Preventing Child Abduction

According to the US Department of Justice, over 2,000 American children are reported missing each day. Some children are lost; some run away. Others are kidnapped by a family member. Still others disappear leaving few clues.

General Tips

Here are some things you can do to help reduce the chance 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.
  • Establish neighborhood boundaries in which your children should play.
  • Notice if an older child or adult is giving your child a great deal of attention and 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 designate to pick him or her up.
  • Do not buy items such as hats, shirts, or jackets with your child’s name on them. Abductors often use this information so they can 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 the following items:
    • An up-to-date color photograph of your child. Take a new one every six months for children six years or younger and once a year for older children.
    • A medical and dental history
    • A fingerprint card

Talk to Your Children

Many parents feel uneasy about talking to their children about personal safety. They worry that they will scare their children or cause them to be distrustful. If you use effective communication, you can help your children feel more secure and confident about personal safety. This involves:

  • Being sensitive to your child's fears
  • Explaining the potential danger in certain situations
  • Helping your child understand how to protect him or herself in potentially dangerous situations

Be Sensitive to Your Child’s Fears

Let your child know that you are interested in their fears and that you want to help. Never criticize your child for their fears or concerns. Make sure that your child knows that they can come to you to discuss any problem or concern, without fear of judgment or criticism.

Explain the Potential Danger

Parents often give their children rules about safety, without explaining the potential danger in situations. For example, many parents tell their children not to talk to strangers. This is too vague and does not necessarily teach children how to protect themselves. It also does not take into account situations where children might need to ask a stranger for assistance, such as when they are lost or need help. And in many cases of abduction, the perpetrator 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 Potentially Dangerous Situations

Rather than focusing solely on strangers, you and your child need to discuss specific situations that have the potential to be dangerous. You should give examples of these situations and teach your child what to do. Role-playing may be helpful, too.

Potentially 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. Child should never say they are home alone or give any personal information. Your child should say that you are busy, but will call back. Child should ask to take a message.
Your child is home alone and someone rings the doorbell. Child should not answer the door.
Someone your child does not know very well asks to come into your house. Child should ask you or babysitter for permission first.
Someone your child does not know very well invites your child over to his house. Child should ask you for permission first.
Your child gets lost in a store or mall. 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. Child should move away from the car.
Someone tries to force your child toward a building or car. 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. Child should not go. Child should go to parent or trusted adult.
Someone your child does not know well says he wants to show your child something. Child should not go with him. Child should tell a trusted adult what just happened.
Someone your child does not know well asks your child to get into his car. Child should not go with him. Child should tell a trusted adult what just happened.
A teenager or adult asks your child to keep a secret from you. Child should be instructed to tell you.
A teenager or adult exposes private parts of his body in front of your child. Child should leave the situation right away and tell you, a teacher, or a police officer.
Someone deliberately tries to touch any part of your child’s body in the bathing suit area. Child should know that they have the right to say NO to anyone who touches him. Child should leave the situation and tell you right away.
Your child wants to play in a deserted house or building, or an isolated area where there are few other people around. Child should stay away from deserted houses and buildings. Child should not play in isolated areas.
Someone your child does not know well offers your child candy, gifts, drugs, or money. Child should refuse any offering from someone that they do not know well.
Someone befriends you to get close to your child. Stay alert. 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 hitchhiking.
  • Warn them that they should not resist the demands of attackers for money, jewelry, or clothing.
  • Advise them to yell for help, run to the closest public place, or run home if they are being followed.
  • Teach them how to:
    • Recognize unusual behavior.
    • Describe the details about a person or vehicle.
    • Remember license plate numbers.
  • Caution them about playing in or walking through deserted areas such as alleys, fields, empty parks, and abandoned buildings.
  • Reassure them that they can talk to you about anything.
  • Let them know that you are available if they need a ride.


National Center for Missing and Exploited Children
Safe Kids Worldwide


Missing Children Society of Canada


Child safety and prevention. National Center for Missing & Exploited Children website. Available at:
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Accessed April 29, 2016.
Key facts. National Center for Missing & Exploited Children website. Available at:
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Accessed April 29, 2016.
Resources for families. National Center for Missing and Exploited Children website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Accessed April 29, 2016.
Last reviewed April 2016 by Michael Woods, MD
Last Updated: 4/29/2016

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