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Recent events in the news reinforce the notion that any child can fall prey to sexual predators. Such a horrifying notion makes most of us cringe and quickly change the subject. But the responsible parent faces this possibility squarely and takes steps to keep children safe. It’s easy to imagine that a victimized child had inattentive parents or didn’t learn the lessons about Stranger Danger. We tell ourselves that our own children are somehow safe from this sort of thing. But we’d be wrong. Any child can be a victim and it’s important to notice how and why.

Far from being a stranger, most sexual predators are known to their victims. They certainly are not “strangers.” Most predators do not snatch children off street corners, but get to know their victims very well and build their trust. So if you only teach your children to distrust strangers, you’re leaving him vulnerable to familiar people who have bad intentions. Predators often are counted as family friends and are trusted members of the community. This is not an accident. Predators carefully craft their image so that adults admire and trust them. Pay attention if an adult friend seems too friendly and takes too much interest in your child.

Predators don’t act like evil people at all. In fact, many act like children, wanting to play with kids instead of hanging out with other grownups or teens. An older child or adult who wants to take your child out to the movies, have him over for the night, and take him to ball games – as if the two of them were best friends of the same age – is acting oddly.

Predators prey on your child’s innocence and inexperience. He or she (yes, predators can be women too!) look for polite, compliant kids who obey adults and don’t like drama. Many children in the preteen years try hard to fit in and go along with the system. They are success-oriented. These are the children predators look for, since they can be counted on to obey adults and ignore all the warning signals.

Predators look for vulnerable parents too. They look for families that are under stress and parents who might welcome a little help in raising a child. Predators may offer a child of financially-strapped parents goodies that mom and dad can’t afford. They offer to give a single parent an afternoon off, while they watch the children, and the grateful parent thinks she’s found a terrific friend. Watch out!

Short of keeping your children locked up at home, how can you protect your child from nefarious people who would do them harm? Here are some ways:

  1. Teach your children to distrust anyone who acts strangely. Grandpa Gene, the kid next door, the soccer coach, or her fourth-grade teacher. Anyone who makes an odd request or touches her when touching is unnecessary should be refused and reported.
  2. Your child should hang out with kids his own age, not with an adult or older teen. Parents of teens, pay attention to your own kid. If he seems to prefer hanging out with younger children, figure out why.
  3. Think twice before you agree to something that seems on the surface like a friendly gesture but might really be a set-up for a dangerous situation. No one, really, is all that eager to watch your kids for an evening. The more someone insists that this is a great idea, the more skeptical you should be.
  4. Make sure your child knows how to speak up and make a scene if he needs to. We want our kids to be polite with adults but there is a time when politeness doesn’t work. Help your child to know when those times are and support him when he stands up for himself. Talk about how to handle dangerous situations.
  5. Be aware of your child’s online connections. Make sure your child doesn’t use his real name as an online handle. Just doing this will help your child see that anyone can disguise his true identity online. Monitor your kid’s online life and know where he’s going and who he’s planning to see when he goes out, especially if he’s meeting someone from the online world.
  6. Finally, if you think something bad has happened between your child and an adult, tell the police. You owe it to your child and you owe it to every other child this person knows. Too many times situations continue even though parents have some suspicions. They don’t want to make trouble. They don’t want to make a mistake.

The real risk you run is the risk to your child. Teach your child to be assertive. Teach your child to tell you everything by accepting without question everything she tells you. And when the situation require you to speak up do it. Predators assume neither your child nor you will tell.


© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Look for free downloads on Dr. Anderson’s website at

It’s every parent’s nightmare: your child isn’t where you thought she was. In fact, she’s nowhere to be seen.  Even if being lost lasts for only a minute or two, you want to save yourself the anxiety and protect your child from what could happen when she’s lost.

From the moment a child is able to walk, he has places to go, things to see. His ability to keep track of where he is and how far he’s wandered doesn’t develop until much, much later. His ability to retrace his steps to get back to safety is even slower to develop – it’s something even we adults struggle with sometimes. Children often don’t even realize they’re lost. Many times, they’re just moving ahead, absorbed in whatever they’re doing.

