My favorite child safety expert Pattie Fitzgerald is back with a new book, a giveaway, and tips to keep your child safe this holiday!
Every holiday season I get lots of inquiries from parents, usually with two concerns:
“How do I manage all those tasks and errands with kids in tow?”
“How do I deal with those big family gatherings where there are so many friends, relatives, and kids running around – especially if there’s that one relative I’m not so sure about?!”
When my 16 year old daughter was much younger, I was faced with the same concerns that every parent with young kids thinks about. There’s a lot to distract us (and our kids!) whether we’re at the mall, the airport, or Auntie Barbara’s house for her annual holiday bash.
Here’s what I did – and it worked.
- I briefed my daughter on just a couple of do’s and don’ts before we went to the mall, the party, or where ever. I put “safety” into the context of simple rules or do’s/don’ts, which made sense to her and reminded her that other people had to follow the rules, too. I kept it short, sweet, and to the point so I didn’t bore her with long explanations.
- I assessed the different environments ahead of time. Was there an arcade or play area at the mall that might distract her? If so, the check first rule is the one I’m going to focus on. At a party, is there one relative or family friend that gives me an “uh-oh feeling” every time I see them at a family function? Gonna have to monitor that one!
For example, some families have that one relative… yuck! I call ours Cousin Uh-Oh because he blurs boundaries left and right. I won’t bore you with all the details, but suffice to say, he’s been creeping me out since I was a kid, and I don’t want my daughter dealing with him, plain and simple. If he was around, I simply told my daughter “If cousin ___________ wants you to go somewhere with him or gives you an Uh-Oh feeling, just let me know right away and I’ll talk to him.”
More importantly, I made a “note to self” when we got to the party: “Where’s cousin uh-oh/where are the kids?” If he was hanging out with them when he should have been with all of us adults, I said something! In this scenario, it’s my job to be monitoring. I don’t have to act like I’m in the CIA for heaven’s sake, but I do want to keep an open, watchful eye on certain things because it’s easy to get caught up in the festivities.
So, whether you’re driving across town for a shopping trip, headed to the airport or off to grandma’s for the annual soiree, here are some common sense tips to help you navigate through this busy time of year. And remember, use common sense. Most people and places are safe. So, rock those holidays and enjoy!
Out at the mall or other busy place? Have kids follow the “3 Giants Steps Rule." Kids can only be 3 giant steps away from you at all times. It’s a fun way to get the kids to stay close by especially during boring errands when they’re likely to get distracted or antsy – make it game!
Get smart about getting lost: If your child can’t find you, teach them to look for a mom with kids or ask the cash register person who can make an announcement. Statistically these are the safest strangers in an emergency and can help quickly. Avoid telling kids to find a security guard, uniforms are confusing to little ones and not every place has one.
Child reminder: NEVER leave the mall or store to go looking for you in the parking lot. Let kids know that you’d never go outside to your car without them – no matter what anyone else tells them.
Dress children in brightly colored clothes to help keep them easily visible. You may even want to take a quick picture with your cell phone before venturing out.
If you have a toddler who’s prone to running off or wandering, consider using a cute harness/backpack especially at the airport or huge public places. Kids love them, they’re fun and can give you some peace of mind! PS – Stop worrying, IT’S NOT A LEASH!
“CHECK FIRST” always. Kids should always check with you first BEFORE going anywhere in a public place, including another store, play area, or even the restroom. Check First also applies in familiar settings as well. “Check first before going somewhere even if it’s with someone you know!”
Never leave kids alone at public facilities such as video arcades, movie theaters, play areas, etc. as a “convenient babysitter” while holiday shopping. Kids who are unsupervised are far more vulnerable to “tricky people”.
If you’re comfortable letting an older child (at least 8 or 9 years old) use the men’s room alone, accompany them and as your child enters just call out “I’m right out here if you need me, don’t take too long!” This just lets anyone in there know there’s a mom nearby who’s paying attention. Good deterrent for tricky people! If your child seems to be taking a long time, it’s ok to enter the doorway and make sure they’re ok.
Discuss age-appropriate safety issues with your child in a calm, non-fearful manner. When discussing “strangers”, inform them that it isn’t what a person looks like, it’s what they ask a child to do that makes someone unsafe or tricky. Kids have been known to leave with a stranger because “he seemed nice” or “he didn’t look like a stranger.”
In an emergency, a loud yell is one of the best things a child can do. Teach them to yell out: “I NEED HELP”, “THIS IS NOT MY PARENT”. A loud child calling attention to himself in public is a predator’s worst nightmare.
Always teach your child, they’re the BOSS OF THEIR BODY. Their private parts are private and not for anyone else to see or touch, especially when you’re at parties or other gatherings. It’s okay to say “Leave my body alone!” to anyone, even a bigger kid or a grownup.
Pattie Fitzgerald is a certified child safety educator and children’s visitation monitor. She is the founder of www.safelyeverafter.com , and has been featured on hundreds of radio and television news programs, as well as in magazines and periodicals throughout the United States. Her children’s curriculum is now used in classrooms throughout the country.