Mar 03 2014

Thwarting A Would-Be Kidnapper

A scary thing happened last week in Westchester, CA, a lovely residential suburb on the westside of Los Angeles.   The kind of place where you don’t expect bad things to happen, like the attempted abduction of a child… especially in broad daylight.  But that’s exactly what happened.  A brazen attempted kidnapping, in the middle of the day, on a busy, main street in town.
The scenario: a nanny walking with the 2 young children she cares for, a 4 year old boy and his 6 year old brother. Their typical walk home like any other day. In broad daylight, on this busy thoroughfare, a man in his 30’s races up to the nanny, assaults her, grabs the 4 year old and tries to run off with him. In the chaos that follows, the nanny screams for help. Thankfully, a hero named Jesus Delgado working in a nearby taco stand, heard her cries and sprang into action. After chasing the attacker for two blocks, Delgado finally caught up with him and rescued the boy.
He held the would-be kidnapper until police arrived. The 4 year old is safe with his family, and Jesus Delgado is rightfully hailed as a hero… a man who didn’t stop to think, just reacted to the cry for help and acted fast.

It’s the kind of frightening story that naturally scares parents to their very core. Our sense of vulnerability suddenly a stinging slap in the face. There is a need for answers and for reassurance. How can we prevent this?
Random “snatch and run’s” as they are referred to, are rare occurrences. Statistically, most child abductions are “familial” in nature, by someone the child knows (a non-custodial parent or other relative). But reality dictates that we must always be vigilant when we’re out and about. Whether you’re with your kids or not. Whether you live in small town USA or a big, urban area.

A perp. looks for quick easy access and a target that looks like they either won’t put up a fight, or will be caught off guard and slow to react. Even a perp. who is emotionally unstable is very often calculating enough to assess their target beforehand to see if they can proceed.
It’s not about living in fear. It’s about being aware, and you should be able to walk in your own neighborhood without feeling like a potential victim every time you open your front door. Your best defense is to stay alert, be pro-active. For starters, put out a vibe that you’re not an “easy target.”

Prevention Tips
• As adults, we tend to be less guarded and more distracted in our own neighborhoods and communities because it’s our familiar turf. It’s important to walk “like you mean it”, with a purpose: eyes always alert to anyone nearby who seems “off” in any way, or who starts to get in your personal space, or seems interested in watching you. Get out of the “line of crime” quickly. Cross the street as soon as you can. Or go into a nearby store or business. Remove yourself from the other person’s easy access.
Take in your immediate environment...alleys, doorways, anywhere where you can be “caught by surprise”. If you walk the same route all the time, where are the more vulnerable spots that you should be aware of?
• When you’re in busy areas (parking lots, parks & rec. areas, walking down the street), do a quick visual inventory every now and then. Who’s in your environment?
• Don’t walk with headphones on or while talking on the phone or texting. Distraction means “easy” to a perp.
You don’t have to be too polite, especially to someone you don’t know. A perp. counts on you being trusting and naiive. If a car pulls up to ask for directions, don’t walk right up and start talking to the occupants. You’d teach your child this; the same goes for us. Especially when we’re with our kids. It can give our kids a mixed message.
• If you do feel that you need to assist someone, don’t get too close and don’t take a lot of time doing it! Keep moving. If someone needs assistance, they can drive to nearby store or gas station to ask for help.
• Young kids who won’t always hold your hand? Then they should be only 2 giant steps away from you. And, this means the grownup has to be even more alert to the surroundings.
• If a child is grabbed, (no matter what age) teach them to “go bananas!” That means scream, kick, and call attention to themselves. They can yell out, “I need help”, “This is not my parent”, “Call 911”.
• If someone says “don’t yell/ don’t run”: do the OPPOSITE. That person is basically saying if YOU yell or run, he’ll have to stop trying to victimize you.
Keep your cell phone easily accessible… in your pocket, an outer pouch of your purse. It shouldn’t be buried at the bottom of your bag.
• Talk to your nannies or sitters ahead of time and guide them with what they should do to prevent. Anyone caring for kids (parent/sitters, etc.) should be especially alert in parks and rec. areas where there are lots of people, kids are running around, etc.
The best remedy for worry is: action. Take a pro-active approach to lessen your risk, reduce your vulnerability.
Please remember: Most people you encounter on a daily basis are not child predators. You shouldn’t fear all strangers. There are literally millions of “strangers” who would not harm you or your child. Use common sense, stay alert and aware, empower yourselves and your families.

