What Should Your Child Do If She Gets Lost?

A child goes missing every 40 seconds, but the U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention reports that only around 115 children per year nationwide are kidnapped by strangers and not returned to their families. Nonetheless, losing our children is something many of us keep tucked in the “worst nightmare” file of our brain.

mom and daughter

Teach Your Child: Stay Put!

Though most safety information is geared toward children ages 5 and older, experts agree you should talk to your preschooler about safety now. “It’s never too soon as long as you’re approaching the topic in a developmentally appropriate way,” says Walter Gilliam, PhD, director of the Edward Zigler Center in Child Development and Social Policy, at Yale University.

While it’s true that most preschoolers don’t play outside or walk around alone, they still need clear information about what to do if they become separated from you in public. Here’s a five-point safety plan taken from various experts and recommended for young children.

While most parents teach their kids to never go with a stranger, their understanding of this concept is often murky. Gilliam explains, “Preschoolers think of a stranger as someone who’s ‘scary’ or ‘bad,’ so a friendly or nice person may not be seen as a threat by a young child.”

Teach Your Child to Call Your Name — Your Real Name

If your lost child is shouting, “Mommy!” it can be difficult to distinguish her voice among other children calling for their moms. According to Joselle Shea, manager of children and youth initiatives at the National Crime Prevention Council, preschoolersshould learn the first and last names of their parents or any other of their caregivers. “You have to repeat this information to children over and over again to help them remember it. Then if they ever become lost, they can tell someone who their parents are.”

Samantha Wilson, a former police officer who founded kidproofusa.com, says that teaching our kids “don’t talk to strangers” is actually the biggest mistake parents make. “Instead, we have to teach kids never to go anywhere with anyone without asking their parents’ permission first.” This is the lesson we should reinforce as soon as we begin speaking to children about safety. It’s clear and easy to understand, even for preschoolers.

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