Safety Tips For Outside the Home
Abductions of children throughout the country have caused widespread fear among parents and children. It's a similar fear we all had when the images of planes crashing into the World Trade Center and people fleeing from crumbling buildings were displayed in newspapers and television screens. How do we protect our families? How do we talk comfortably with our children about unthinkable acts?
The best time to talk to them is now, especially with children going back to school. Dr. Amy Demner, a licensed psychotherapist in Coral Springs, Fla., urges parents to use age-appropriate and simple words. "Assure your children that you are not trying to scare them, but helping to teach them to be safe and live a long life."
As a parent of a 7-year-old daughter, I gathered as much information as I could by going to my local police department, searching the Internet, reading books and consulting experts. Afterward, I felt I could intelligently sit down with my daughter and empower her with safety information to help prevent a tragedy from happening in my family.
A survey released by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children found that nearly one in 10 parents have never discussed safety tips outside their home. One in five have never developed a plan of action if someone tries to abduct their child.
Empower Our Children
Dangers do exist, but by following these guidelines with your children, hopefully they will avoid or escape from potentially dangerous situations:
- Don't put your children's names on backpacks, shirts or school lunches. You don't want a predator to call your child by name.
- By age 5, your children should know their full name, address, home and cell phone numbers. Teach them what to say to a 911 operator if they have an emergency.
- Role-play with your child. "Role-playing specific, dangerous situations and how to handle them will help your child become more assertive when they need to take action for their safety," says Sherry Warschaw, M.A., a family therapist in Encino, Calif. Pretend you are a stranger asking for help in finding a lost pet, directions or offering candy. Tell your child to scream, attract attention and run to a trusted adult for help. Then have your child play the stranger role and show them how you would react.
- Reassure your children that it's OK to tell you anything, even if a person made them promise not to say a word or threatens them. Explain that if a person causes them to feel frightened, confused or uncomfortable, they must say NO! "Trust, as in trusting your gut feeling, is key to a child sensing when something or someone is not right," says Warschaw.
- Have your children fingerprinted. Many community fairs and local police stations sponsor this service. This document and a recent photograph of your child are very useful when tracking and identifying a missing child.
- Stress to your children to always check with a parent or caretaker before getting into any car, even if it belongs to someone they know. Be sure they tell you where they are going, with whom and when they will be back home.
- Explain to your children that the areas of their body covered by a bathing suit are private and should never be touched by anyone – except a doctor, if needed, and with a parent present.
- Have a family code word. It could be a pet's name or favorite color. If your child is lost or waiting for you, and a stranger approaches saying, "Your mom had an emergency and asked for me to take you home," have your child ask for the code word. If the stranger doesn't know it, he/she is to scream and run for help.
- Stay involved in your children's lives. Attend school field trips, host play dates and sleepovers. Get to know your children's friends and families before you allow them to participate in these activities in their homes.
- Share meals with your children and have them share the best and worst that happen to them at school. Listen carefully to your child's fears and be supportive in all discussions.
It is important parents enhance their awareness of their neighborhood, friends and family. The parents of 7-year-old Megan Kanka of New Jersey were not aware that their neighbor was a twice-convicted sex offender until he was charged with the rape and murder of their daughter.
Megan's Law, passed in 1996, provides parents with a list of high-risk predators and offenders in their community. While at my local police station, I filled out a form and was granted access to the Megan's Law Web site. Produced by the Department of Justice in many states, I typed in my zip code and pulled up a list of serious registered sex offenders with their name, picture, address, status and crimes convicted in my community.