totally bring to mind those after-school specials (1980s) where the creepy guy would say "hey kid, want a candy bar?"

So maybe the problem is our generation is just indoctrinated with "stranger danger" mentality, LOL

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

At our local schools they have Dad volunteers called WatchD.O.G.s, Dads something something. When the Dads are on WatchDOG duty they have to wear the special WatchDOG shirt. The kids know he's supposed to be there, teachers know he's supposed to be there, solves your problem. Maybe you could suggest this to the school.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Detroit on

I grazed your other responses, but there are sooo many! I hope I'm not being redundant.
As a volunteer myself I can see both sides of the equation. I am open to feedback/criticism-but have found my own instincts with kids are sometimes better than recommendations.
In your particular situation I would appriciate the concerned parent/principal pulling me aside and explaining their concerns about stranger danger and playground gifts. i (he) may not even see the connection.
I volunteered all year last year in my daughters class. This year she has a boy from her old class that sits next to her. She often tells me he doesn't bring snacks for snack time. So I send an extra snack without another thought. If he was on a special diet/had allergies and someone pulled me to the side to tell me? I'd feel terrible!!!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

Agree with many of the recommendations below: He needs to be introduced to kids AND parents, wearing a special shirt/badge/id, his complete contact information needs to be on file with the school and viewable by any interested parent and the school BETTER have done a background check. People volunteer at school for all kinds of reasons that the "average" person doesn't think about. They want to look good to counterbalance the fact that they have a conviction for something (possible especially when the school doesn't require background checks!), are going through a divorce where domestic violence has been alleged and they hope to gain favorable witnesses at the school, because they are predators, etc., etc. Public schools - even the ones in good neighborhoods - are desperate for volunteer, substitute, aides and all kinds of other help. But that doesn't give them the right to expose our kids to danger.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Orlando on

I also agree with RK. I also think you got some good suggestions about what volunteers should be wearing at school whether it be a name tag or vest, shirt, etc. Talk to the principle about these suggestions and maybe give him some research on pedaphile behavior. Don't feel bad about having an adult conversation with the dad giving gifts. Maybe give him a gift for helping at the school and some praise for what a great job he does, then proceed with your concerns about gifts for the kids...

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Rockford on

I'm sorry, but I'm having some trouble with this one. He was on the school playground during school hours, and he was a volunteer at the school.
You say that you think volunteers are great and you have no issue with him being a man and being at the school where his kids go.
Basically, you think it's weird that he likes to give gifts to children that are not his own.
Now, you are angry with the school for allowing him to give things to the kids.
Are you actually mad at the school, or are you upset with the fact that your son felt that it was OK to accept it, and you feel like you have somehow failed at teaching your child who is safe and who is not?
This kind of feels like you feel like you made a parenting fail, but want to blame someone else for it. It was not the school's place to make it a teachable moment, but it is yours.
Yes, you are over reacting.



answers from Chicago on

I think it's sad that we can't volunteer anymore, put arms around needy children and parents distrust people who are nice these days. You are correct to teach your child to be aware of strangers but having worked in schools for twenty plus years I can about guarantee that anyone who is allowed to work or volunteer is very likely trustworthy. I know every now and then there is the 'bad guy' and that is the one that ruins it for others. My own sister when she was little had a friend kidnapped in her presence by a stranger at a park who drove off with her friend. (She was found, they did go to court and my sister later went on to become a veteran police officer). So what you might do, is instruct your child that any next time where a gift or something is handed to him is to take it to the teacher and ask if it's alright to have. Believe me no parent ever is over reacting about the safety of their children, but parents like the children need to also teach the children to feel secure and not mistrust everyone either. Good luck, Mama, SOOO hard isn't it?



answers from Chicago on

Ok. I havnt read any of the other comments. If you, the parent, have any concerns about your child it is the job of the school to listen and understand your concerns and address it in a positive way. I agree with you. I find it odd myself. What is he doing at the playground that seems it neccessary to hand out goodies to kids? Is his kid in this class or is he there for all the recesses? Seriously, how many parents want to shell out additional money to buy more things for the kids holiday parties, another fundraiser, let alone just plain goodies for kids at recess. No. You have a valid point. You are his parent and you have every right to feel the way you do and protect your child. We all have different parent styles and there is nothing wrong with yours. If I were you I might try to volunteer the same time as this person and see his behavior, what he says to the kids, how he acts with them. You are doing nothing wrong but protecting and loving your child.



answers from Chicago on

I have been thinking about your post for days. First of all, I want to say that I feel your concerns are justified. Here is why, a volunteer parent is there to help out, to keep kids safe, to maintain order. NOT to make friends. The gifts to kids tells me he wants to make friends. I would go to the school superintendent if the principal " doesn't want to hurt the volunteers feelings." Good luck!



answers from San Francisco on

I agree with those who said that all adults who volunteer on campus should have a check-in and identification system (in our school district that includes fingerprinting). That way the students know that these adults have authorization to be on campus. At some schools locally, volunteers can hand out good behavior cards that enter the kids into a raffle for a prize once a week. Might be better to have something standard than random. I don't think the volunteers talking to the kids is wrong; it sounds more like something better communication and systems could solve.

That being said my friend (a woman) was given a lot of baseball cards by a friend. After her son got as many as he wanted, she gave them away at every opportunity. We went to a museum and she left them on benches, tables and not directly to kids. She also did that at amusement parks, playgrounds, etc.



answers from Chicago on

sounds like it was during school hours, which means that the playground is considered a "safe place" by any child and any adult in that building or on those grounds during that time is not a "stranger" they are just a school adult. A kid won't know every adult in the building but will assume, properly, that if it is during normal school activities and there is an adult, that adult is safe because the whole area is safe at that time.
It could have been a substitute teacher or a student teacher or an aide or just a teacher he hadn't noticed yet.
If your scenario had happened at a different time or place then yes, I'd be worried, but in this case, it was a "safe haven" area.
Your worry is like worrying that he would go talk to a police officer - the police officer is a stranger but a GOOD one that you trust even if you don't know him/her at all.
And again, many subs, student teachers, aides, teachers, etc. give away things to kids, they are again IN A SAFE HAVEN area, you are worrying about something that is not needed to worry about.

For Updates and Special Promotions
Follow Us

Related Questions