The Center for Missing and Exploited Children discovered that most child abductions occur between the hours of 2pm to 7pm, when most children are home alone. Simply reciting the statement, “Don’t talk to strangers!” without informative information is a recipe for disaster. Children cannot reason on their own, they must be taught ‘why’ they should not engage with strangers. According to Jean Piaget, an education philosopher, children between the ages of 7 to 11 are at the development stage of thinking logically about concrete events, but have difficulty understanding abstract ideas. Of the 466,969 children abducted last year, the center found that most of the children taken are between these ages and some only beginning to approach the age of abstract thinking. This is why keeping children safe is our top priority at Parentglue. Our goal is to have all parents discuss the following with their school-age children.
1. Talk often. Children need to be reminded often not to talk to strangers. As a parent, discuss logically ‘why’ children should not talk to everyone and ‘why’ not everyone can be trusted. Just like everyone else, children must also learn that a person must earn their trust.
Activity: Sit down with your child. On a piece of paper, have your child write the answers to the following questions:
“What does the word ‘TRUST’ mean?(have the child look up the word in a dictionary.)
“What makes a person trustworthy?”
“What does it mean to trust a person?”
Add some concrete examples of your own.
2. Go with your gut feeling. Along with talking about strangers, parents need to keep the lines of communication open. Children need to feel safe in their home environment to be able to discuss people or things that may have upset them or made them feel uneasy. As parents, you need to make a point, that if your child feels uncomfortable around a camp counselor, babysitter, etc., that their feelings are valid and there may be a reason why they feel that way.
Activity: For camp counselors, leaders of after school programs, and other programs your child is involved in, ask their supervisor if they have had a background check run on them. After your child has spent time with the new person, always speak to your child about how they feel about the person. Remember to validate what your child is saying.
3. Make a list. Make a list and discuss with your child who they can trust when being picked up from school and other events. According to the center, the vast majority of children were taken by acquaintances and people they know. So while your child may be familiar with someone, they must understand the difference between simply knowing someone and knowing who you have given permission to pick them up.
Activity: Write down all the people with whom your child comes in contact. Go through the list, one by one, and have your child ask the question, “Can I trust this person?” Show pictures of the people for visual memory.
4. Code Word. When a child is being picked up from school, sometimes it will be someone other than the parent picking them up. Create a code word with your child that only they and the person picking them up will know.
Activity: On a day when someone else is picking up your child, practice the code word with them so you are sure they will remember it. For example, “Mommy made chili tonight!” When your child hears the phrase “Mommy made chili tonight!”, they know it is safe to go home with that person. Just like passwords on a computer that can be hacked, I suggest changing the code word each time for extra caution. Make it fun for your child, as if they are part of a secret operation.
5. Map out a Route. Just a few decades ago, children were able to wander the streets alone and parents were unafraid of anything terrible happening to them. Sadly, today that is not the case anymore. Safety is a factor, but at the same time children should not be sheltered their whole lives. The suggested age when a child is capable of walking home alone from school is 10. Only you, as their parent, are best equipped to determine at what age this is appropriate for your child.
Activity: When your child is ready to walk home alone from school, practice walking home with your child several times. Map out the route that they must follow every time, and explain why they must avoid short cuts home. Also, when walking home, have your child practice looking for people that they can talk to if they were to get lost walking home such as: moms or dads with children and store clerks. In addition, explain that there is no reason an adult needs to ask a child for help. If an adult asks for your child’s help, insist that they go find help immediately.
Some of us might think it would not happen to my child, but I would say it is better to be safe than sorry. Besides talking to your child about whom to trust, a game plan is an excellent way to increase the safety of your children.
The Game Plan
- Make sure you have up-to-date pictures of your child from every angle. Be sure the images are easily recognizable.
- Get your child fingerprinted. Many local police departments offer the service free of charge, so your child can be entered into a database.
- Have a list of emergency contact numbers easily accessible. The first number on your list should be 911, and the second should be for the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children: (800) The Lost, (800) 843-5678. The first few hours after abduction are most critical.
If you are a concerned parent that would like to find out other ways of increasing safety at your child’s school, please check out Parentglue’s Frontdesk and Parent Relationship Manager tools. We provide parents with updated information about their child’s safety in school, as well as other important information.
For more information about Parentglue’s Frontdesk and Parent Relationship Manager, click here.