Holiday Safety Strategies
by Pattie Fitzgerald
While the remnants of Thanksgiving dinner still linger somewhere in the refrigerator, parents everywhere are beginning to gear up for the next big Holiday preparation blitz – the annual holiday shopping and travel craze!
How do we keep an eye on our kids, packages, luggage, and assorted holiday paraphernalia all at the same time? More importantly, how do we keep our kids safe while we race from one task to the next? It’s not always easy.
According to statistics from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, non-family child abductions are actually decreasing. That’s encouraging news. Yet, it doesn’t mean that we can let our guard down, or not teach our children some very important safety rules.
Unfortunately, relying solely on the outdated “stranger-danger” concept can be misleading to a child when it comes to their safety. The truth is that sometimes, in an emergency, children may need to go to a “safe-stranger” for help – which is why there are some very specific skills and rules for parents and kids to be aware of during this hectic time of year.
Safety Tips for the Holidays
1. Nothing takes the place of your supervision whenever you’re out in public. However, if you feel that you will be distracted during your holiday shopping, make other arrangements for your children. It’s easy for you and the kids to get sidetracked with all the sights, sounds, and smells surrounding us at holiday time.
2. If children do become separated from you while shopping, teach them to look for a “safe stranger” who can help them. For example, a mom with children or the cash register person can help a child who is lost. Avoid telling children to go to the “manager.” Anyone in a suit, who looks important, can look like the manager to a small child.
3. Children must know that they should NEVER leave the mall or store to go looking for you in the parking lot. Let them know that you will never leave until you are reunited.
4. In an emergency, a loud yell is one of the best things a child can do. Teach them that they can yell out “NO,” “STOP,” “HELP”, “THIS IS NOT MY DAD”. A child calling attention to himself in public is a predator’s worst nightmare.
5. Dress children in brightly colored clothes to help keep them easily visible, and be sure to remember what they are wearing.
6. In busy places like airports or shopping malls, consider using a harness for toddlers who are prone to running off. Don’t worry about what others may think. It’s your peace of mind that is most important.
7. Teach older children the “CHECK FIRST” rule. Kids must always check first with you before going anywhere in a public place, including another store, play area, or even the restroom.
8. Never leave children alone at public facilities such as video arcades, movie theaters, play areas, etc. as a “convenient babysitter” while holiday shopping. Predators are known to look for kids who are unsupervised.
9. Always bring young children into the restroom with you. Avoid facilities that are down dark or long hallways. Look for well-lit restrooms in high traffic areas.
10. If you are comfortable with letting an older child (at least 10 years old) use the restroom alone, always stand outside the door and call in as your child enters, “I’m right out here if you need me.” “Is everything okay?” Insist that your child answers you. If you don’t get an answer or are unsure, enter the restroom immediately to be sure your child is safe. Informing your child that you’ll be doing this will encourage them to answer you quickly.
11. 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 that makes them unsafe, it’s what they ask a child to do that makes someone dangerous. Kids have been known to leave with a stranger because “he seemed nice” or “he didn’t look like a stranger.”
12. Review your home address and phone number with younger children. All children should know their parents’ cell phone number.
The holidays are a time for family, friends, and fun. Sometimes all it takes is a little extra time and patience to ensure that everyone enjoys them and stays safe.
Teach safety concepts in a loving, easy-going manner. Scare tactics can make a child fearful.
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