body was found after five days of community-wide searching. The evil person who harmed Jessica has not yet been caught, and parents and teachers are in a state of terror.
At Kidpower, our hearts are with Jessica and her loved ones. We are full of sorrow for her and for all children whose lives have been stolen. We are more determined than ever to do everything in our power to protect other kids.
When the unthinkable happens, it is normal for frightened adults to look for answers. It can be tempting to say, “If only the child or the parents had done something differently, this tragedy would have been prevented.”
The truth is, attacks are the responsibility of the attacker, not of the victims. When tragedies like this happen, we must NEVER blame a child who has been kidnapped. We must never blame the child’s loved ones. The frightening reality is that we don’t know what happened and that nothing works all the time.
Our challenge is to accept uncertainty while protecting our kids and gradually preparing them to take charge of their safety as best we can.
When a child is stolen, the community is traumatized. Adults and children who hear about the story are horrified. The horror grows if the child is killed or not found. Sometimes, upset parents with the best of intentions will accidentally traumatize their children further. This can happen when adults act helpless or overwhelmed with fear. Additional trauma can happen when adults go over the details of the attack, believing that hearing the tragic story will somehow protect a child. Focusing on what NOT to do can also increase fear without making kids safer.
Kids hear about tragedies. They hear other kids talk about it at school. They see or hear it through media. Adults worry about how to talk with children when a tragedy happens, and this is when our kids need our guidance more than ever. We can offer that guidance by making thoughtful choices about the words we say, the feelings we express, and the ways we cope with our own adult-level feelings.
If we are very upset, we can seek support for our feelings from other adults, away from our kids. We can help protect our children’s emotional safety by acting calm. We can be careful about what we say, sparing kids the details or adult-level processing about terrifying situations.
This includes doing what we can to control what our kids hear or overhear. Helping Children Regain Emotional Safety After a Tragedy provides some guidance.
A tragedy like this breaks the Illusion of Safety by making people aware that something bad could happen even in their familiar neighborhood. Our immediate instinct to protect our kids, but we need to find effective strategies rather than knee jerk reactions.
For example, a common reaction to a kidnapping is to start driving kids to school instead of letting them walk. While increased vigilance is indeed important in cases like this, once the criminal is caught or once a few weeks have gone by and the Illusion of Safety starts to repair itself, parents often then let kids walk to school again. The problem for children is that nothing has really changed from their perspective. One day, their adults said it was unsafe to walk to school. The next day it was okay again. The result is that kids are often left confused or anxious.
In addition to providing increased protection for the short run, parents and other caring adults need to prepare children with the knowledge and skills they need to take charge of their safety while they are going to or from school – or anywhere without adult protection. These skills are easy to practice but grow stronger with time and more practice. Start now. Give your kids the gift of time to develop their own skills while you are still taking charge of their safety overall.
This free Checklist for parents, Safety For Kids on Their Way to School, provides a tool to assess whether or not children are ready and a list of steps you can take to prepare them for more independence. Please download this PDF and share it with others.
Our Stranger Safety Resource page provides other materials for teaching kids about stranger awareness and kidnapping prevention.
In Kidpower, we teach parents and caregivers that children do not need our anxiety or our despair – but we must remember that kids DO need our protection, including from any kind of abduction. We must not let the “Illusion of Safety” stop us from being aware of the reality of potential danger no matter where we live so that we understand potential hazards, do not give independence until a child is truly ready, and know how to prepare their kids with age-appropriate awareness and skills.
Update on October 23rd. Jessica’s attacker has still not been caught. In an incident that might or might not be related, a strange man approached an eight-year-old boy in a small Colorado town and told the boy to get in his car. According to his mom, her son’s Kidpower training from our Colorado Center prepared him to resist being lured into the car. Instead of obeying the man, her son said, “NO!” and ran for help. As we continue to feel full of sadness for Jessica and for April, a five-year-old girl who is missing and feared murdered in Wales, we are also relieved and thankful that this child is SAFE! http://www.kktv.com/home/headlines/A-Child-Is-Approached-By-A-Stranger-In-Woodland-Park-175183361.html