A psychologist presented a program for Riverside Elementary School parents on ways to discuss abduction and how to train your child to respond to dangerous situations without scaring them.
"With this topic, it's almost impossible to talk about without scaring them. But that fear is going to drive them to do the right thing," Dr. Kenneth McPherson said.
One of the most important things, he said, is to keep an open line of communication. He said he often works with parents teaching them how to play with their children. Play time often is the best time for children and parents to talk and relate to one another.
"Anybody who takes time to play with kids, that's automatically a person they can trust. They will be more inclined to talk to you during these times and for their entire lives as they become adults. If kids can't talk to parents about the things they're scared of, who can they talk to?" McPherson said.
Just as the military relies on drills to teach soldiers fundamentals, teaching children to avoid danger involves practice.
"In times of stress, times when you're not thinking, you don't think, you react. And you'll do the things you've practiced, things you know how to do. Bad things do happen, but being prepared before an event occurs lessens the impact."
McPherson said parents shouldn't emphasize "stranger danger." A stranger to a child is someone who doesn't look nice or who looks "mean and ugly."
Children, he said, will consider someone a friend if they know their name and if they play with them or give them something. That's why it's important, he said, to never put your child's name on their clothing, lunchboxes, backpacks or other personal items, or post a sign on the house with their name. It puts the abductor on a first-name basis with your child.
"They are more halfway home if they know your kid's name," he said. "Don't rely on the 'stranger' bit; it's just not there."
He suggested placing a telephone number inside clothing items instead. If an item is lost, it can be returned, and it is another way to teach the telephone number to the child.
One tip is to develop a secret family password. This way, he said, if you have to send a friend to pick them up, the child can verify that you sent them by requiring them to say the password. The password should be changed once it is used. Or the child can tell them they won't go until they ask permission from a parent, something that would foil the plan of a would-be abductor, McPherson said.
When bad things do happen, children should know that they can tell.
"They've got to know that they're not in trouble if they tell," he said. "There's a difference between tattling and telling. Anything that has the potential to hurt somebody or something needs to be told."
If children are younger, stuffed animals or animal puppets can be used to act out situations because they often are less threatening.
If they get lost in a store, children should be taught to go to a cash register, since a store employee usually is operating the register. Older women or women with children also are people they can turn to for help.
Mary Bowie and Renee Tingstrom came to the seminar together to get some ideas on how to talk to their children.
Bowie said many of the topics she had already covered with her children, but never thought their friends not having the same information.
"What you might be teaching your children may not be what their friends are getting," she said.
One participant recalled a personal incident when she was with a babysitter who approached a stopped vehicle, even though she had been taught not to.
Tingstrom said using a family password was something new she learned.
"That password idea is excellent. I'm going to use that," she said.
* Make sure children know not to accept rides or gifts from people they do not know well. Stay at least 16 feet away from a stranger in a car who stops to ask for directions.
* Teach your child that the proper reaction to being accosted by a stranger is to yell "no" and run away.
* Let your child know that people sometimes use tricks to lure children away from their homes. Adults should ask other adults, not children, for directions or help in finding something, such as a lost puppy.
* Make up a secret password only the family knows. This way, if someone approaches your child saying he was sent by you, the child can ask for the password.
* Teach your child to recognize the types of people they can turn to for help if lost, including police officers, firefighters, school crossing guards, elderly women and women with children.
* Draw your child's hand on a sheet of paper and together identify five people he can tell if anything bad happens. If the child can use the telephone, add the number to each finger. Be sure they understand that if a person is not home, won't listen, or doesn't believe them, then they must go on to another and another until someone takes them seriously.
* Encourage your child to pair up with a friend whenever they are away from you, since predators rarely focus on kids who aren't alone.
* Develop a "what if" game using various dangerous scenarios your child could find himself in. Ask them how they would react in each situation.
* Advise your child that nothing they own - shoes, jackets, jewelry or money - is worth risking a life for. If they are threatened by someone over these items, then the only safe thing to do is give it up.
* Paint the numbers 9 and 1 red on the telephone as a guide for dialing 911.
* Screaming or yelling is one of the best defenses a child has because it immediately draws attention. Have a screaming club where you practice who can yell the loudest.
* As soon as possible, teach the child his full name and telephone number.
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