Overprotective or Paranoid: How Do You Feel About Strangers Touching Your Child?

Do I need to attach this sign everywhere I go in order for people to get it?

My children are beautiful. I say this unabashedly. I know everyone may think this, but it is the truth. Strangers stop me all the time to compliment their eyes and fawn over their smiles. Baby N has the lethal combination of being cute and a social butterfly. She smiles and waves to anyone who will look – in the grocery store, in elevators, in doctors offices, and at restaurants. Which gives some people the green light to touch.

I am not afraid of shaking people’s hands or think of every touch as a route of germ transmission. This is not what bothers me. I’m also totally fine with passing my baby off to friends and family to hold. The issue I have is with strangers. It is sort of like when you are pregnant and strangers think it’s okay to touch your belly. It makes me uncomfortable.

A wave is fine. A smile is nice. A complimentary word or two with the Mommy and maybe even some baby talk with the little one is acceptable. But, grabbing a baby’s hand and patting her head or rubbing her back should be outside the realm of okay for complete strangers. And I know I am being sexist here, but this is especially not okay with me if you are a man.

Let me explain what I mean. Over the weekend we went to dinner with a large group in a smallish restaurant. The baby and the rest of my children were next to me on one end of the table. An older gentleman sitting at another table came over and talked to the baby. Not to me, but the 15-month-old. He complimented her pretty dress and called her a princess. Then he took her hand, shook it and rubbed her head. He called her sweet. He then turned his attention to AD, who is six and is one of those kids who has never met a stranger. He asked for a high-five and then said let me teach you how to shake hands and told him to stand up. He shook his hand and then proceeded to encourage him to wiggle and shake his whole body in a sort of “silly handshake.” Then he spoke to my five-year-old daughter B, who is the shy one. He got a high-five from her, but she wasn’t about to get up and do anything at his request (good girl).

On the outside I smiled. On the inside I was creeped out. Is this strange? Am I too overprotective? I didn’t know this man who was being so friendly with my children and it made my skin crawl. My instincts, which I believe in trusting, told me that something was off with this man. Sure enough I caught him staring at my children at many different intervals throughout the night. He got up to pass us multiple times and each time gave bunny ears or made a silly face to my children.

Again, I smiled on the outside. On the inside, I thought about punching him. I’m not a violent person. But, he really got my blood boiling for some reason. I did not like his vibe. But, I kept my thoughts to myself.

Toward the end of the dinner, the baby was getting extremely fussy, so I said my goodbyes to everyone and told my husband I’d wait for him in the car as he waited for the check to be paid. I gathered our things and headed for the car with the baby when I turned around to see my husband following us out. I asked him why he was walking us to the car and he told me that he wanted to make sure the creepy guy from the other table didn’t follow me.

I hadn’t told him how I felt. I didn’t think he was even paying attention. But he knew. He must have felt it too. We laughed at our joint paranoia, but also felt that in our paranoia there must have been some truth. I was all at once grateful to have my feelings justified and to be married to someone who is connected enough with me and his internal voice to understand (swoon).

So, how would you handle this situation? Would you have politely smiled on the outside and cringed on the inside like I did? Would you have said something and/or made a scene? Are you comfortable with strangers approaching and touching your children? Am I just ridiculous?

Please leave me a comment below or join the discussion on the Tiny Steps Mommy Facebook page.


Nicole Dash is a writer, blogger and business owner who lives in the suburbs outside Washington, DC with her husband and four children. She started her career as a journalist and copy editor. She also managed public relations and corporate communications for a national franchise company, but in 2006 started a child care business. In 2012, she launched Tiny Steps Mommy, a lifestyle and parenting blog that quickly gained a following and connected her to an expansive group of women-owned businesses. In 2013, she started a digital marketing consulting business that focused on growing community in an authentic way. Through those connections she was inspired to open Play, Work or Dash, a coworking space that also offers onsite childcare up to three hours per day. It is where like-minded professionals pursue their business goals with the extra level of support parents desire; a place where you "bring your kids to work." She is an active member of the Washington, DC blogger community. She has been published on The Washington Post, Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, Mamalode and Pop Sugar.




  1. Personal space is for everyone. Every adult should know to respect other’s personal space. But even more so for children. Ugh, I was nauseous reading how this man interacted with your children. I think its appropriate to talk to children but only if you also acknowledge the parents. And absolutely NO touching without the parent’s permission. Having said this, I doubt I would have said something to the man. It’s such an awkward situation. But really, as a mother, we need to make sure our children understand what is appropriate behavior with strangers as well. Your children are the same ages as mine and I have started to worry about stranger danger due to how social they are. You are not paranoid! Trust your instincts, Momma Bear!

  2. You are absolutely right. I have had some conversations with my six-year-old about stranger danger, but it is tricky when his parents are standing right there not saying anything. I feel like I need to figure out a polite way to decline this kind of fowardness in the future. Perhaps saying something will signal to my children that I don’t think it is okay and they shouldn’t either. Thanks for the comment!

  3. Thanks for your post! I know this is old but we had a situation like this tonight & I was researching how to handle it. This type of behavior is VERY uncomfortable. My husband and I are both kicking ourselves for not saying something to a man that paid way too much attention to our 15 month old daughter at Chic Fil A. Thanks for your post – its good to know we’re not the only parents who aren’t sure how to respond & realize we need to!

  4. You don’t need a polite way to tell a grown man to keep his hands to himself, you need a direct and speedy way to do it and it’s almost certainly not ‘polite’. Except you’re not the one not being ‘polite’, he is. I give people I don’t know well a very direct forceful ‘no’. If people don’t accept ‘no’ verbally, then I’d be willing to give it physically which would usually be grabbing said unwelcome hand and pushing it back to grabber. I’m a man though, but this shouldn’t matter I think a woman ‘can’ do the same thing just as readily although it may be less in her nature to respond physically (that’s an idea, I don’t know for sure, so feminists please don’t shoot me for this last comment).


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