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Nov 10 2013

Just Tell Me What To Say!

“I know I have to talk to my kids about being safe, but I don’t know how to get started. Just tell me what to say!”

I hear this a lot from parents.  They know the old stranger-danger message isn’t the way to go anymore but they’re stuck with what they should be telling their kids.

It’s hard enough to think of the right words, let alone the right concepts that will work and most importantly not scare our kids. That’s why I wrote “Super Duper Safety School.”  It’s based on the same safety rules and curriculum that I teach in classrooms throughout Southern California, where I’m usually working in schools almost every day. In fact, this is my classroom safety lesson put into one easy-to-use children’s book.

Super Duper Safety School  give kids practical “do’s and don’ts” in an easy to digest format. It does the work for you because it’s practically a script with the same language and illustrations that I use in schools all the time.

The nice thing about using a children’s book to cover topics like “tricky people”, checking first, “the helping rule”, and private parts is that you can go slowly, at your own pace, covering a little bit at a time and reviewing whenever you’d like. It allows for conversation between parent and child, and is more interactive than having kids sit in front a video, without much input from you. Research shows that children are more likely to retain important information when they are actively engaged.

I hope you’ll take a look at Super Duper Safety School and incorporate it into your family life. It tells you exactly what to say!
(And, there’s a super-duper parent guide  and bookmark at the end!)

http://www.amazon.com/Super-Duper-Safety-School-Grown-Ups/dp/0984747214

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Oct 30 2013

Safe-Smart Halloween Tips

Every year people ask me if Trick or Treating is still a safe tradition. My answer is YES. Enjoy the holiday with your kids, but of course, take a few precautions whether your kids are young and going out with you or if they are a little bit older and venturing out into the neighborhood with friends (which I typically advise waiting until your child is at least 12 years old in most cases). For little ones, there’s a lot of sensory issues on Halloween:  spooky costumes, scary decorations, so please keep that in mind if your little one gets a little overloaded by all the sights & sounds, and activity.

  • Before venturing out with young children, remind kids that this is one day a year, and that it’s OK to take the treats from other people because mom/dad/or safe adult is still WITH them. If it’s not Halloween, no taking candy from people we don’t know!
  • There’s a good chance some of the costumes other people are wearing can be pretty scary to a young child. If your child becomes afraid because they’ve seen a “scary or gruesome character”, gently reassure your child that it’s make-believe and that character isn’t real. Remind them they are safe because you’re with them. You can even agree with your child that the costume is yucky and then turn it around to a positive like “I’m glad you’re a ….. (pirate, princess, etc)…. this year!” Validate their feelings, and if they need to take a little break for a few minutes, allow them time to re-gain their composure and confidence again before ringing the next doorbell.
  • Keep an eye open as the kids walk up to front door of a house, (or go right up to the door w/them) so that they’re not going inside for the treats.
  • Also a good idea to stay nearby as they ring doorbells — just in case there’s a BIG DOG that also likes to get in on the action. Kids can get really scared by this, and then run away fast, trip over their costume, etc. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen that scenario, where someone answers their front door with a huge German Shepherd (or some other big dog) and kids scream and go running!

Check out the tips below for a few more reminders for kids of all ages and have a happy Halloween!

1.  Plan your route ahead of time and check your state’s Megan’s Law Sex Offender register. If there is an offender living in your neighborhood, be sure to skip that house. If your teens or tweens are trick or treating on their own, instruct them skip that one. If they ask why, let them know that the person who lives there simply is not a “safe grownup.” In California, the Megan’s Law website is www.meganslaw.ca.gov. To check the sex offender register in other states, go to: *www.nsopw.gov and follow the prompts.
*(United States Dept. of Justice, National Sex Offender Public Website or visit www.familywatchdog.us )

2. Children under 12 should be accompanied by a responsible adult.
3. Older kids should trick or treat in a group or with a buddy – not alone.
4. Stay in familiar neighborhoods & only visit houses that are well lit.
5. If a child gets lost, or feels scared or threatened for any reason, they should seek out another MOM WITH KIDS for help. That’s a safe stranger in an emergency.
6. Be very wary of any adult stranger (without kids) who suddenly tries to join you as you trick or treat. If kids are on their own, they should say NO and get away from that person quickly.
7. Stay in the open, don’t take shortcuts through alleys or unlit backyards.
8. Kids on their own should never get into a car with anyone no matter how friendly…unless they have already gotten permission from their parents ahead of time or have called you to CHECK FIRST.
9. Carry a flashlight and a fully charged cell phone. (Make sure older kids who are on their own do so as well.)
10. For young children, write down your cell phone #, have them carry it in a pocket or an easily accessible place (like inside their treat or treat bag).   If they can’t find you,  they can ask another Mom w/kids to call you.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 11. Set a firm time limit on how long kids can be out on their own.
12. All treats must be inspected by a parent first. Do not eat any unwrapped or partially wrapped treats.
13. Wear brightly colored clothes or use some reflective tape on kids’ costumes or bag. If you’re the grownup taking out a group of children, wear something that can be easily seen by the kids.

