Preventing Child Abduction

Thousands of children are reported missing each day. Some children are lost, and some run away. Others are kidnapped by a family member. Still others disappear without leaving any clues behind. There are things you can do to help your child stay safe.

General Tips

To reduce the risk of your child being abducted:

  • Do not leave your young child alone (even for a minute) in a stroller, a car, or any public place, such as a restroom.
  • Set neighborhood boundaries in which your children should play.
  • Notice if an older child or adult is giving your child too much attention. Find out why.
  • Be alert to any changes in your child’s mood, behavior, or attitude.
  • Make sure that the school does not release your child to anyone but you—or someone you plan to have pick your child up.
  • Do not buy items such as hats, shirts, or jackets with your child’s name on them. Abductors often use this information to call children by their names and gain their trust.
  • Make sure your child knows people they can go to—if they need help when you are not around.
  • Monitor your child’s activity on the Internet, especially on social media sites. Advise them not to communicate with strangers. Never have your child send specific information (address, phone number) to anyone.
  • Make sure you have :
    • An up-to-date color photo of your child. Take a new photo every six months for children aged 6 years or younger. Take a new photo once a year for older children.
    • A medical and dental history
    • A fingerprint card

Talk to Your Children

Many parents find it hard to talk to their children about personal safety. They worry that they will scare their children or cause them to be distrustful. Help your child feel more secure and confident about personal safety. Here are some tips:

Be Sensitive to Your Child’s Fears

Ask your child about their fears. Tell them that you want to help. Never criticize your child for their fears or concerns. Let your child know they can discuss any problem or concern with you—without fear of judgment.

Explain the Possible Danger

Parents often give their children safety rules but do not explain why. Always explain the possible danger in situations. For example, many parents tell their children not to talk to strangers. This is vague and does not teach children how to protect themselves. It also does not consider situations where children might need to ask a stranger for help. Many times, a kidnapper is a relative or someone else that a child knows—not a stranger. So always be specific when talking to your child about danger.

Teach Your Child How to Handle Possible Danger

Give examples of situations that could be dangerous. Teach your child what to do. Role-playing may be helpful, too.

Possible Dangerous Situation What Your Child Should Do
Your child is home alone. Someone on the phone asks if the child is alone—or asks for personal information. The child should never say they are home alone. They also should not give any personal information. Your child should say that you are busy, but will call back. The child should ask to take a message.
Your child is home alone and someone rings the doorbell. The child should not answer the door.
Someone your child does not know very well asks to come into your house. The child should ask you or babysitter if it is okay first.
Someone your child does not know very well invites your child over to his house. The child should ask you if it is okay first.
Your child gets lost in a store or mall. The child should go to the nearest cashier and ask for help.
A car pulls up beside your child and your child does not know the driver. The child should move away from the car.
Someone tries to force your child toward a building or car. The child should yell, “Help! This is not my parent!” Scatter books and belongings.
A stranger says he needs help and asks your child to come with him. The child should not go. The child should go to parent or trusted adult.
Someone your child does not know well says he wants to show your child something. The child should not go with him. The child should tell a trusted adult what just happened.
Someone your child does not know well asks your child to get into his car. The child should not go with him. The child should tell a trusted adult what just happened.
A teenager or adult asks your child to keep a secret from you. The child should be instructed to tell you.
A teenager or adult exposes private parts of his body in front of your child. The child should leave the situation right away. The child should tell you, a teacher, or a police officer.
Someone tries to touch any part of your child’s body in the bathing suit area. The child should say NO to anyone who touches him. The child should leave the situation and tell you right away.
Your child wants to play in an empty house or building, or an area where there are few other people around. The child should stay away from deserted houses and buildings. The child should not play in areas where there are few other people around.
Someone your child does not know well offers your child candy, gifts, drugs, or money. The child should refuse any offering from someone that they do not know well.
Someone befriends you to get close to your child. Stay alert. The child should not be left alone with this person.

Tips for Older Children and Teens

Here are some tips for keeping your older children and teens safe:

  • Have them tell you where they will be at all times.
  • Talk to them about the dangers of taking rides from strangers.
  • Warn them that they should give attackers money, jewelry, or clothing—not resist the attacker's demands.
  • Advise them to yell for help, run to the closest public place, or run home—if someone is following them.
  • Teach them how to:
    • Be alert for unusual behavior.
    • Describe the details about a person or vehicle.
    • Remember license plate numbers.
  • Tell them not to play in or walk through deserted areas. This includes alleys, fields, empty parks, and empty buildings.
  • Reassure them that they can talk to you about anything.
  • Let them know that you are available if they need a ride.
RESOURCES:

National Center for Missing and Exploited Children
http://www.missingkids.com

Safe Kids Worldwide
http://www.safekids.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canada's Missing
http://www.canadasmissing.ca

Missing Children Society of Canada
http://mcsc.ca

REFERENCES:

Child abuse—sexual. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/child-abuse-sexual. Accessed November 3, 2021.

Help prevent your child from going missing: safety tips from the AAP. Health Children.Org—American Academy of Pediatrics website. Available at: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/safety-prevention/all-around/Pages/Preventing-Child-Abductions.aspx. Accessed November 3, 2021.

Key facts. National Center for Missing & Exploited Children website. Available at: https://www.missingkids.org/ourwork/impact. Accessed November 3, 2021.

Preventing abductions. Kids Health—Nemours website. Available at: https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/abductions.html. Accessed November 3, 2021.

Victims and family support. National Center for Missing and Exploited Children website. Available at: https://www.missingkids.org/gethelpnow/support. Accessed November 3, 2021.

Last reviewed November 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board   Last Updated: 11/3/2021