Expert advice and ways to teach kids to avoid abductors
Child abduction: It's a parent's worst nightmare, but it doesn't have to come true. Parenting safety is first and foremost, says Brenda Zofra, M.A.Ed., educator, mom and author of Let's B Safe.
Make the message stick
"Young children learn through repetition, but how many times can you tell them not to keep a secret with an adult or not to help someone find a lost puppy or kitten? Most likely your words of warning will go in one ear and out the other," she says.
So, how can you make the message stick? By making it rhyme, she says. "When you set a message to rhyme or to music, retention goes up 80 to 90 percent versus when you simply tell someone something." For instance, her book tells kids that surprises with friends are lots of fun, but secrets with adults should never be done.
Brenda says reading her bedtime story not only helps your child with literacy and bonding, but also promotes safety education through rhymes: "If you keep a secret that makes you feel bad, crummy inside and very sad, don't keep it in, let it out, tell someone you love what it's all about."
In addition, Ross Ellis, founder and chief executive officer of Love Our Children USA, says parents can help prevent their children from becoming a statistic by communicating with them constantly: "Don't be afraid to talk about the issue. Be proactive and prepare your children for situations. There's more to educating children than talking about stranger danger. Teach kids how to identify and avoid dangerous behaviors and improper actions."
For instance, warn your children that adults will never ask kids for help with directions or with finding a lost pet -- nor should kids ever accept anything from someone whom they don't know as a family friend. Ross points out that older kids are vulnerable to abductors who use various ploys, such as that they're movie producers or magazine photographers who will help them get discovered. She says, "If older kids are approached, they should ignore them."
Secret codes work
Another safety tactic is creating a code word that only parents and their children know. Ross advises, "Tell kids never to go anywhere with someone their parents haven't specifically given them permission to accompany. If someone comes to pick her up from school or at an event, the adult has to say the code word. If the adult doesn't know it, then the child should not leave with him."
And what should your children do if someone in a car is following them? Ross says to tell your child they should run in the opposite direction than the car is headed, even if the driver pulls out a gun or tells them their parents sent them.
Lastly, Ross reminds us to go with our guts: "Teach kids to trust their inner feelings and run away from situations or people that make them feel nervous -- even if it means being rude to an adult or authority figure."
Here are great tips from Love Our Children USA on safety and how to fight back: loveourchildrenusa.org.