The intense international media coverage of the search for a 4-year-old British girl is focusing attention once again on the need for parents to educate their children about safety.
Gerry and Kate McCann left Portugal this week for the first time since their daughter, Madeleine, was snatched from a resort hotel room while the couple dined at a nearby restaurant on June 4. Madeleine’s twin 2-year-old siblings, a boy and a girl, were left to sleep in the same room and were not disturbed.
The couple met with Pope Benedict XVI during his weekly audience, where the pontiff prayed for Madeleine's safe return.
“They are very intelligent people ... They used their best judgment. It just turned out it wasn't the best judgment,” children's advocate Mark Klaas said during an appearance Wednesday on TODAY.
Klaas, whose 12-year-old daughter Polly was kidnapped and murdered by a sexual predator in 1993, said it is important for people traveling with small children to discuss travel safety and the importance of vigilance.
Another guest, TODAY contributor Dr. Gail Saltz, said children need to be told in the least-threatening way possible that they need to be cautious of strangers, and what to do if an adult makes them feel uncomfortable.
“How do you talk to your child without scaring them?” TODAY host Meredith Vieira asked Saltz.
“It's important. You could traumatize your child. You don't want to do that,” the psychologist said. “You have to do that in an age-appropriate manner ... There are ways to tell little kids that someone you don't know, that is not family, could be dangerous. There are places that people should never touch you. You don't go off with someone who is not family. If they are a small child, you can say that without scaring them.”
The biggest mistake that parents make when it comes to educating children about safety is failing to teach them how to make a ruckus, Saltz added.
“Make a lot of noise. Make a commotion,” she said. “Kids are busy being polite. They don't make a commotion, they don't say no, and they don't trust their gut.”
It's not known if Madeleine made a commotion, but her parents certainly are. In addition to their papal visit, the couple is traveling Europe to generate media interest in the plight of their daughter. So far, rewards for information total nearly $5 million.
“Are you surprised to see a case involving a missing child get this much attention?” Vieira asked Mark Klaas, founder of Klaas Kids Foundation.
“I'm surprised a case involving anybody is getting this much attention. She has to be the most covered missing person since Amelia Earhart,” Klaas said. “Independently, the international coverage, the reward, the visit with the Pope would take this thing over the top. But putting them together just makes it an absolutely extraordinary case.”