This article originally appeared in the July 22, 2010 edition of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
The recent abduction of a 4-year-old girl from her yard in a small Missouri town brought the terrifying prospect of kidnapping to the minds of parents everywhere. You can help safeguard your child by talking to them often about safety and giving them the basics on how to avoid and/or escape potentially dangerous situations.
Teach them to:
- Never accept candy or gifts from a stranger.
- Never go anywhere with a stranger, even if it sounds like fun. Predators often lure kids with questions like "Can you help me find my puppy?" Remind your kids that adults they don't know don’t need their help.
- Run away and scream if someone follows them or tries to force them into a car.
- Say “no” to anyone who tries to make them do something you've said is wrong or touch them in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable.
- Always tell a trusted adult if a stranger asks personal questions, exposes him or herself, or otherwise makes them feel uneasy. Reassure kids that it's OK to tell, even if the person made them promise not to or threatened them.
- Ask permission to leave the house, yard, or play area or to go into someone's home.
Also keep these tips in mind:
- Make sure kids know their name, address, phone number (including area code), and who to call in case of emergency.
- Review how to use 911 or a local emergency number.
- Discuss what to do if they get lost in a store or public place. Remind them to never go to the parking lot to look for you, and to ask a cashier for help or stand near the registers or front of the building away from the doors.
- Point out the homes of friends around the neighborhood where your kids can go in case of trouble.
- Don’t allow children to play in deserted areas such as empty playgrounds, closed parks or construction sites.
- Be sure your kids know whose cars they may ride in and whose they may not. Teach them to move away from any car that pulls up beside them and is driven by a stranger, even if that person looks lost or confused.
- Develop code words for caregivers other than mom or dad, and remind them never to tell anyone the code word. Teach them not to go with anyone they don't know or with anyone who doesn't know the code word.
- If kids are old enough to stay home alone, make sure they keep the door locked and never tell anyone who knocks or calls they are home alone.
Dr. Elizabeth Sugarbaker, a pediatrician at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children's Medical Center and a member of the Pediatrics faculty at Saint Louis University School of Medicine, has some advice for parents.
“Parents should get a feel for what their child knows; talk about scenarios and let them tell you how they’ll respond,” Dr. Sugarbaker says. “There’s greater risk if a child is unaware of potential dangers. Keep them informed and better in charge of their own personal safety.”
The world can be a scary place. Taking steps to protect children can empower you and your family to feel safe and happy.
Dr. Bob Wilmott is Chief of Pediatrics at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center and is a Professor of Pediatric Medicine at Saint Louis University School of Medicine. If you have a question about your child’s health, go to the “Ask Dr. Bob” section of the Cardinal Glennon Web site at www.cardinalglennon.com.