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Teach Your Child What to Do If Lost

Family Safety Expert Advice from Gavin de Becker

Q: Last week I was in the mall with my two children. Suddenly, I looked up from the rack and couldn't find my five-year-old. I heard a scream in the hallway of the mall and realized it was my daughter running down the hall! I held on to my baby and ran after her. Luckily a grandmother had stopped her and was talking to her. My daughter had been totally frightened when she couldn't find me in the store and her instinct was to scream and run. I'd like to teach her a better way of responding when she is lost. What should I do?

A: I don't believe in teaching inflexible rules because it's not possible to know if they'll work in all situations. There is one rule, however, that enhances safety in most situations:

Teach your child to go to a woman if she is lost.

Why? First, if your child selects a woman, it's highly unlikely that the woman will be a sexual predator. Next, a woman approached by a lost child asking for help is likely to stop whatever she is doing, get down to the kid's eye level, commit to that child, and not rest until the child is safe. A man approached by the same child might say, ''Head over there to the manager's desk,'' whereas a woman is most likely to get involved and stay involved.

Is what I've said politically incorrect? Maybe so, but the luxury of not running for office is that I don't care if it's politically incorrect. The fact is that men in all cultures and at all ages and at all times in history are more violent than women - and facts are not political.

''If you are ever lost, go to a woman'' works because it's practical (there will almost always be a woman around) and simple (easy to teach, easy to learn, easy to do). Finally, teaching children to choose someone rather than wait for someone to choose them will be a useful lesson their whole lives. It's the same advice I give to adult women.

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Gavin de Becker is widely regarded as the leading U.S. expert on the prediction and management of violence. His work has earned him three Presidential appointments and a position on a congressional committee. He is currently co-chair of the Domestic Violence Council Advisory Board, and a Senior Fellow at the UCLA School of Public Policy.

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