Of all the things that parents fear for their kids, the thought of having them stolen from us must be the most difficult and heart wrenching of all fears. For this reason, we tend to jump on any story or news source that purports to have information about child abductions. I cannot find any proper statistics on this, but I have a strong feeling that a lot of these stories are not even true. I suspect that fewer child-abductions happen than we fear. Why do I think this?
Firstly, most of the stories are hear-say. These don't give all the proper names, dates or places. Very little of the information can be tracked down and verified. It’s always just the story of somebody’s friend’s cousin or some distant associate of a friend… That’s not news to get upset about. That’s fear mongering.
Does this mean I worry less about my children being abducted? Hell no! I’m as scared of it now as I’ve ever been. But I try to keep things in perspective. Even if the statistics are low, I don’t want to be one of those statistics! So how do I deal with this? How do I empower my kids to deal with this?
After many cautionary bed time stories along the lines of saying no to men in cars with sweeties, I discovered one horrifying fact. You can’t “abduct proof” your child. It’s not possible. Here’s why:
Kids under the age of 5 just don’t get it
For children this young, the world is essentially a safe place. If they are well adjusted, and raised in a loving home, their experience of “bad” is small. You can tell them that there are baddies. You can tell them that some grown-ups steal children or even scare them with real-life accounts, but they are not psychologically ready to absorb it. In their world, “baddies” will be obvious, no matter what you say.
Understand, it’s not a bad thing for them to think like this. This is how normal development works. Sadly though, it means that until they’re older, you need to be on them like a rash. You cannot depend on just teaching them a few scenarios because there are just too many.
So your child knows not to take sweets from strangers… but what about being intimidated by a stranger? They know not to get into a car with a stranger, but what if the stranger says you've been in an accident and they’re taking them to see you? For every possible scenario you can invent, there’s a hundred other possibilities. Children under 5 (and even a bit older) don’t have the ability to apply lateral thinking. This is just how it is. It doesn't mean that you stop telling them these things, but don’t think you've covered all the bases.
Kids get lost a lot more than they get abducted
Every parent has lost track of a child at some point. Whether it’s for 5 minutes in a shop, or two hours at a school fete. If you teach your children to distrust strangers, you put them in a horrible situation when they can’t find you. There’s the old saying “It takes a village to raise a child”, and I have experienced that myself. As a mother, I stop when I see a crying child, until I’ve located the mother. I know for a fact that most moms and dads do this. You notice children and you find yourself looking for their parents.
Ways to protect your child:
So in short. You need to get your kids savvy about potential “stranger danger” while also empowering them to approach strangers in emergencies, or if they get lost. That’s a hell of a task to undertake. But here’s what I’ve tried to do:
1. Teach them your phone number
I use the time we drive together in the car (because they’re forced to sit and listen). “What’s your Mommy's phone number?” all in unison “084 444 4444”… Over and over and over again. Then, spot checking every now and then “What’s your Mommy's phone number?”. It works as long as you’re willing to keep repeating. My 18-month-old can’t string a full sentence together, but she can parrot her Mommy's phone number.
2. Check that the school has absolute rules about who fetches
This is a no-brainer. Your child’s school should not release your children to anybody they don’t know, without direct confirmation from you… EVEN if the kids know them. When your children get a bit older (Primary School) you can teach them the “VIP list”. The only people in the world who will ever fetch them, no matter what emergency may occur, and nobody else… not even if they know or recognise them and not even if they say we’ve been hurt.
3. Go to the same places regularly
I’m not a fan of the mall I frequent, but I go there because my kids know the layout fairly well. I’ve also gone as far as to take them into a jewellery store and introduce them to the ladies there. “If you get lost, you come here…” Why a jewellery store? Because it tends not to be packed full of people (making my child easier to see), and usually populated by smiling, unintimidating ladies behind sparkly counters. This may be a generalisation, but it’s less intimidating than a big security guard with a gun.
4. Teach them to use those lungs
A screaming child is something that cannot be ignored. If somebody grabs them, says something weird, or makes them feel uncomfortable in any way, I encourage my kids to scream, kick and bite for however long it takes. Constant, relentless screaming, clawing and biting… and to “make themselves heavy”. They know how to do it, they do it with me all the time.
5. Don't set children under 5 free
I have 5 children, and they are all under the age of 8. It is very seldom that I take them all anywhere on my own. Only the 7 and 5-year-olds are allowed to walk next to me when we go out, and even then, they hold my hands, and I shove them in a trolley when I can. The younger ones spend their outings in prams or trolleys or on a harness. You can say what you like about kiddy “leashes” but some kids are “runners”… people are welcome to judge me. Harness it is!
I cannot stress this enough. No matter how mature you think your tot is. KEEP THEM CONTAINED. It only takes a distraction for them to follow the wrong pair of jeans off in the other direction.
Is this abduct proofing? There’s really no such thing, but you can do your best to give them tools to help empower them, and then pray that the “Village” will help if the time ever comes.
What have you taught your kids about stranger danger?