The unimaginable happened. Again. Another child is not sleeping in the comfort and safety of her home. The country mourns. The community here in Colorado is especially rattled and on alert. Parents wrestle with how to talk to their children about events in the news. We want to shield them, but we also should arm them with information which may save them.
Dr. Jeffrey I. Dolgan, Ph.D., senior psychologist at Children’s Hospital Colorado, provides advice for parents in light of the tragedy of 10-year-old Jessica Ridgeway’s abduction from the Denver Metro Area. Parents can use the following tips to help keep themselves calm and their children safe.
How can parents protect their child’s safety?
- As saddening as Jessica’s story is, keep in mind that abductions are statistically unlikely.
- Sign your kids up for a self-defense class (if available).
- Reiterate common stranger-danger tips (e.g. don’t talk to strangers, stay in a group, always tell your parents where you’re going and who you’re with, etc.).
- Teach kids to be alert and pay attention to what’s going on around them.
- If you give your child a cell phone for emergencies, remember to be clear about how and when to use it.
- Get to know your neighbors, and keep an eye on who might seem suspicious.
- Talk to children about the difference between good touching and bad touching.
- Tell kids to listen to their instincts. If a situation makes them nervous or scared, leave as quickly as possible. They could go to a house where someone is home, or run into a very public area with lots of people around.
- Work with trusted neighbors to put together a big group of kids who can walk to and from school together.
What are the most important skills for children, if they feel threatened or unsafe?
Emphasize the importance of self-reliance, self-defense, and to scream as loud as possible if your child feels in danger. Also explain how important it is to fight back.
How should I teach my child to react to dangerous situations?
Children, especially young children, don’t always know how to apply the things they learned in the classroom to a real-life situation (studies related to gun control have shown this). It’s good for parents to role-play with their children. Set up a situation where a fake abductor comes along and see if your child will react the way he or she should. Stop the scenario and ask you child what he should do, and applaud him if he implements the correct behavior. Children learn well in these role-playing situations. Do it a few times to make an impact.
How can parents talk to their kids about Jessica Ridgeway and missing children?
Explain the situation very simply to your children. Say something like, “A very evil person did something very bad to an innocent person and we don’t know why. In our world, there are some people who do good things and there are some people who do bad things. The people who do bad things are sick — we call them predators. But there are more good people in the world than bad people.” Then ask your child if he or she has any questions, and answer them as simply as possible.
What is the line between protection and over-protection for kids?
Fear can make some parents so uncomfortable that they won’t let their kids walk a few blocks or even leave the yard. Monitor your own anxiety as a parent. Realize that it’s about empowering your kids to make the right decisions and be self-reliant. Teach children to do the right thing, with the right people, at the right time, for the right reasons.
It is beyond unfortunate we have come to know about beautiful Jessica Ridgeway in this manner. I feel we can honor her and her memory by taking the time to speak to children about what they might do if someone attempts to invade their personal space.
Her case is still active. If you have any information or notice even slightly suspicious behavior, call the Westminster Police Department tipline and/or send an email: 303-658-4336 and PDamberalert@cityofwestminster.us.
Do you have any advice regarding speaking to children about difficult situations?