I know the look, I’ve seen it more than once in the days before I was a father and have even experienced in the days since my own daughters were born. I am a big man, and at times I know I frown for reasons that others might not understand. Apparently this makes me seem rather intimidating to those that are old enough to misread such social cues.
But to young children and toddlers I still seem approachable.
Let me start by stating that I too grow slightly nervous if my children approach strangers with little to no fear. Like you, I am there at their side, watching, hoping that said individual will be polite, kind, and perhaps even smile at my child as they wave at them excitedly. Children are innocent enough to not understand that not everyone is completely trustworthy, but that is the magic that still exists in their eyes, the quality that we as adults tend to forget.
I understand that feeling, but I do not reciprocate it.
Too often I have been the recipient of unguarded looks of hostility as other people’s children have approached or, by dint of their stumbling gait, bumped into me. More often than not I will reply with a kind smile and even a wave if the child is being friendly. This does not mean I am the boogeyman, about to snatch your child and run the other way. Do not look at me and assume that because of my height, girth, and current demeanor that I am some demon in human form waiting for your child to come close enough.
I will admit my feelings are a bit hurt as I see mothers shy away from me when holding their children, or turn around and go the other direction if I am coming down the same aisle, the bulk of my attention upon whatever product I am seeking and not your child. Do I wave at your children when they wave at me? Yes. It is polite, and more to the point it is important that they understand that not every other human they meet is out to get them.
Once again, I understand the feeling of keeping your child safe, of needing to be there to insure that the world does not swallow them up when you aren’t looking. Having two of my own my senses are always on high alert in public, and I believe it shows at times, as people keep a respectful distance while still smiling and waving at my young children, a gesture that I do not discourage.
To all those that seek to keep their children boxed away and teach them to mistrust the common stranger, lighten up. If you pay attention to your child you’re doing something very right, but if they happen to wave at a person in public or stumble into them, do not assume that this person will grab them and run. Be there for your child, but do not close them away from the world. And do not assume that anyone and everyone is a threat, this is a sure way to paranoia, and a much less satisfying life.