Children aren’t kidnapped as often as splashy news stories suggest, but still, it’s better to be safe than sorry. There are so many reasons that a child can disappear. Kidnapping by a stranger is one; kidnapping by a parent during divorce and custody battles is another. A child can also simply get lost. They can collapse with previously undiagnosed epileptic seizures, diabetic events, injury, sudden-onset illness, and a host of other reasons. Take strong steps to protect your child and to teach your child to protect himself or herself. Start with these:
1. As soon as they can reason, teach your child to seek out women with children if they get lost. People in uniforms can be scary for a child. Also, women with kids are easier to find because there are more of them.
2. If you and your child are traveling or going to a busy place where you might get separated, such as an amusement park or a big mall, write your cell phone number on your child’s belly with a Sharpie. If the child is lost, there is a way to contact you if they find someone to help them.
3. Photograph your child every single day with your cellphone, right before they go outside (and right after they get a haircut, if that’s where you’re going that day). That way, if the child goes missing for any reason, you’ll be able to show the police and news services a very recent photograph that shows exactly what your child was wearing before they disappeared.
4. Don’t teach your child to trust people in masks. Yes, Disneyland is safe — but not everyone in the mask of a cartoon character is as safe as the ones at Disneyland. When children are too young or too naive to tell the difference, they are especially vulnerable. A mask means that later, if found, your child won’t be able to identify the face of a kidnapper.
5. There are child fingerprinting kits available on the market. They’re expensive, but worthwhile. However, if you truly don’t have the money for this, you can take your own child’s fingerprints. Get a small ink pad, an unlined index card, and some Scotch tape. Have your child put a thumb on the ink pad, then make two thumbprints on the index card, one above the other. That way you have a strong, inky print as well as a lighter print in case the first one had too much ink. Do the same with all four fingers. Turn the card over and repeat with the other hand. Label the card with the child’s name and the date, then put the card into your family files. It wouldn’t hurt to do the same for every family member — both to be able to assist police if anyone else disappears or is the victim of a crime, and to reassure the child that it’s just a normal thing that everyone does.
6. Make sure that the moment your child can hold a pencil or crayon, he or she is taught how to write his or her name and telephone number. Make them do it at least once every day until it’s as natural to them as breathing or pulling up their pants after using the bathroom. Give them either a purse or a neck-pouch which holds at least one writing implement. If they ever find themselves lost, tell them to write their name down in as many places as they can.
7. Teach them the story of Hansel and Gretel, and then explain that bread crumbs aren’t the only ways for them to tell their parents how to follow them. If they are ever kidnapped, tell them to remove their hair ribbons, individual hairs from their heads, spit in corners while they’re not being watched — anything to get their DNA in as many places as possible. Teach them to touch windows or mirrors, faucets, any smooth or shiny surface, to get their fingerprints everywhere. If they’re found (please, G*D, unharmed!), their traces will later be able to connect them to various locations and prove that they were there. This will help people find them, and later, be evidence that can be used against kidnappers.
8. Arrange for a secret password between you and your child. If someone comes to pick up that child from school, make sure the child knows to get the password before getting in their car. That way the child will know that you really did send that person. Test it out beforehand with a very trusted family friend. Right after that child comes home safely from that test and from any real-life use of the password, CHANGE THE PASSWORD. Trusted family friends are often the ones that do cause children to disappear.
9. Another password: Teach your child a trigger-phrase to offer you in case they are told to call you and tell you they’re fine, when they’re really not. For example, if they hate tuna sandwiches, for instance, tell them to say something like, “I’m okay. We’re going to have a tuna fish sandwich and then go to the park.” Once you hear that, you’ll know that they’re not really as fine as they’re being made to imply.
10. Show your child how to log in on their own gmail account. They don’t have to say anything, just log in and send a blank email to you. If they are able to get to a computer, they’ll be able to demonstrate that they’re alive — and their location will show up as an IP address, as well, which may help police to locate them faster.
11. Get your child self-defense classes. Fighting back is second only to running away. Teach the child to scratch with their nails, to get a kidnapper’s DNA under their nails. Biting hard will also help them get a DNA sample between their teeth. Fingers poked into eyes are also very effective in terms of self-defense and DNA collecting. Fighting dirty isn’t nice, but it may save them. I hate to add this, but teach your child that if something goes into their mouths that they don’t want there, BITE HARD — they have teeth, therefore they are in charge!
12. Teach your child that if, G*D forbid, he or she is ever held captive for more than a day, they should pee everywhere they can, as well as spit in corners. Yes, it’s nasty, but their DNA will be all over the place. Mattresses are especially good places for that, because few people ever get rid of a mattress or even take it in for cleaning. That will connect them to the location where they were held, and it could be valuable evidence in court.
No one ever wants to think about these things, but thinking about it, planning for it, is one way to ensure that it’s all less likely to happen. Please help your kids be safe.
If you have suggestions, please add your comments below. If you think these steps are ridiculous or unnecessary because they’ll just make your child nervous, then I hope for both your sakes that your child is never one of the ones who disappear each year.