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Oct 22 2013

The Top 4 Talking Points For Parents & Kids!

Published by under Child Safety

Here are the top 4 talking points to help you get the safety dialog going with your kids.   Try using the “scriped red lines” below if you need a little help.  For more conversation starters check out “Super Duper Safety School” — a children’s book for parents and kids.  Each page has a safety rule AND the child-friendly language to explain it!

The Uh-Oh Feeling

That’s a child friendly way to describe our instinct, when someone or something just doesn’t seem right. Our own protective warning system, telling us to take action. Kids have very strong instincts, and it’s important to allow them to listen to this inner warning bell. How can you explain the Uh-Oh Feeling to them?   Try this:   “That’s the little voice in your head or your heart or your tummy that tells you “Uh-Oh, this doesn’t seem right” or “Uh-Oh, I don’t want to do this”.   It’s a powerful message…teaching kids that they can trust that feeling AND that they can share that feeling with us at anytime.
It’s also important for parents to listen to your own “uh-oh feeling” as well – especially when it relates to someone who interacts with our kids. In parent-speak: The minute you start making excuses for that Uh-Oh feeling, it’s a sure sign that something isn’t right and needs your attention. Don’t ignore it.

Check First

One of my favorite rules for kids because it’s pro-active and clear, and applies to any given situation… with people they know or don’t know!  “Check First” gives kids a very specific action to take. It can slow down a child from impulsively doing something unsafe such as taking something from someone or going off with someone.  AND when they check first, it gives the parent time to assess the situation.   Check First works in just about any scenario, and can prevent a child from being a predator’s target. For example, kids should check first: before helping someone find a lost pet, before going into a neighbor’s home to visit, before taking a ride with someone even if it’s with someone they know. AND… if you can’t check first, then the answer is NO  Check First works with people they “know, don’t know, or know a little bit.”  It works if they are approached by a stranger in the park with an enticing trick or lure, and it works with people they know, like a friendly neighbor inviting them into their home to play a game.   It works with people they “know a little bit”, like the ice cream man inviting them into his truck to pick out a treat.   Find teachable moments to remind your child of the “check first rule”… on your way to the park, a party or event, or even when they’re playing outside. CHECK FIRST is the way you will be able to monitor what someone is asking from your child.

Boss Of My Body

Every child should feel that their body belongs to them, and that they can be the “BOSS of it”. Even very young children understand what being the BOSS means. They know a Boss is in charge and a boss has power. Being the BOSS OF YOUR BODY means that they have the right to say NO to any kind of touch, even if it’s from someone they usually care about. It’s not that touching is bad, but sometimes a child doesn’t want a tickle or a hug from someone. They may have an Uh-Oh Feeling about that person, or they’re just not in the mood! We need to honor that. The unfortunate truth is that 90% of sexual abuse happens to kids by someone they know. It can be a relative, a family friend, or someone else close to the family-circle. When kids are taught that they’re the Boss of Their Body, they are more likely to speak up when a touch doesn’t feel right.

Need a way to start talking about “thumbs up and thumbs down touches?”    Try this:   Everybody has  “bathing suit zones” or “private parts” on their body . Being the BOSS means you can tell ANYONE to leave your private parts alone… even a bigger kid or a grownup!  Being the BOSS means you can tell someone else that you won’t touch THEIR private parts, either!”    Kids love being the BOSS and this one empowers them to be able to use their voice in any yucky, uncomfortable situation. Being the BOSS OF YOUR BODY even works on the playground at school, in case another child is being physically aggressive in some way. The BOSS is in charge of THEIR Body!  (Make sure your child knows that they should tell you anytime someone gives them an UH-OH feeling about private parts.)

