I admit I am an over-paranoid mom. I have three young boys. My world would be crushed if they ever went missing. I see all those horror stories on the news of children abducted. The most recent one is alarming. I know that I can not hide my children from the world. There is a world out there that holds so much excitement and wonder for them, I can not let the actions of a few ruin it for them. So I go. But I go knowing the risks and preparing my kids the best I can. My team and I have come up with some safety tips for when you are traveling with your kids.
Safety Tips for Traveling with Kids on Day Trips & Vacations
Safety starts before you leave the house
- Dress Alike– Matching shirts— You’ve seen schools do it. All the kids go in the same shirt. If it works for them, why can’t it work for you? Now I am not suggesting you all have to have the same exact outfit. But if you agree that everyone will wear jeans with a bright yellow shirt. Then, your children will be easier to spot should they take a few steps ahead out of your line of sight. If the worst should happen and you are separated, you will be stressed, you will probably panic. But then at least when you are describing what your child is wearing you only have to look at yourself to refresh your memory. Same goes for your child. He/she can look at their clothes and say my mommy/daddy is wearing this shirt with pants that look like this. A.C. Moore, Michael’s, and Old Navy are great stores where you can find shirts in the same color or style for every member of your family.
- A picture is worth a thousand words. Follow up with the above idea by taking a picture of the kids. You know you will have your camera for those Kodak moments. So before you even step foot into that zoo or amusement park, snap some photos of each kids, individually, full length and head shot. Even better take it with your cell phone. If the unthinkable happens, time is of the essence, the sooner you can send out a picture of your missing child, the better off you will be. Do you really want the police to be delayed as you rush home to find a picture which will never be as recent as the one you took that morning? Yes, in the excitement it maybe hard to stop and snap this picture. But it’s worth it. Make it part of the routine and before you know it it will be a good habit, you’re unlikely to forget.
- Write your cell number on their bodies. Take a pen and write your cell number on their body. Choose an area that makes sense. You don’t want it to smear away from sweat or frequent hand washings. You also don’t want it to be an area of their body that shouldn’t be exposed to strangers. If your child gets separated, they may panic and forget even the most basic of information. If they can show the security guard or police officer your phone number, then you can be reached and reunited with your child. There are companies out there that produce personalized temporary tattoos or rubber bracelets with this information. If your child has allergies, make sure he/she aware of them or write this information down with the phone number or order a special bracelet with it.
- But NO NAMES. Don’t give a stranger an opportunity to act overly-friendly with your child. Do not give that stranger an opening to a conversation with your child. Do not put their names, the town you live in, or their school’s name on their clothes, lunch boxes, back backs. Anything that is going to be readily visible to observers should not have their name on it or information that gives strangers something to discuss with your kid or a way to act like they know your child.
- Pack a lunch. What does this have to do with safety? If you are traveling with young children you don’t want to leave them sitting alone holding a spot at a table while you head for the lunch line. You also don’t want to have your child in line with you while you wait. What happens if while you are ordering your child becomes distracted and gets lost among the crowds and the lines? Don’t put yourself in that position. Pack a lunch. Besides it’s better on your pocketbook and the environment.
- Talk about stranger danger. What would your child do if someone tried to take him/her? What would you want them to do? Fight back, run. Arm your kids with a plan. If you want them to fight they need to know this is a situation that is okay to fight. What would they do if they got lost? Talk about a plan of action. See below for more details. But make sure before you leave the house or hotel the kids know what to do.
- Create a special yell. In a sea of loud children, one child’s voice can easily be lost or mistaken for a child just having a bad time or temper tantrum. Have your child practice a special yell that will catch other’s attention and your child can use when they are in danger.
Safety tips for while you are at your location
- Identify the employees. Wherever we’ve been The Please Touch Museum, the Philadelphia Zoo, etc we notice the staff all wear the same color shirt. When you arrive somewhere, point out the staff to your kids. Talk about what they are wearing and where to go to find staff to help them.
- Whose a safe stranger? In the absence of finding a staff member or in the event your child is to shy to go that far, teach your kids who they can approach. Sometimes, a police officer can be intimidating or at a child’s height a police uniform can be hard to find in a crowd. Teach your children to look for other kids or other strollers. Another mom pushing a stroller is probably going to be your child’s next to best option to finding help. After all if a child approached you wouldn’t you help?
- Are there emergency phones? Look around are there emergency phones your child can use if she/he gets separated from you? If so, show them to your kids. If possible, teach them how to use them.
- Identify a landmark or meeting spot for them to go to. If your children are old enough and comfortable enough with a location to walk around it alone, come up with a landmark or meeting spot that they could easily find if they got separated from you.
- Use family restrooms. I am talking about the new larger-sized bathrooms that some family attractions are starting to add. It’s usually one larger stall separated from the regular restrooms and even equipped with a changing table and large enough to bring in the stroller. It provides you the convenience and safety of taking all your children of different genders into the bathroom at one time. No more daddies having to take little girls into the mens’ room. No more mommies having to send their young boys into the men’s room all alone. When that isn’t an option, take advantage of a handicapped stall. I will apologize to any differently-abled person I offend by doing so; but I would much rather offend a few people than leave my children alone among strangers in a bathroom while I or my husband take our turn in the bathroom.
- Use the Buddy system. There is safety in numbers. When you can, bring an adult field trip buddy. Having a friend or spouse with you means there are now 2 sets of eyes looking out for the kids. It also provides the kids a little more freedom and opportunities to have fun.
- Be aware of your surroundings and give the kids a heads up too. It maybe a lot to ask. You are working hard enough to keep track of your very excited children who all seem to want to go in different directions. But you need to be on the look out for suspicious adults who appear to be watching children or acting strangely. The adult who is overly interested in your child is an adult you want to steer your children away from clearly and then be very clear with your child that this is not an adult who is safe and that if they see him/her again to let you know. Report suspicious adults to staff or police. Better to be over-cautious and possibly prevent something from happening than having regrets later on.
If I want my children to be safe, really safe, then they must be prepared too. It’s not enough that I am trying what I can to prevent the unthinkable, I must also teach them what to do if the unthinkable happens.
Field trip days should be about fun and making memories. They are the things that make childhoods memorable. So have fun, but be safe.