Avoid stranger danger and prevent kidnapping by educating yourself and your child

Stranger danger education is one of the most important lessons you can give your child. The checklist on this page is different from those on the rest of the site because it is for parents. Here's what you need to know.

Many sexual predators and child abductors operate within predictable patterns of behavior. Children can be taught to observe the people around them and avoid potentially harmful people. Remember also that sexual predators are often people that you and your children know already! No one should be above your scrutiny. Consider these seven must do's:

Trying to prevent kidnapping:

1. DO NOT label your child's backpack with their name
Kids often respond to friendly adults, whether we want them to or not. What better ice breaker than “Mackenzie! Hey! You might not remember me, but.....” Most kids wouldn't question an adult who knows their name, so stop advertising it and remove it from obvious places!

2. Teach your kids what a safe person looks like
When I was a kid, stranger danger prevention boiled down to “don't talk to strangers!” This is the worst advice ever, because it's not at all realistic. The second worst advice is “look for a police officer or someone in a uniform if you get lost.” Many young children can't recognize a uniform, especially from the eye level of the knees.

Gavin De Becker, author of Protecting the Gift writes about stranger danger and instructs parents to teach their kids that the statistically safest demographic is a mom with kids. Practice at the store or in any pulic place. “Honey, if we got separated somehow, who would you ask for help? Look around and let's talk about your options.” Practice this!

Once your little one can regularly target a mother figure, practice asking for help. This is tough, but if my 6 year old walks away from me absent mindedly at the grocery store or the library, I let him. I hold back and I watch him. It is crucial that you know what your child does if he is lost! What an opportunity! I've coached my kids to say, “I'm lost, can you help me?” I will reveal myself at that point to the confused looking mom, who then says--”wow, that's a good idea to practice that!” Yes, I know.

Fortunately, my kids haven't needed to do an actual drill, but I feel confident that they can identify and would approach the person statistically most likely to help him. This is what stranger danger awareness can look like.

Trying to avoid sexual predation:

3. Please don't dress your child provocatively
You know what I'm talking about. Clothing manufacturers sexualize our young girls by printing words on the seat of their pants. Princess! Cutie Pie! Glamour! Can't touch this! There is no reasonable justification to draw anyone's attention to your daughter's rear end. Many girls look up to models and pop stars, whether we want them to or not, and they emulate their clothes (or lack thereof). There is a predator profile that will target precocious dress and behavior.

4. Teach your children the 8 most common child lures
Kenneth Woodward interviewed dozens of convicted sexual predators to illustrate and explain their strategies to trick our kids. He wrote about them in his brilliant book, titled Child Lures. Buy it today and discuss each of these stranger danger scenarios with your children. They can be educated to look for suspicious behavior.

5. Discuss normal behavior and not normal behavior
Most people are nice. Even bad guys. Especially bad guys. So it's really much more complicated than just “stranger danger.” It's crucial that your child recognize behavior patterns. When my kids are with me, I can keep them safe. If anyone ever tries to entice my child away from me or into a private area, that is abnormal.

6. Explain the no touch zones
You may know this one, about body privacy. No one should be touching or asking to touch any part of your body that is covered by a swim suit. It's also important for them to understand they they should not touch anyone else's body either! Many child predators don't touch kids; it's the other way around.

7. Don't make them apologize
An apology should come from the heart anyway and shouldn't be forced, but there is another relevant reason here. We've all seen it, heard it, and sometimes have even said it: "Don't be rude! You say you're sorry right now! You use your manners!" It happens with kids and other kids, and also with kids and adults. Sometimes kids are shy; sometimes kids are hurt and don't know how to process their emotions; sometimes kids have a reason that we don't know about to be "rude" to an adult. Kids' intuition is usually more honed than adult's. Validate kids' emotions and don't force an apology.

8. Listen to your children
Always believe them. Always. Listen to them, believe them and do your best to keep them safe. Explain to them that you discuss safety not to scare them but to educate and prepare them to face the world without you.

Okay! Deep breath! This is not an easy topic, but education and awareness about stranger danger can save lives and prevent kidnapping. Start tonight.

Go to Stranger Danger Scenarios from Stranger Danger

Books mentioned on this page:

Child Lures, by Kenneth Wooden:

Protecting the Gift, by Gavin De Becker: