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. Most missing children are taken by a noncustodial family member. "Your child has a greater risk of choking on a hot dog or drowning than being kidnapped by a stranger," reassures Adam Strauss, MD, a pediatrician and father of four. Nonetheless, losing our children is something many of us keep tucked in the "worst nightmare" file of our brain.

Teach Your Child: Stay Put!

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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."

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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