In a recent conversation with a grandmother she related a time from many years ago when her now grown daughter was small – a gentler and quieter time in small town America.

Her daughter was 5 years old and had gone to a friend’s house to play. The friend, her mom and my friend’s daughter went to the park. Can you see the picture? Moms sitting on the benches while their children play on the see-saw and slide. Everyone is having a good time when a man approached my friends daughter and said: “Your mom’s been in an accident and she has sent me to come pick you up; come on and hop in the car and I’ll take you to her.”

Imagine his surprise when this little girl said: “What’s the secret word?”

As the story was told to me since the man didn’t know the word,  he just started making excuses all the while trying to get close enough to snatch the child. But my friend’s daughter turned and ran, shouting for the mom she came to the park with and the man disappeared in an instant. The moms quickly gathered the children and attempted to find out what happened. As this little 5 year old unfolded the story, the mom’s all buzzed among themselves about the “secret word”; what in the world was she talking about.

Then, with the confidence of a statesman the child said to the adults: “You know, the ‘secret word’; it’s the word between you and your child; the ‘secret word’ no one else knows except your mom. That’s how I knew he was a stranger; he didn’t know the secret word. Don’t you have one?”

What a wake-up call for those parents that moment must have been.

Predators come in all shapes and sizes and unless parents are on their toes teaching their children how to recognize them, they will become victims. Yes to some degree it does take a village to raise a child. Parents, grandparents, friends, child care providers, PTA and teachers all must band together to save our children. Take every opportunity to instruct children in the best ways to stay safe. Having a “secret word” is an excellent way to help protect your child.

If you don’t know where to begin or how to broach the subject with your young children there are several websites out there. National Alert Registry is a very good resource for child safety and for checking to see where registered sex offenders live in your area. The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children is another good resource: their website runs the gambit with everything from prevention tips to Cyber Tipline, Amber Alert and photographs of missing children. Every caregiver should familiarize themselves with these resources and develop a plan to keep the children in your life safe.

So what was the secret word? Unicorn.