Summer is a busy time of year for families to catch up and spend some quality time together.
Whether you have a long vacation planned or are just taking a few days here and there to do some fun things with the kids, you’ll likely find yourself in a crowded place with a lot going on.
Kids and parents can easily get distracted when out and about, and even if for just a moment, the results can be tragic if we’re not prepared.
Every parent’s worst nightmare is losing their child in a crowded and bustling place. Did they simply wander off and are close by – or the worst imaginable scenario – have they been taken away by a stranger?
The amusement park, the beach, crowded shopping areas and outdoor festivals. These popular summer destinations are almost always full of wall-to-wall people and it only takes a second to lose sight of our child.
While it’s easy to panic and lose focus when this happens, having a plan of action where both parent and child know exactly what to do is key to the positive outcome of having our child come back safely to us.
There are a few tried-and-true techniques we can use to keep our kids safe – some are simple and have worked for generations, others use technology to our benefit – and it is vital to sit down as a family and go over every possible scenario.
Law enforcement and parents who have been through this frightening situation have plenty of suggestions, but the same basic principles apply to all of them – practice, memorize, plan – for you and your children.
Today reported on one law enforcement officer’s tips for any time you are going to a busy public place with your child:
- Write your phone number on your child’s wrist and cover it with liquid band-aid in case you are separated. The liquid band aid will prevent the ink from rubbing off on the child’s wrists.
- Take a photo of your child using your cell phone the morning of the event so you have their clothing, hair style, and an up to date photo ready to go should you need it.
These techniques are especially helpful for parents with small children. They may not yet understand the danger of wandering off, may not know their full name or address, and may not be able to describe where they last saw their parents.
Child development expert Deborah Gilboa also shared some safety tips for parents with Today. She suggests that you can also write your cell phone number on the paper bracelets that many amusement parks and attractions require for entrance.
Talk to your children every time you go out in public about what they should do if they get lost. On each outing, show them who works at the location, what their uniforms look like, and where the customer service desk or staff kiosks are.
Children over four should be able to remember this information when reminded on each trip, and Dr. Gilboa also recommends going over your phone number with your child over and over again. An older preschooler is able to memorize this type of information if they hear it repeatedly.
If going to a sporting event or concert, stick your phone number and your child’s ticket stub in a buttoned pocket or even inside their shoe or the seam of their hat. Remind them that if they get lost to take it to a uniformed staff member or police officer at the venue.
All experts agree that safety rules should be discussed as early as possible. Even very young toddlers can learn simple tips to practice if they lose sight of mom or dad.
Teach your child your real names or those of a grandparent or other family member when going out. Simply shouting “Mommy” or “Grandpa” in a crowded location with hundreds of other parents and grandparents around will not garner any attention.
Children should be encouraged to find help right away by seeking out another mother with kids present. This enables them to stay as close to your last location as possible and find someone who is generally considered safe to approach.
The older kids may not like it, but it is always a good idea to wear bright (we mean neon bright!) t-shirts or hats, having everyone in the family wear the same color when going to a crowded destination so they can be easily identified when visually sweeping a large group of people.
Remember, experts say you should never have your child wear clothing or backpacks personalized with their names. This allows predators to earn your child’s trust by calling them by name.
It is also a good idea to teach the youngest of children a code word. It should be something unique and easy to remember – and teach them if they are ever approached by a stranger to demand the code word, as well as never wandering away with someone they don’t know.
One woman posted online the story of her worst nightmare when a stranger abducted her nephew in a crowded area. Her advice to parents? Never be embarrassed at making a scene. It could save your child’s life.
She says to loudly yell into the crowd that you have a lost child and describe what they are wearing.
Café Mom reported:
In retrospect, she is urging every parent to do this immediately, if they find themselves in the same position. “Even if you suspect they are just round the corner,” she noted. “What’s the worst that could happen, you are slightly embarrassed because they hadn’t gone anywhere? It’s well worth that risk.”
The bottom-line: “I truly hope none of you are ever in this situation but if you are then just shout, loud and clear, who you are looking for and what they look like. Don’t be afraid to ask people to help you in other directions too.”
While technology may often take over our family time or bring dangers of its own, this is one time that tech breakthroughs are a parent’s best friend.
While many parents are concerned about providing their grade-schoolers with cell phones, it may be worthwhile to invest in a spare smartphone (many cell providers offer family plans with a free or deeply-discounted extra phone). There are several apps available that track your child’s whereabouts by their cell signal. Let them know this cell phone is only for safety purposes when out in public and take it back from them when you arrive home.
Some retailers also offer gadgets similar to pagers that allow you to “ping” your child’s whereabouts, or that start to beep when your child is not within a few feet of you.
Many companies offer identification kits for children like bracelets or ID tags that can be worn when out in public, and most fire departments and police stations offer free photos and fingerprinting for you to keep on hand.
And even though many parents say, “I’m not putting my kid on a leash,” there are many options now for physically connecting yourself to your child. From stuffed animal backpacks that attach by a cord to mom and dad’s wrist to wrist wraps that allow your toddler to only go a foot or two away from you, it is always better to err on the side of caution with a very small child or an active and curious preschooler.
The bottom line? Plan, practice, and prevent. Talk to your children as early as possible about the safety rules when out in public. Teach them “stranger danger” and what to do if they are lost. Be honest with school-aged children about what can happen to them if they leave your side.
Always discuss your family plan before you arrive at your destination, select a meeting spot for both kids and adults if you get separated, and don’t forget those gaudy, bright-colored t-shirts.
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” they say, and keeping our kids safe out there this summer is worth taking the time to plan and prepare for any situation.
(h/t Mommy Underground)