"Mommy, What's a Predator?" Talking to your kids about Abduction

Dr. Amy says stay sexually positive and healthy
by Dr. Amy Demner, LMHC
Licensed psychotherapist and sexologist

It’s too horrible to be true. Beautiful and innocent little Samantha Runnion was snatched from the safety of her yard, molested and murdered. Once again, our complacency was shattered. It can happen to anyone of us.

So, what can we do to keep children safe in a world that can be so unpredictable? Parents, especially those with young children feel helpless, and the stories about atrocities against children keep mounting. These horrific situations are difficult to explain to ourselves, how do we possible explain them to our children?

Use simple words

First and foremost, parents must discuss these events with their children, even very young children, as these are real life lessons. In speaking with your children, however, graphic details are not necessary.

The message needs to be clear. Anyone who the child does not know -- even a familiar adult who does not have prior arrangements for taking the child -- is not allowed to remove the child.

Even if you child does not ask questions, he or she may still have sensed your fear or heard something about these incidents in the news. If children hear the words "abduction" or "molestation" they will be curious about their meanings. As young as five or six, children will form their own answers and pictures if you don’t explain events to them.

When you do talk to your children, use language that is age appropriate and simple. Let them know that strangers and others can hurt, misuse, and even end their lives. Give them clear instructions, and rehearse with your child what to do or say if someone approaches them.

Not all adults are bad

Along with these words of warning, let your child know that most adults are concerned for the well fare of children. Give them confidence about the adults who love and look after them. Explain that the police were diligent in finding Samantha’s murderer and the public called in thousands of tips that lead to his arrest. Let them know that many adults and children mourned for her death and supported the distraught family. Remind them that communities ban together when bad things happen.

Assure your children that you are not trying to scare them, but, instead, are trying to make them safe so they may live long and healthy lives. Provide them with outlets to express their fears or concerns.

Art is a powerful outlet and window

Art, for example, is a wonderful medium. It serves as a natural outlet for children to express feelings. Look for any marked changes in their artwork, such as the use of heavy pressure. This behavior can indicate anxiety. Darkness or monsters may represent inner turmoil.

Parents need to be aware

Parents also should be aware of warning signs that a child is having difficulty dealing with these hard facts of life. Clinging behavior; nightmares; regressive behaviors, such as bedwetting or baby talk; withdrawal; and anger are a few signs of coping difficulties. In addition, be aware of your own coping skills. Your child will sense, and often mimic, your responses.

If you or your child are having extraordinary difficulty dealing with these current events, you may want to consider counseling with a professional trained in dealing with families. As little as a couple of sessions can be beneficial and head off more long-term problems.

© 2011 All rights reserved. Dr. Amy Demner, Ph.D., P.A. reserves the right to determine which submissions may be published. All submissions will become the exclusive property of Dr. Amy Demner, Ph.D., P.A. No part of these submissions may be copied or reproduced in any way shape or form by any mechanical, photographic, or electronic process, nor may it be stored in a retrieval system, transmitted, or otherwise copied for public or private use without the written permission of Dr. Amy Demner, Ph.D., P.A.
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