Bears, doctors, dentists and strangers

Jan and Stan Berenstain created 300 or so Berenstain Bears books. We’ve only read a tiny fraction of them. Among these, there are three that I’ve found useful as tools to discuss certain prickly topics with my kids:


The Berenstain Bears Go to the Doctor


The Berenstain Bears Visit the Dentist


The Berenstain Bears Learn About Strangers


I’ll admit right now that I’m not generally a big fan of The Berenstain Bears, mainly because I don’t enjoy the writing that much. But these three are not a bad read (unlike the odd and stultifying The Berenstain Bears Lend a Helping Hand and The Berenstain Bears Meet Santa Bear). And I really do believe that the Dentist and Doctor ones helped Nica feel more comfortable about going to the real dentist and doctor.

More recently, I’ve been reading the Strangers one from time to time. Nica will soon be a kindergartener, and she is pretty self-reliant and independent, qualities I encourage. But the world is what it is, and as a parent I can’t help but worry that she will be too friendly and open with the wrong person. On one hand, you want your kid to be confident and unafraid of people, but on the other, you want her to be cautious and, well, safe. It’s a tough balance to teach, and this book has helped me start a discussion about how to deal with strangers.

What I’m most impressed with is that the book encompasses many aspects of this topic; it doesn’t just say “Don’t talk to strangers” and leave it at that. I also appreciate its emphasizing that chances are, a “cub” will not meet any dangerous people at all but that she needs to learn to be cautious nonetheless. The lessons are exemplified by Sister and Brother Bear. Sister is the overly friendly one who ends up becoming paranoid after a too-scary lesson from Papa Bear; and Brother Bear is the more reserved cub who ends up in a situation where he lets down his guard too much. By having the two cubs go through opposite experiences, the authors were able to address that whole gray area in between the extremes. And then Mama Bear brings it home with a lesson using, yep, a barrel of apples, to show that a misshapen one is not always a “bad apple”; a perfectly normal-looking apple can contain a worm.

Personally, I think the book does the job thoroughly without being horribly pedantic or frightening. They do include a list of “Rules for Cubs” at the end of the book, which I found to be very well thought out as well.