Keeping toddlers under your eye is important. Use the seatbelt to keep your little one securely in place in a shopping cart. Hold hands or pick her up when you walk through a crowd. At the playground or children’s museum, keep your phone in your pocket so you’re not distracted. Many a parent has looked up from a phone after “just a few seconds” reviewing updates to discover the child has disappeared. It’s amazing how far away children can get when you’re not looking.

Preschoolers and older children are a bit more of a challenge. They are more independent of adult oversight as they play with each other at the park or walk along with the family on an outing. With picnics, street fairs, and water park visits coming up this summer, what can you do? You may not always keep them from getting lost but you can make it more certain they’ll be quickly found.

Here are some strategies to keep you and your kids safe.

  1. A child who realizes she’s lost should stay put and yell. Once a child realizes she’s become separated from her parents, she should stop moving and make a lot of noise. Running to find you or even just continuing to walk around hunting for you is more likely to lead her further and further away. Teach her to call loudly, “MOM!”  Most of all, children should know to not go to the parking lot to find you. Your child must know you would never leave without her.
  2. The lost child should enlist the help of a woman who has children with her. A mother is likely to be helpful and sympathetic… and safe. A store clerk or other employee can help, too, but the child should stay close to where they first realized they were lost. Teach your child how to speak up clearly, saying “I’ve lost my parents. Can you help me?”
  3. A child should never be more than a few steps away from you. Make it clear that your child should always keep you in sight. Make certain your children know they must tell you when they want to stop to look at something.
  4. Forbid playing hiding games in unfamiliar locations and unbounded spaces. Hide and seek is a great game, but what are the boundaries if you’re playing at the park? How far can a child go? How will you recover a child who hides so well that you can’t find her? At the very least, assign yourself thejob of “watcher” whose job is to know where every child is hidden.
  5. Know where you’ll meet and when. If you’re at an event with older elementary children and you want to let the kids go on their own, set a time and place to reunite. The place should be something very obvious – something tall that can be seen from a distance is a good location. If your child has a cell phone, then insist he answer your texts and calls. Make sure the notification volume is loud enough to be heard in a noisy situation.
  6. Make your child easily identifiable. To people not their parents, all children look alike. Before going out with your children, notice what they’re wearing today. Take a group photo before setting out at the fair.

Think ahead, you and your kids together, and have a lovely time!


© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Join Dr. Anderson in an online conference for teachers and parents. Find out more at Quality Conference for Early Childhood Leaders.

Everyone knows the phrase “Stranger Danger,” and many parents teach their children this in hopes of keeping them safe from child predators.  But—they shouldn’t, it is a mistake.  Teaching a child to be afraid of all strangers is actually the opposite of what you want to teach your children to keep them safe.

In that frightening imagined scenario where your child is somehow left alone in a public place, you actually DO want your child to approach a stranger, says Gavin DeBecker, a national expert on safety and predators.  In his fantastic book “Protecting the Gift,” De Becker explains that a scared, immobile, vulnerable child is actually an ideal potential victim to a predator.   Instead of teaching “Stranger Danger,” he says, parents need to teach children how to pick the safest stranger, and feel confident in approaching that person and asking for help.

How can a child pick the safest stranger in any given situation?  It’s simple—the child should pick a woman.  De Becker explains why, saying that this rule works “because it’s practical (there will almost always be a woman around) and simple (easy to teach, easy to learn, easy to do).”  Furthermore, he says, “a woman approached by a lost child asking for help is likely to stop whatever she is doing, commit to that child, and not rest until the child is safe.”  It may not be politically correct, but it is statistically correct and the safe thing to do.

If you are ready to put this concept in to action, and help equip your child, even just a little bit, for a situation that we all hope will never occur, here are two practical steps you can take.

  1. Teach your child that if he or she is ever alone or lost, go to a woman.
  2. Practice with your child looking at strangers in a public place.  Talk about which one would be the best person to ask for help from if your child was lost.  Discuss why.

A parent’s physical proximity and active supervision will generally always be the best protection against predators, but these two steps can give your child accurate and helpful guidance and the confidence to take appropriate action if you are ever separated.