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How to talk to your kids about kidnapping

The Cleveland abductions leave many parents wondering how to talk to their kids about predators.

By Charyn Pfeuffer - MSN Living Editor May 8, 2013 5:00PM

Each year, an estimated 800,000 children under 18 are reported missing in the United States. That means roughly 2,191 times per day, parents or primary caregivers thought the disappearance was serious enough to contact law enforcement. That’s a lot of panicked phone calls.

Instead of thinking a kidnapping could never happen to your family, start a conversation with your children about how to stay safe if they are faced with a predator.

“Not Cleveland specific, but most valuable for me as a parent to teach my kids, which also pertains to creeps and wackos; to cultivate the wisdom and courage to be sensitive to trust their gut instincts and act on them even if it may sometimes make you feel mean or stupid,” says Terry Wood-Abeyta, mom of two, in California. “Your gut is usually right.”

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Here are some talking points to help you get started:

Teach kids to spot predators

Teach children to spot potentially dangerous actions and people. A child predator is not always obvious and can be someone a child knows, even someone quite charming.

According to the Justice Department's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 49 percent of juvenile kidnappings are perpetrated by a relative or family member, compared with 24 percent by a stranger.

Here are some common traits of sexual predators.

Create a family safety plan

Create an age-appropriate safety plan with your kids. It doesn’t need to be complicated. A few basic strategies like using a buddy system or knowing their home phone number and how to call 911 can help protect kids from a dangerous situation.

The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children offers free safety resources for families and communities to help talk to children about safety and abduction prevention.

Teach kids to protect themselves

Experts say that in a kidnapping situation, fighting back is important. For kidnappings that result in death, the first three hours are the most critical when trying to locate a missing child. A 2006 study indicated that 76.2 percent of abducted children are killed within this short time frame.

Marylene Cloitre of the New York University Child Study Center, told ABC’s “Good Morning America” that kids in an abduction situation should kick, scream and shout, “Who are you? I don't know who you are! You're hurting me! Stop it!”  They should try to call attention to the state they're in.

There are some smart things kids can do to fight back, including jamming something into the car’s ignition or, if they’re in the trunk, kicking out the taillights.

Make it easy for kids to be identified

Have your child fingerprinted at your local police station. Not only is it free, it can help law enforcement officials respond more quickly if your child is abducted.

Another clever and easy idea is to keep a current photo of your kid on your cell phone.

"I have a current picture of them on my cell phone. So no matter where I was, if I couldn't find them in one second, I could identify them and say this is my child," Stephanie Kaste, mother of three, told  “Good Morning America.”

Tell us: How do you talk to your kids about safety?

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Photo: How to talk to children about kidnapping / Peter Cade/Getty Images

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