I certainly didn't expect to learn a major parenting lesson -- one that shook me to my core -- when I asked a plumber to stop by our house and fix our leaky kitchen faucet.
I didn't tell my kids he was coming. I wasn't even sure they'd be home when he stopped by and didn't want to disappoint my two toddlers who I knew would love to watch him work.
I'd kind of put his visit out of mind when I left the kiddos playing contentedly in the living room in order to let the dog out in the backyard. I stepped out onto the deck, leaving the back door open to the house, and waited for the dog to finish sniffing around and come back in.
Not a minute later, I turned around to see the plumber coming out of my house and through the open back door, scaring me to death.
It turned out that when he came to the door, my 3-year-old had unlocked the front door and let this stranger into our house.
There was a flurry of emotions that followed.
My son felt he was being helpful and was proud he could reach the deadbolt on the door. I hadn't even realized he could touch it, let alone that he knew how to operate it.
I was embarrassed and upset and, even though it had turned out to be OK, I couldn't stop thinking about what could have happened. After all, I am an educator. I am trained in the dangers that surround our children. How could I have failed to teach my own son that he shouldn't unlock a door without my permission?
Respecting a locked door
A talk about locked doors doesn't need to be scary for kids, but as parents, we need to be sure to stress the importance of respecting a locked door and to explain it before they figure out how to open one.
After all, doors are typically locked for a reason. Here are three reasons it's important to make it a family rule to respect a locked door, in simple terms that you can use to help explain them to your children:
1. Keep people out
As adults, of course, we know we lock doors to keep unwanted or unknown people out and keep our families safe. Younger kids, though, might not understand that concept, but there's no reason to scare them. Instead, explain to kids that they always need to wait for an adult to unlock or open a door and should never let someone into the house -- even if it's someone they know! -- without your permission.
2. Keep people in
Just like kids need an adult's permission to unlock a door to let someone in, they also need to understand that they need your permission to unlock a door to let themselves, a pet, or a sibling out.
A door that is locked could indicate a need for privacy and children -- and adults, for that matter! -- should understand that they shouldn't unlock the door without the permission of the person inside. This could apply to a closed door as well, depending on your family rules.
When teaching kids to respect the boundary of a locked door, it's important to remind them that just because you can lock or unlock a door, doesn't mean you should. While there are exceptions, such as an emergency, they should generally always ask an adult for permission first.
My son now knows that even though he's tall enough to unlock a door, he should not do so without permission from either me or his dad. I know that even while his sweet, kind heart cannot fathom anything bad could ever happen, he knows and respects our family's rules -- rules that we know keep him safe.
Layni Loumiotis-Hook is the publisher of Macaroni Kid Cape Cod, Mass.