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Preventing Child Abductions

With the exception of the quietest parks, most excursions parents take with kids are full of distractions. Stores themselves are meant to distract-thousands of products are all trying to be louder, brighter and bigger in order to catch your attention. In addition, many stores are crowded with obstacles that can easily mean a lost toddler in seconds. Every parent knows that the kids themselves are huge distractions.

   How do you teach a very young child to fend for themselves against abductors who would just love to have them?

   The lessons for child empowerment and safety can't begin soon enough. But the reality is that it's the parents (or caregivers) who are solely responsible for the safety and well-being of the children in their care. Part of that is making it easier on you by keeping the children close by and visible as much as possible.

   Even though your toddler may be mobile the rest of the time, he or she should be carted or in a stroller during any distracting errand. This will not be a popular decision with most toddlers. After all, they've just figured this walking and running stuff out! But in the long run, they will get used to going into a cart or stroller every time they approach a store and your shopping experience will be more pleasant as well. Not only will you have them right in front of you at all times, but you won't have to worry about them spilling merchandise off of shelves, tripping other shoppers up underfoot, and forgetting what you came for in the melee.

   This technique becomes even more important as your family grows. If it's hard to keep track of one child, it's even harder to watch one who's on the run while another is screaming for a bottle or new diaper. Make it easy on yourself, spring for the double (or even triple) stroller, or put both kids into the cart, even if it means getting less each trip. Or, if your toddler simply won't cooperate, do your shopping on your lunch hour or while your kids are at home with your spouse.

   Even when the setting is a playground, chaos can still reign. And keeping track of the kids can be almost impossible once there's more than one!

   Different playgrounds are designed differently, with differing amounts of visibility. If you're not comfortable with the nooks and crannies in one playground, start using another. If the playground is very large, encourage your kids to stay near the same area. Do the swings first, then perhaps the giant slide. Keep them within a few yards of each other. Should your attention need to be totally diverted from one of your children, for instance in the case of a skinned knee, call the other one over to "help."

   The world is such these days that we parents can't even relax on a shady bench and read a novel while the kids play! They can be gone simply too fast. Activities that allow you to keep your eyes on your children, like returning those cell phone calls, or getting pictures of the kids at play are more in tune with the requirements of today's watchful parents.

   If you can, go out in public situations with another mother, but never assume that you are watching each other's children. Instead, think of yourself as an extra set of eyes for her kids, and vice-versa, though your first assumption should always be that you are the only one watching your children.

   This may also go for your spouse. Children have been lost more than once because one spouse thought that the other was watching, while the other thought the first was watching. When with your spouse, work as an ever-vigilant team-both watching equally well. And if you have to duck out for a moment, always communicate very clearly to your partner that you are leaving the children in his or her care for a moment.

   Public restrooms can be another nightmare for parents-particularly if your child is a member of the opposite sex. No father relishes being alone with his daughter and having to figure out how he is supposed to take his four-year-old princess past a bunch of guys using urinals. Do you send her into the ladies' room by herself? Unfortunately, that's no longer an option, either. Do you send her in with a nice lady who is still a stranger?

   As parents have gotten to be more cautious about public bathroom use, child predators have made adjustments. 10-year-old Matthew Cecchi, for instance, was murdered in a public restroom while his aunt stood right outside. A seven-year-old girl on a school trip in Chico, California, narrowly escaped an assault when a male attacker climbed under the stall door in the girls' room at a local park. So, it stands to reason that, even if a child's eyes have to be covered on the way to a locked, closed stall, that children must be accompanied right to the stall itself. Things like hand washing can be done elsewhere, for modesty's sake, but public bathrooms are no place for unaccompanied children.

   Fairs, amusement parks and festivals are also potential organizational nightmares for parents trying to keep tabs on their kids. Strollers are great in these situations, as are "hand holders", Velcro bracelets with bungee cords in between that attach between parent and child. If your toddler is especially active and strapping them into a stroller will mean ruining the day, some parents don't mind using harnesses, even though they can expect dirty looks from other adults who will make comments about "leashes." If you are all more comfortable with your toddler using his or her own leg power, while still being safely under your control, then ignore them and do what you think is right. Today's harnesses even come in the form of cute fanny packs, so they look less Fido-esque.

   Even in the familiarity of your own car, leaving the kids behind while you "run into the store" for a second is no longer an option, even if you can leave the air conditioner on, the alarm armed and the doors locked via a handy remote. Cars are super easy to break into, people ignore alarms, and it can take just seconds for someone to smash a window and grab your child. Yes, it's a pain hauling one ore more children in and out of car seats on a series of short errands, but nothing compares to the pain of not knowing where your child is.
Regrettably, your own backyard may not even be safe to leave your children in unattended. Depending upon the setup of your property, you may have to resign yourself to a comfortable chair and some crocheting while your children play in your yard, or the common area at the apartment complex, if it's a small area. If it's larger, take along the cordless phone and catch up with a girlfriend, while keeping your eyes on the kids.

   It would seem easy to impart paranoia and fear into your kids with the eagle-eye treatment, but it doesn't necessarily have to feel that way to them. Watchful mothers have been around for centuries-whether hanging partway out of tenement windows while their children played stickball, or strolling behind as their children go from swing to sandbox. Parents need to be diligent-not jumpy. By seeing such watchfulness as a part of the routine, parents and caregivers are more relaxed, and the children pick up on this.

   Still, it is a lot of work! Gone are the days where you could send off the three-year-old with her seven-year-old brother to the park two blocks away and go about your chores without a worry. Regardless of the type of neighborhood parents think they're living in, a quick review of a Megan's Law CD at your local police station will reveal right away that convicted sex offenders now make their homes in every part of the country. It's not fair to our kids, however, not to take them out. They need to see the world as well- it's how they learn and grow. Even if the parents' part of the deal is more effort than ever.

It is, however, worth it.

Reprinted from www.escapeschool.com with permission from Bob Stuber.  Copyright (c)1997- 2002, All Ears Studios for Bob Stuber.

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