Teaching your child

Role-play with your child to protect him from strangers

Role-play with your child to protect him from strangers

August 16, 2002|by LISA TEDRICK PREJEAN

Each time I see a terrified parent on TV begging for the safe return of a child, my heart just breaks.

The abduction of a child has to be a parent's worst nightmare.

What can we do to prevent this from happening? How can we keep our children safe?

"Quite frankly, I think the best thing a parent can do right now is scare your child," says Dr. Bunni Tobias, a licensed educational psychologist with a private practice in Southern California. "Children need to know to be cautious. Children are naive.

"Herein lies the danger. Children have no fear. They feel protected."

While we want to protect them, they need to be aware of their surroundings.

The "V" word used to be victory. Now it's vigilance, says Tobias, who bills herself as The Kids' Detective at

Tobias recommends that parents stage scenarios with their children in public places. Here's how it could work: Parents ask someone they know to use a common abductor's lure and see how their children respond. The person should be someone the parents trust but the children do not know.


The abductor impersonator could approach the children at a park with a photo of a lost pet, asking for help.

From a distance, parents could observe what their children say and do.

This could be done with a group of families who could then discuss with the children the right and wrong decisions they made.

"You don't train them about crossing the street when you're in the kitchen," says Michael Nuccitelli, a licensed psychologist and executive director for SLS Health, a residential treatment and wellness clinic in Brewster, N.Y.

Likewise, parents shouldn't try to teach their kids about safety in public places while sitting at home.

It's not enough to warn a child, "Don't talk to strangers" or "Don't take anything from strangers," says Neal Rawls, author of "Be Alert, Be Aware, Have a Plan - A Complete Guide to Protecting Yourself, Your Home and Your Family."

"A predator does not simply spout words. It's more action, animation," Rawls says.

Parents need to give examples of the common lures predators use.

"Over 25 percent of parents don't even discuss these problems with their children," says Rawls, director of security consulting for The Palladium Group, a West Palm Beach, Fla., company specializing in corporate and private security, computer forensics and investigations.

A would-be abductor may approach a child and say, "Oh, I have a little boy about your age and I just bought him a Nintendo. He already has one Nintendo. Would you like the other one?"

Abductors often show children pictures of a pet, claim that it is lost and ask the child to help find it. "Adults ask adults for help. Adults don't ask children for help," Rawls says.

While the age of children who are abducted ranges from newborns in hospitals to high schoolers, the average age is 11, Rawls says.

More than half of the first contact sexual predators have with children is within a quarter-mile of home, Rawls says.

"You have to take basic security precautions for yourself and your family," Rawls says.

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