Parents naturally are concerned for their children’s safety, particularly when there is news of attempted child abductions that happen close to home. Finding the balance between emotions and the “teachable moment” as parents talk to their children is important, an Iowa State University Extension and Outreach specialist says. According to Malisa Rader, an ISU Extension and Outreach human sciences specialist in family life, kids might be dealing with their own fears based upon what they are seeing on TV or hearing from others. “It is important at this time that parents react with a sense of calm and reassurance,” Rader said.
Parents can take this opportunity to share with their children important information to help avoid potentially dangerous situations, but need to approach it in a manner that doesn’t create unhealthy fears in children.
Share Helpful Information
Rader offered the following suggestions:
Emphasize with your child that strangers should not be asking children for help, but it is OK for a child to ask an adult for help when needed.
Encourage your child to trust his or her intuition and to take action when sensing danger.
Point out ways your child has learned to stay safe, such as saying “no” and running away when he or she is concerned about a situation.
Help your child identify safe places such as schools, libraries, churches and businesses.
An analysis of all attempted abduction cases by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children found that in 84 percent of cases, the children escaped their would-be abductors through their own actions.
“It is important that parents make it a priority to talk with their children about safety from predators not as a ‘once and then done’ conversation, but as an ongoing dialogue as their children grow older,” Rader shared.
As children age from adolescence to tweens to teens, the conversation around child safety should evolve. The Take 25 campaign sponsored by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children offers age-appropriate discussion guides and activity sheets related to safety topics. Resources can be accessed at http://www.take25.org.
Help Young People Process Thoughts, Feelings
Rader encourages parents to watch their children closely for signs of anxiousness. Being open to talk about those feelings while developing safety strategies can help children feel in control of situations. They can learn to make good choices when faced with possible unsafe circumstances, while still enjoying some of the carefree aspects of childhood. “Be open to how your child might be feeling and talk with him or her with sincerity and honesty,” Rader said.
This is an opportunity to discuss any number of issues— from children not putting themselves in particularly dangerous situations to how to react when they sense they might be in potential danger, Rader said. “This is a teachable moment, so use it! But doing so in a calm, reassuring manner will help your point come across more clearly without raising unhealthy fears in young people,” the ISU Extension and Outreach specialist said.
Iowans can call ISU Extension and Outreach’s Iowa Concern Hotline, 800-447-1985, for help and referrals for dealing with stress, crisis and loss.