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Abduction of a child is rare. It happens far less often than death or injuries in car wrecks and in accidents and fires around the home and neighborhood.

It is heartbreaking beyond words that someone would snatch your child. Here are suggestions to make it less likely that your child will fall for the ruses used in child abductions.

If your child gets lost or runs away, these precautions are useful.

While you want to protect your child against abduction, first consider the more frequent risks. What can you do to have and use car seats and seat belts and boosters? If your child resists, try making it a game. Our young son as we got in the car admonished us, "Ucle buck." Regularly check for dangers around the house, and practice how to escape from your home if there is a fire. If you prepare your child to be safe from abduction while at the same time you teach your child about seat belts, fire, and other dangers, you are less likely to make your child overly suspicious and paranoid about strangers. You do want your child aware of the many different dangers and to know how to take care of herself.

Here is recent data from the National Center for Health Statistics:
Cause of death
Number in 2003
Diseases, SIDS, perinatal conditions
36,364
Unintentional injury
12,035

Motor vehicle

7,677

Drowning

1,062

Suffocation/strangulation

910

Poisoning

650

Fire/burn

551

Firearm

151
Homicide
3,001
Suicide
1,737

Abduction, being lost
Do not make your child suspicious of strangers — most people who smile or speak to your child at a playground, on the streets, or in stores are friendly and not threatening.

The three essential keys for protecting your child are strangers, distance, and messages.

Distance
Abductors usually try to entice your child to come close enough to touch and to hold. Hold may be a friendly taking her hand. They usually try some ruse to reduce the child’s suspicion as they get closer. There are many things that stranger may say to make your child feel curious and it is safe to come closer. Keep out of arm’s reach; keep distant.

Strangers
People who snatch your child are usually strangers. A potential abductor could appear to be a police officer, priest, or wearing other reassuring clothing. Focus your child’s attention on being wary of strangers. Being wary does not mean being hostile, but it means keeping a safe distance.

Messages
The message a potential abductor speaks may be, “Your mother sent me to get you,” or “I’ve lost my dog and here’s a picture; have you seen him? Come look at the picture and tell me if you have seen my dog.” They may be authoritarian, saying we are doing a reality TV show or we police are…" to draw your child closer. Emphasize to your child to be wary of invitations by strangers to come close enough that the adult can grab your child, or to get into a car. Again the stranger will usually try to make your child relax as they come closer — a lost pet, be on TV, help us police.

Above all, empower children to say no. "If a stranger reaches out to take your hand, pull it back, turn, run away toward any help in sight." Your child must have permission to be suspicious and to distance themselves from any one getting too close.

Use the buddy system; encourage your child to stick with a friend when at a playground or away from you. Encourage interdependence and playing together.

Brain storming party
You might try having children brain storm things a person might say to trick her into getting closer. This might be a game at a party, so long as all parents approve of doing that. A group of children will often think of many messages, and coming from each other they may be taken more seriously.

Practice for all risks. It is not enough to talk about leaving a burning house or buckling up; we need to practice the actions. You might have local police or other parents role play snatchings and to imagine situations. If such role playing is part of party games, and includes preparing for other dangers, you should be able to help your child respond appropriately to strangers without fear or paranoia.

For younger children
When children are learning to talk, help them learn identifiers, such as to say their last name or street or address or phone number. For younger children some identifiers that appear practical and realistic are labels to go inside of shoes, medical identifiers for diabetics and others who need special care, and identifying bracelets with a variety of designs to entice children to wear them — shop locally or Google for them. Encourage each child to select their alternative.

Teen girls
Adolescent girls face special risks from those who may try to entice them into modeling or other jobs, but actually prostitution. Adolescents feel so invulnerable they may need gentle reminding ("I'm glad you like your new femininity…"), and to use the buddy system.

Parent kidnapping
For single parents a special situation is parent kidnapping, if the two parents are not on friendly terms. This is such a special situation with many possible unique problems, that you may want to explore it with an attorney, school authorities, or police who are cooperative. You must be sure school authorities are careful to release your child only to you or to specific others.

Report it?
Any time that a parent suspects a child may have been abducted or is out of sight, report it immediately to start searches such as in malls or playgrounds. Families with their own whistle tune use it to locate lost children. Recent programs such as Amber alerts are useful.

Copyright © 2004, 2006 John F. Yeaman