Get Smart About Getting Lost

It’s the most frightening thing that a parent experiences… that instant when you look around and don’t see your child. It’s also pretty scary for your child when they suddenly realize you’re not close by. In this scenario, it’s important that a child knows what to do to get help quickly. Teach your child what to do ahead of time.
1) Stay put! Just stand still and call out loudly for your parent. Chances are you’re still nearby and will hear them.
2) They can ask another MOM with KIDS for help. Statistically, this is the least risky “stranger” and you simply want your child to make the safest choice if they are lost and need assistance.
3) They can ask a CASH REGISTER PERSON if one is nearby. This person usually has a microphone and can make an announcement. A child should stay right by the cash register once that announcement is made and wait for you.

Option #2 is the safest, strongest choice. Studies have shown that another MOM with KIDS will be most sympathetic to a lost, frightened child and will stay with that child until the problem is resolved and you’re reunited.
Be sure to remind your child that you’d never go back to the car to wait for them, so they should never go into the parking lot looking for you.
With older children (9 and up), you can pick a designated spot to reunite. “If we get separated, we’ll meet at the merry-go-round or the front cash register.”

BTW, when you are reunited, hug your child and let them know they did the right thing in finding you. Try not to scold them for getting lost. They are probably just as upset as you are.  Just use this as a teachable moment to reinforce the importance of sticking close by when you’re out and about.

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Aug 24 2013

Drop-Off Playdates & Sleepovers… (We’ve Got Answers!)

Published by under Child Safety

This entry is little long as I try to cover two issues that come up every time a new school year starts!

Sleepovers?  Playdates where you simply drop your child off at a new friend’s home?   When your children are very young it can be a little intimidating.  Now that school has started, your new kindergartner has a slew of new friends.  Parents whom you didn’t know in your close-knit Preschool are suddenly asking if they can take your child home with them for a playdate after school.

It’s ok to smile and say :  “I really like to stay for a little bit when we go to a new home for a playdate.  I hope you don’t mind.”   Any parent worth their salt is going to understand this — especially when the kids are very young.    It’s important to check out the environment, who else is there, does it feel chaotic in any way?  I’ve gotten calls from parents who dropped their child off only to find out there were several workmen throughout the house doing construction/remodeling, etc.  and the mom ran out to do errands leaving the workers to “babysit”.

What about pets?  One parent I know was furious when she took her daughter to a home where there was a huge dog.  The kind that likes to bark and jump when new people arrive.  Her little girl was terrified, and the other parent insisted that the dog just needed to jump on her and smell her for a while.   Not that I have anything against pets, but it’s a good idea to ask ahead of time in case your child is a little skittish around animals.

Many parents struggle at first as they do the “drop off” playdate in the beginning.  That’s okay, it’s just the next stage as your child grows.   You’ll get used to it, and it’s a good way to slowly start to foster a little independence in your child.  When your child comes home, ask them for a few specific things they did on the playdate.  You’ll get a feel for how it went, if you’re child enjoyed it, etc.   My daughter used to let me know if the other mom was “fun, serious, not around much, etc.”

Ok, so you’re getting comfortable with the playdate thing and then your kid throws this one at you:  “Mom can I have a sleepover at their house?”

At some point, almost every parent wrestles with… should we or shouldn’t we?  I’m not the kind of parent who never allowed sleepovers, but I did limit them to only a few homes where I felt it would be ok.  The parents and I had a good connection, I knew the household well, and I had very specific chats with my daughter about what was OK and not OK, and gave her some specific exit strategies if necessary.  So…

Option A – You could make your rule: NO SLEEPOVERS EVER. Plenty of parents take this approach, plain and simple. And that’s ok. Every parent is allowed their own comfort level on this one and there shouldn’t be any judgments made if a parent decides they just aren’t doing them.
Option B – If Option A isn’t for you, that’s ok too. Many parents have fond memories of sleepovers when they were kids and would like their children to be able to enjoy the same thing…which is fine PROVIDED: you use common sense, ask the right questions beforehand, and make sure your child knows what to do if the sleepover (or playdate) starts to go in the wrong direction and they don’t feel comfortable.

Sleepovers can be fun, but they can also be a slippery slope for the simple reason that there is often less supervision over a longer period of time. And, late at night when it’s quiet, a child may be less inclined to seek out help from the grownup in charge if something goes wrong.

If you’re going to allow your child to sleep at a friend’s house, do your “due-diligence” first. Is there anyone in that household (adults or other kids) with bully issues or other aggressive traits? If so, I’m not letting my kid sleep over there. Who else is sleeping over? Who’s supervising… Is it the parents or are the babysitter and her boyfriend watching the kids tonight?

