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Program on stranger danger is Thursday

Great Explorations will host a session designed to embolden kids - and parents who want to talk about sensitive realities.

Published February 11, 2004

ST. PETERSBURG - With the abduction and slaying of 11-year-old Carlie J. Brucia on everyone's minds, Great Explorations, the children's museum, will offer a free child safety and awareness program Thursday.

With the help of local experts, the museum at 1925 Fourth St. N has organized an evening of activities and tips for children and adults. The program will last from 6 to 8 p.m.

The facility's informal learning environment makes it ideal to tackle such a serious subject, executive director of the museum Murray Beairsto said.

"We don't want to scare people. We want to take this tough topic and make it child friendly," she said.

"As staff, we just kind of felt the anxiety and insecurity of some of our guests in regard to the tragedy in Sarasota. We wanted to act quickly. ... If one person walks away feeling safer or feeling more confident and more comfortable talking about it to their children, then we've accomplished our objective."

Patricia Shiflett, a clinical psychologist, will offer tips to adults about how to talk to children about incidents like the one in Sarasota, where Carlie was abducted and killed on her way home from a sleepover.

"I'm going to help them to know what kinds of explanations to give about tragic realities and urge them to use caution in exploring realities," said Shiflett, who has a doctorate in her field.

Though parents must be careful about what they say to children, they need to answer their questions and tailor them to the age of the child, she said.

The psychologist also will offer advice such as how to handle children's access to media coverage of tragedies, build resilience and get across messages of reassurance and security.

Thursday's two-hour program also will include activities with former St. Petersburg police officer Pati Gross, now a children's author and the inspiration behind a family of kangaroos that helps teach children about safety and self-esteem.

The evening also will feature Music with Mar. Maryann Harman, a teacher, musician and creator of the Music with Mar program, says child safety experts have discovered that those who prey on children target those that walk "without a strut," without confidence.

The Morning Strut, which teaches children to hold their heads high while walking, will be one of the songs children will learn Thursday.

"When we can instill in children confidence in themselves, pride in themselves, they're less likely to be preyed on," said Mrs. Harman, who has written songs and music to go with Mrs. Gross' books.

The songs, available in Pinellas County elementary schools, include one with the title of Stranger Danger. Children learn to yell those exact words if someone approaches them or touches them inappropriately.

"Music is such a powerful way to put these tools into our children's heads," said Mrs. Harman, herself a mother and a former St. Petersburg resident who now lives in Palm Harbor.

The Music with Mar portion, which will include both song and movement, will be led by St. Petersburg resident Lisa Brave.

The museum also has invited representatives from Safe Kids Coalition to Thursday's program and will offer Kinderprint, a Child Identification Kit.

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