I recently took my daughter and her best friend to a park near our home. Both girls are 10 and in the 5th grade, so I felt comfortable letting them play while I sat on a nearby bench flipping through a magazine. Then I noticed my daughter on top of a high structure with a look of panic on her face and something hanging out of her mouth.

Getting her down was a challenge. She’s heavy and was stuck way above my head. She had a lollipop in her mouth. I confiscated it so it wouldn’t get shoved down her throat in case the rescue went badly. Every child in the park came over to stare, but we managed to very slowly get her down without injury to either of us.

Then I addressed the mystery lollipop. A woman was actually walking around the playground offering lollipops to children. I reminded the girls that it isn’t safe to take candy from strangers. The friend assured me that she said, “No, thank you.”

My daughter stared at me with a look of complete confusion. I realized it was the first time she was hearing this.

She has suffered much trauma and instability in her life.  She was abused, neglected, and abandoned during her first four years by her biological family. Then she bounced around the foster care system for the next five years before being adopted by us at age 9. She had over a dozen placements before we finally found our way to her.

We noticed right away that she’d fallen through the cracks in many ways. For example, she came to us saying “country” instead of “crunchy.” There were other words she used incorrectly, as well. No one in the long line of foster parents, case workers, and group home caregivers had ever bothered to teach her the right words.

She’s been with us for a year and a half now and has thrived. Her progress and healing have truly been amazing. However, we’re often reminded of all she missed out on, like having someone in her life care enough to teach her that taking candy from strangers is a bad idea.

We talked about it after we brought her friend home. She brought it up by sharing that the lady had green lollipops, too. She thought the color of the lollipop (red) had been the issue.

I told her about how strangers sometimes try to trick kids into being their friend by offering candy and then do something hurtful or scary to them. I told her how sorry I am that no one had ever taught her that safety lesson, but I’m so glad she’s with us now, so safe and loved.

Then I gave her extra kisses when I tucked her in at bedtime.