How to Label Your Kids' Items Without Compromising Their Safety

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Labeling your child's belongings helps daycare providersteachers, coaches, camp counselors, and other caregivers locate your child's backpack, water bottle, shoes, and all the other items they carry day-to-day. However, some parents worry that labeling clothes, lunchboxes, or other items could make a child a target of a predator or potential abductor.

Adults who prey on children use tricks to gain a child’s trust. One of these is calling a child by their name. It is often difficult for kids to separate strangers from acquaintances—and good guys from bad guys. When someone uses their name, kids may believe the person must be someone they know or their parent knows. This makes the child think it is OK to talk to this adult.

When labeling your child's belongings, it's important to balance making their items easily identifiable and protecting their privacy. Here is what you need to know about labeling items and keeping your child safe.

Safety Tips for Labeling Children's Items

Although the risks of kids being abducted by a stranger are small, it is still wise to make sure your child's belongings can be identified without compromising their safety. Adults who have ulterior motives might use easily identifiable names, nicknames, or other information to approach your child.

Label Items Discreetly

Avoid labeling jackets, backpacks, or other items on the outside, with the child's name or nickname prominently visible—especially because a child may not always be under the constant watch of an adult.

"Parents should consider their child’s privacy when they are labeling belongings," says Susan Kennedy, senior program manager for outreach and prevention, National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC). "Especially for young children, it is possible someone might read their name or their nickname on a coat or a backpack and use that information to make it seem like they know the child by addressing them by [their] name. This might make the child think that it is OK to go with someone they shouldn’t including into a vehicle."

When your child is old enough to walk home from school, or even just from the bus stop, without a grown-up, you do not want their name visible. Instead, label your child's belongings discreetly, placing their names on the inside.

"Think about labeling your child’s belongings in a way that would be easy for someone to see if they were trying to identify the owner of a lost item, but not so that it his or her name is easily visible to everyone your child interacts with," suggests Kennedy. "So inside clothing for example. Consider initials instead of names if you are going to personalize backpacks and lunchboxes."

Label Areas That Cannot Be Removed

On especially coveted items, put the label in an area that cannot be easily removed or cut out, like the inside brand labels, if possible. Writing a child's name in permanent ink on the inside of a collar, for example, can be a perfect location. First, however, make sure the ink will not show on the outside, ruining the look of the garment.

Label Creatively

Some parents create unique ways of identifying their child's possessions. For instance, you might choose a color for each of your children, then relay that information to preschool teachers, educators, and family and friends alike. You can use iron-on labels or permanent markers in your color-match system to label toys and other items.

Another option is to use a laundry marker pen or a Sharpie marker to write names onto the clothes. There are also companies that create personalized labels, either as stickers or iron-ons.

You can even use a unique symbol, like a star, heart, or two dots inside a circle. With these symbols, you can identify what belongs to your child without displaying any personal information.

Be Aware of the Risks

Keeping your kids safe is about more than just knowing how to safely label their clothing. It also means being aware of the risks kids face and knowing how to prepare for them.

"It is important to acknowledge first that, though it is frightening to think about, it is very rare for children to be abducted by strangers," says Kennedy. "In 2021, 27,733 missing children were reported to NCMEC and only 142 of these were reports of children who were abducted by someone who was not a family member. These types of cases represent less than 1% of cases reported to NCMEC." 

This means that your child's greatest risks come from those they know or are acquainted with the family in some way. So make sure your child knows how to stay safe and follow the family's rules even when interacting with people they recognize.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, an estimated 58,200 children are victims of non-family abductions each year. In these cases, the people are acquaintances or friends of the family, but not related.

Make sure your child knows not to get in a car with any adult—even those they know—without your permission. The NCMEC reports that 67% of attempted abductions involved the suspect driving a vehicle.

Aside from making this fact clear, you can also use a safe word to help prevent abductions by familiar people. The safe word should be one that a child can remember, but doesn't use regularly. Share this word with anyone who is authorized to pick your child up or take them anywhere.

Risk Factors for Abduction

Be aware of these risky scenarios and situations, as described by the NCMEC.

  • Children going to or from school or school-related activities are at greatest risk for an attempted abduction. 
  • The greatest risk for abduction of school-age children is on school days is before and after school: between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m., 3 p.m. and 4 p.m., and 6 p.m. to 7 p.m.
  • Most attempted abductions occur on the street while kids are playing, walking, or riding bikes.
  • School-age children are more likely to be walking alone or with peers, which puts them at greater risk than younger children (who are more likely to be playing or walking with a parent or a caregiver).
  • Older children are more likely to experience attempted abductions that involve a sexual component.

How to Keep Kids Safe

When it comes to keeping kids safe from potential abductions, most parents default to the concept of "stranger danger." But experts like Kennedy indicate that this may not be the most effective approach—especially because kids have a hard time knowing which strangers are unsafe.

"Teaching children that strangers are dangerous is not a sufficient or effective approach to keeping your child safe," says Kennedy. "It is a confusing concept and it ignores the fact that most children are abducted—or otherwise harmed—by someone they know. Instead of focusing on certain types of people, we should focus on teaching them to identify unsafe situations and how they respond."

Plus, says Kennedy, kids are expected to trust strangers all the time. On any given day they might have a new bus driver or a substitute teacher. In the summer, they may have a new set of camp counselors every week.

"We also want them to be comfortable getting help from a stranger like a police officer or a store clerk when they are lost," says Kennedy. "Instead of focusing on teaching children about types of people, we should focus on rules, expectations, and appropriate behavior by adults and what to do if they are ever in an uncomfortable or even dangerous situation."

One way to do this is to make sure their kids know how to identify safe and unsafe behavior by adults. They also should make sure their kids know specifically how you plan to communicate with them should a change in plans occur.

"We encourage parents to set up safety plans with their children—including teenagers," says Kennedy. "When it comes to keeping your child safe, you are your child’s best resource."

How to Develop a Safety Plan

  • Point out places kids can go for help when walking a familiar route, such as to school.
  • Remind them to travel and stay with a group.
  • Warn them about accepting rides or changing plans without your permission.
  • Teach them the tricks would-be abductors use, such as offering money or asking for help.
  • Encourage them to tell a trusted adult whenever anything or anyone makes them uncomfortable.

According to the NCMEC, there were more than 600 attempted abductions in 2020. The most common lures were using an animal to interest the child, offering them a ride, giving them with candy or sweets, asking questions, and giving them money.

A Word From Verywell

When deciding how or whether to label your kids' items, consider how others can identify an item belongs to your child without putting your child at risk. Try to label your child's items in discreet areas and use their initials to protect their privacy.

But, more importantly, make sure you are communicating with your child about how to stay safe when they are walking to school, playing at the park, or spending time apart from you. Identify places they can go that are safe and make sure they know the tricks that abductors use to lure them into harms way. If you need help putting together a safety plan, a good resource is the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children website.

5 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Nemours Children's Health. Preventing abductions.

  2. Rodriguez CN, Jackson ML. A safe-word intervention for abduction prevention in children with autism spectrum disordersBehav Analysis Practice. 2020;13(4):872-882. doi:10.1007/s40617-020-00418-x

  3. National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. NCMEC data.

  4. National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Risk factors.

  5. National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. By the numbers.

Additional Reading

By Sherri Gordon
Sherri Gordon, CLC is a published author, certified professional life coach, and bullying prevention expert. 

Originally written by Robin McClure
Robin McClure is a public school administrator and author of 6 parenting books.
Learn about our editorial process