Experts say children should learn their full name, address (including street, town and state) and their parents' names and phone numbers. The information can help families in an emergency.
The story was chilling: An intruder fatally shot an Ohio woman in her home and fled with her 4-year-old son, abandoning him at a highway rest stop where he was found wandering.
But aided by good Samaritans earlier this month, the boy was able to tell what happened and provide his address and parents’ names. That led to the discovery of his slain mother and his return to his father.
His mother was credited with making sure he knew his facts. Experts say it should be a lesson for all parents.
“Every parent should aspire to make sure their 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds can do the same thing,” said Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.
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“The Ohio story demonstrates far better than words the potential and capabilities of these little people, who are aware and who can respond in times of crisis,” Allen said. “They just have to be taught what to do.”
What to teach
Parents should help kids learn their full name, address (including street, town and state) and their parents’ names and phone numbers, Allen said.
When to teach
Children develop differently, so the age when they’ll be able to memorize the basics varies, but learning can start during the preschool years, experts say.
“Some time around 4 or 5, maybe 6, they’re going to get it,” said Fred Rothbaum, a child development professor at Tufts.
For Heather Corradi, 4 ½ was the right age for her daughter. Corradi began practicing with her daughter during car rides, and they talked about their street and town, and where friends and relatives live, too. “It took her about two weeks to remember and not really get it wrong,” said Corradi, of Glen Ridge, N.J.
How to teach
Experts suggest parents matter-of-factly tell children it’s important for them to understand their basic information, and help build their confidence. Kids don’t need to be told about dangerous scenarios in which the information may help, just that they should know it. They learn gradually through repetition, role playing and even games.
“You can make a riddle out of it. Whatever your child finds funny,” said Rothbaum. “We all learn and respond well to fun.”
Once they learn the facts, parents can check every so often to make sure they remember.
Repeating their phone number to a tune helped Shoshanna Malett’s daughter, now 5, learn it a few years ago.
“We would sing it with her almost every night,” says Malett, of the Queens borough of New York City. “She happens to be very musical, so she picked it up almost immediately.”