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Make Safety PlansA Kidpower mom forwarded us this recent email alert (below), which was sent to parents in a quiet rural community, after an attempted abduction at the school parking area. I have removed the name of the school because attempts like this happen in different locations every day, whether they are reported or not.

Subject: Attempted Abduction

Good afternoon – this is a message from the ________ School District. On ______ evening at approximately ___pm, an attempted abduction of a student occurred in the parking area in front of the cafeteria. It was too dark for the student to identify or provide a description of the two men. The truck was a white box truck, where the box is separated from the cab, with no markings on the side. The student is safe and the Sheriff’s Department is investigating this report.

Please remind your children when waiting after school, or practice, not to approach or get into a vehicle of an unknown person. If they do have an incident or encounter a suspicious individual, they should run to an area where they can find a District staff member that can help them. Please report the incident to the Sheriff’s Department immediately and notify the school Principal.

 We are taking this report very seriously and working with the Sheriff’s Department to ensure the safety of all of our students. If you have any information about this incident, please contact the __ Sheriff’s Office.

We definitely need to know when something like this happens, and the fact that someone has tried to abduct a child so close to home can strike terror into the hearts of all caring adults.

While it is true that only a tiny percentage of abduction attempts by strangers result in an actual kidnapping, the results are at best traumatic and, too-often, tragic. The reality that there are over 100,000 such attempts reported every year in the US means that none of us can afford to be complacent, thinking, “It will never happen here.”

However, rather than worrying, we can take action to protect our kids by reviewing Safety Plans and practicing with them how to follow them. By using Kidpower’s Positive Practice Method, we can do this in a way that is fun and empowering instead of scary.

You can start by acknowledging what happened in a calm way. Avoid upsetting details and focus on what the child did right and on what you are going to do to keep everyone safe. For example, “A student stayed safe today by running away and getting help when a stranger tried to come close. The student was waiting in the parking lot after practice. The police are looking for the person who did this. For our peace of mind, we are going to go over our Safety Plans for everywhere you go – how you can get away if anyone is acting unsafely, and how to get help if you have a problem.”

Protect kids’ emotional safety by stopping them (and yourself) from dwelling on upsetting details about what might happen in a kidnapping or what they have heard has happened to other kids. Instead, tell young people that you want to focus on what each of us CAN do to stay safe most of the time.

Kidpower’s core strategies to review and practice are:

1. Stay Aware
Notice what is happening around you. Notice how even a parking lot can suddenly have less people to help you if adults are busy picking up their kids. Pay attention to your intuition and “uh-oh” feelings.

2. Move Away
If you are on your own, or you are not SURE a person or situation is safe, move away so that you are out of reach from anyone that you don’t know well, especially if this person is trying to approach you or get you to go over to them. (This is a useful safety rule for animals you don’t know well, as well as people.)

3. Check and Think First
If you have an adult such as your parent, coach, or teacher nearby, “Check First with your adult before you talk with someone you don’t know well – or let this person get close to you.” If you are anywhere without an adult to Check First with, your safety plan is to, “Think First before you talk with someone you don’t know well, let a stranger get close to you, or take anything – even your own things such as a backpack or bike – from a stranger.”

Understand that adults should be asking other adults – not kids – for help. Don’t go close to a stranger to give help with directions or look at a photo of a lost animal or child. Check First with your adults before you change your plan about where you are going, who is with you, and what you are doing.

Consider that a stranger might know your name from hearing someone else call out to you or from seeing a name tag. And someone who seems familiar to you is still a stranger unless you know this person very well. Unless you are SURE, check first.

Remember that even someone you don’t know well who is wearing a uniform or who says they are working for the school or the police is still a stranger. This person should NOT be trying to get you to leave the school yard or go close to their car unless your parents know about it and have given permission – or there is an emergency you can see yourself such as a big fire.

4. Run to Safety
If someone is acting unsafely or makes you feel nervous, get to safety as quickly as you can. Yell to get the attention of people around you. Use physical self-defense to escape if someone is trying to stop you from getting away.

5. Get Help
Know how to get help everywhere you go – from someone working at your school, from someone working in a store, from a neighbor, from the parents of other kids, from public safety officials such as police officers or fire fighters, and by calling 9-1-1. As soon as you can, tell an adult what happened. Remember that, if you have a safety problem, you can interrupt busy adults and keep asking even if they seem annoyed at first. If one adult doesn’t help, find another one. When you safely can, write down all the details you remember about what happened. What did this person say or do? What did this car or van look like? What did this person look and sound like?

Also, remember that the rules are different in emergencies. Make a safety plan with your adults for how you can get help if you cannot check first and you are lost, hurt, or someone is acting unsafely. Often, a mother with young kids or someone who is working are your safest choices.

As our kids get older, many parents struggle with how to find the right balance between giving their kids more independence and keeping them safe. This recent blog post addresses this issue: Going Out Alone: How to Prepare Kids to Be Safe.

Here are some other articles from our free online Library that parents, teachers, and other caring adults have found to be helpful:

Sign up for our free community membership to the Kidpower Resource Library for access to hundreds of safety resources. (Already a member? Login Now.)

Finally, avoid the “talking too much” pitfall so you can PRACTICE:

When adults are worried, we sometimes talk too much and get caught up in answering lots of questions, instead of practicing what to do. Suppose that you were to talk to children about a fire drill and to start answering their questions about what happens during a fire. Even if you are being very kind and positive, after a very short time of just talking, most children are likely to start to get very worried about there being a fire. In this case, most questions can be put to rest simply by practicing going outside of the building and walking to the designated place where children are supposed to gather.

The same principle is true with other safety problems. It works best if you give a simple explanation and then redirect children into what they CAN do rather than answering their questions. Just say, “First, let’s practice!”

Not sure how to practice? In addition to our workshops and extensive free online Library, take a look at our Books section for our cartoon-illustrated Safety Comics series and other teaching books for families, schools, organizations, and communities. The Kidpower Book for Caring Adults: Personal Safety, Self-Protection, Confidence, and Advocacy For Young People provides a comprehensive guide on how to use the Kidpower method to protect children and teens from abduction, assault, bullying, abuse, and other violence – and on how to empower them with skills for taking charge of their own well-being and for developing positive relationships that will enrich their lives.


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Published: January 31, 2015   |   Last Updated: September 13, 2016

Kidpower Founder and Executive Irene van der Zande is a master at teaching safety through stories and practices and at inspiring others to do the same. Her child protection and personal safety expertise has been featured by USA Today, CNN, Today Moms, the LA Times, and The Wall Street Journal. Publications include: cartoon-illustrated Kidpower Safety Comics and Kidpower Teaching Books curriculum; Bullying: What Adults Need to Know and Do to Keep Kids Safe; the Relationship Safety Skills Handbook for Teens and Adults; Earliest Teachable Moment: Personal Safety for Babies, Toddlers, and Preschoolers; The Kidpower Book for Caring Adults: Personal Safety, Self-Protection, Confidence, and Advocacy for Young People, and the Amazon Best Seller Doing Right by Our Kids: Protecting Child Safety at All Levels.