What’s the household like? Some families have much different rules about what is allowed… games, certain tv shows, computer use? I’m not too keen on sleepovers where kids are allowed to gather around the laptop in their friend’s bedroom till all hours. I want to know that the adults in charge are monitoring and have specific rules and time limits for technology.

And then of course, is the concern that most parents have… what about their child’s personal safety, particularly when it comes to “unsafe touches?” That’s a healthy and appropriate concern you should address before ever allowing a sleepover.

TALKING TO KIDS ABOUT SLEEPOVERS
It’s important to have specific conversations ahead of time with our kids and make sure they’re able to stick up for themselves if necessary. It’s not enough to tell your child “no one is allowed to touch your private parts.” Kids need to know what to DO and SAY if this happens. They need an “exit strategy”.  And they won’t necessarily be able to think of it themselves unless we’ve taught them first.

Give your child “scripted responses” they can use if necessary. Lines like: “I don’t let anyone touch my penis, not even my friends.” Or, “It’s MY body and I said NO.”  Then, your child should know it’s time to get some support. Either find the grownup/parent in charge or call up mom or dad and say “This sleepover isn’t going so great, please pick me up.” If the sleepover is at your house and your child is uncomfortable by another child’s actions, he can “redirect” the dynamic and say “I need a drink of water” or “I’m going to the bathroom”, and then come to get you right away.

What Parents Should Say:
Let your child know that sometimes sleepovers/playdates don’t always work out in a fun way, and if he gets a “confused, uh-oh feeling” even from a friend, he can call you anytime. You can also reassure him that he may still be allowed sleepovers in the future, but that sometimes we just have to call it off if someone else isn’t doing the right thing. This way, your child won’t feel badly for telling you and he’ll understand that he won’t be “penalized” in the future by never being able to go on a sleepover/playdate again. This will go a long way in his trusting the lines of communication with you.

Before allowing sleeopvers, check out some of the questions below:

Do you know everyone who lives at the home or is staying there at the moment?
Is this a chaotic, stressful household with minimal supervision?
Do the parents have similar values as you?
Anyone in the household have a substance abuse problem?
Does your child know they can call you at any time and you’ll pick them up?
Does your child have the maturity or ability to stick up for themselves if something makes them uncomfortable?
Have you had a clear conversation about “thumbs up and thumbs down touches?”

It’s our job as the parent to evaluate each situation individually, and make sure it really is a safe place for our child.

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Aug 04 2013

Kids & Sports: Keeping Them Safe!

Published by under Child Safety

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) estimates that more than 41 million children and teens participate in youth sports everyday. In response to the Penn State/Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse scandal and other more recent abuse cases involving sports organizations and camps, NCMEC recently hosted a conference with over 50 of the largest youth serving and youth sports organizations in the country. The focus was to bring national awareness to the issue of child sexual abuse, provide prevention education and training, and set policies including:  ongoing observation and monitoring for those working with kids, transparency in all interactions, background checks (though these alone do not guarantee safety), accountability, and zero tolerance. No more turning a blind eye or keeping quiet!

NCMEC also set expectations for better communication within sports organizations that serve youth and made recommendations for the involvement of parents & guardians as well. This is certainly a step in the right direction. However, as parents and guardians, we need to do our part in ensuring our children’s safety. Keep in mind that most camps and sport organizations are safe and there is no need to “throw the baby out with the bath water”. BUT… as parents, we do need to talk to and LISTEN to our kids, and pay attention to who’s running these sport activities, who’s spending time with our kids, and what the overall environment is like. My recommendation: pay attention to who’s paying attention to your kid!  If there is a coach or other administrator who has singled your child out as “more special than the others”, and often has reasons or excuses why they need additional alone-time with your kid, perhaps giving extra attention, extra coaching for free or taking your child on a special outing… take a step back and monitor that relationship. It’s one of the oldest tricks in the book, and it’s exactly how Sandusky was able to target some of his victims. Unsuspecting or naive parents can initially be charmed (groomed!) when someone singles out their child as “outstanding or more important” than the others.  NCMEC has a downloadable tip sheet called “Know The Rules – For Child Safety In Youth Sports”. It’s available in English and Spanish. Here’s the link.  http://www.missingkids.com/publications/NC34
To learn more about the  NCMEC “Safe to Compete” summit including their Sound Practices checklist, visit: http://www.safetocompete.org

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