Dr. Michelle Golland: In light of the recent stranger abduction of 4-year-old Alisa Maier, I think it's important to discuss the topic of kidnapping with your children. Alisa's story can be used to highlight the importance of being safe. It's an opening to tell your kids what to do if somebody ever attempts to take them against their will.
My children are 6 and 9, and both of them have been told Alisa's story. I used it as a real-life example of why we go over safety issues in our family. I want my children to be scared to a certain extent. No, I don't give them the gory details of sexual abuse, but I do tell them that people who abduct kids usually kill them. I want them to be afraid enough to do anything and everything not to be taken by a stranger.
We keep hearing about kids who are taken while playing in their front yards unsupervised. It doesn't matter how long these kids were left unattended, because, as we know, child sexual predators will take any opportunity given to them, no matter how small the window of time may be.
To put it simply, kids should not play alone in the front yard. When my kids want to play in our front yard, I just say no. They can play in our backyard, and no, my son will not be riding his bike to the park to meet a friend. It is just not going to happen at 9 years of age. Yes, they want to, but that doesn't mean it's a safe thing to do.
Discussing "Stranger Danger"
- Explain that they should never leave where they are with an adult they don't know. Come up with a family code word that must be used in the rare event that an unknown but trusted adult has to pick them up.
- Teach your kids to scream. They should practice loud and long screams, and learn to shout, "Help me! This is not my daddy or mommy!" (This will alert others around them to the situation better than screaming alone.)
- Teach your kids where to hit adults. They should know to kick the private parts and poke the eyes.
- Play the "What if ..." game. Ask your kids, "What if ..." and give them different scenarios. Help them work through the best course of action. A few examples: "What if you're lost at the store? What if an adult asks for your help? What if an adult wants you to keep a secret?" And so on.
It is important to discuss safety issues with your children in an open, honest and age-appropriate manner. Our children need to be given concrete ways to deal with the dangers that do exist in their world.