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Parenting Expert: Teach Your Children About Attacks From Strangers

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- A brutal attack on a woman in her own home in Millburn, N.J., was especially disturbing in that her 3-year-old daughter was forced to witness it all – with cartoons still playing in the background.

As CBS 2's Tracee Carrasco reported Wednesday, it all raises the question of what parents should say to their children when a stranger becomes dangerous. A parenting expert weighed in with some answers.

This past Friday all started out as a normal day at that Millburn home. A father said goodbye to his family as he left for work in the morning.

Hours later, the intruder stormed in and launched the terrifying attack, which was caught live on a nanny cam.

"I don't know what I would do," one woman said. "I honestly don't."

No parent ever wants to imagine such a violent attack taking place in their home. But parenting expert and therapist Tammy Gold said it is important to talk to your children about strangers –- even in your very own home.

"You don't want to scare your children and say, 'Oh, by the way someone could break into our house and hurt us,' but you could say, 'Rarely, sometimes things happen,'" Gold said.

Gold said while there is nothing parents can do to prevent such a vicious attack or violent crime completely, the best self-defense for parents is a plan of safety.

After the attack, the mother could be seen consoling her daughter and retrieving her other child from upstairs. And although the little girl is just 3 and may have been too young to help her mother, Gold said it is a good idea to teach children a code phrase to alert them that something is not right.

"So if I say, 'Go get your bunny, and you know there's no bunny, we know that means go dial 911," Gold said.

Gold also advised teaching children to call 911 as soon as they are capable.

And while telling your children to run and get help is a good idea, Gold said in this instance, both the mother and the little girl did the right thing.

"I'm sure she was worried that 'If I freaked out, and then my child freaked out, what would happen if the attacker turned on the child?'" Gold said.

And while parents do not want to think of worst-case scenarios, Gold said, "I think not informing our children puts them at a disadvantage."

As of Wednesday, the assailant in the Millburn attack remained on the loose. The reward for information leading to his arrest was increased to $20,000 Wednesday.

Millburn police Capt. Michael Palardy called the attack "one of the most brutal things I've seen in 25 years."

The suspect fled with jewelry, including the woman's wedding ring. The woman's daughter and her 1-year-old son upstairs were not hurt, police said.

Investigators describe the suspect as a black man, about 5-foot-11 and weighing around 210 pounds. They also said he might have a light salt-and-pepper beard.

Anyone with any information about the crime is asked to contact Lt. Keith Laverty of the Millburn Police Department at (973) 564-7001 or (973) 565-7016.

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