In light of the kidnapping and death of Cherish Perrywinkle, many parents are thinking now more than ever about how to talk to their kids about stranger danger; making them aware but not afraid.
President and CEO of Daniel Kids, Jim Clark, says parents need to be talking to their kids about this as soon as they are verbal and aware of strangers.
"Experts recommend parents give an updated age-appropriate talk each year." Clark says. "It should be delivered as matter of fact as a traffic safety discussion. Coaching a child, builds confidence and shows them they have options."
Clark says parents have to be aware that it can happen at the bus stop, on the playground and even at your local store.
Clark reiterates, "Family safety is something that needs to be reinforced with kids."
He says there are several ways to accomplish that. First, talk to your kids about the importance of safe places and safe helpers. Simply put, Clark says, these are homes, businesses and or other homes in their neighborhood where kids know they can go to get help.
Second, Clark suggests telling your kids to avoid deserted and isolated areas. Third, if separated from a parent in a store or mall, Clark recommends teaching kids to go straight to the nearest cashier, or better yet another mom with kids.
Clark says the most important lesson of all is teaching your kids what to say if they are grabbed from behind.
"A loud scream may not get a person's attention," Clark says. "But teaching your kids to yell things like 'Help, this is not my dad!' greatly improves the chances of someone responding immediately."
Clark says another really important thing to keep in mind is to teach your children your full name.
"Kids need to know your real name," Clark says. "Not only know you by 'mommy' and 'daddy.'
Also, Clark says, have a family secret word.
"When our kids were young, we had one," Clark remembers. "If someone approached them the person must say the word or the kids were to run away."
Clark says it's important for parents to know where your children are. He says have your children tell you or ask permission before leaving the house and give them a time to check in or be home. Clark says when possible, have them leave a phone number of where they will be.
Other tips from Clark:
- Help children learn important phone numbers. He says have your children practice reciting their home phone number and address, and your work and cell phone numbers. If they have trouble memorizing these, Clark recommends writing them down on a card and have them carry it at all times. He says make sure to tell your children where you will be and the best way to reach you.
- Set limits on where your children can go in your neighborhood. Do you want them crossing busy roads? Playing in alleys or abandoned buildings? Are there certain homes in your neighborhood that you don't want your children to go to?
- Get to know your children's friends. Meet their parents before letting your children go to their home and keep a list of their phone numbers. If you can't meet their parents, call and talk to them. Ask what your children might do at their house and if they will be supervised.
- Choose a safe house in your neighborhood. Pick a neighbor's house where your children can go if they need help. Point out other places they can go for help, like stores, libraries, and police stations.
- Work together with your neighbors. Watch out for suspicious and unusual behavior in your neighborhood. Get to know your neighbors and their children so you can look out for one another.