Keeping Kids Safe Over the Holidaysby KidSafe Foundation Sally & Cherie
Along with the wonder and excitement of the upcoming holidays, comes some increased stress and worry.
To alleviate some of the stress caused by traveling with the kids and/or having family and friends in from out of town - KidSafe suggests you think about implementing a few simple safety guidelines within your family to avoid some vacation pitfalls.
Sit down as a family before your trip or before relatives and friends come into town and have a conversation involving the following:
Use the Buddy System: Children are more vulnerable when they are alone. We want to stress the importance of children using the Buddy System when out and about. Even though you may think you already do this, take the time to have a direct conversation about what the Buddy System means. Kids often need concrete examples to understand our expectations.
Communication between the adults should be very clear about who is watching the child. We cannot tell you how many times a child goes missing at a theme park or public place, and one spouse turns to the other and says in a panic, "I thought you had your eye on her.”
2. Public Restrooms:
Set guidelines before any trip that children of all ages will use the public restrooms only when accompanied by an adult. Please take this precaution especially at highway rest stops and large venues. This of course applies to young children but it also can apply to your 10-year-old son entering the woman’s room with you and vice-versa with a dad traveling alone with his daughter. Have these conversations before the trip so your children understand the expectations and will not be resistant once you are at the crowded bathrooms.
3. Getting Lost
Introduce the concept of "Check First." Say to your children, "We are going to be visiting with family, going sightseeing, etc and I don’t want to lose any of you." (Humor works great when talking about personal safety). "With that said, kids you might see something that catches your eye while we are walking in the city, for example. Do not stop to look, and do not go in a different direction without Checking First. That means you walk right up to me (or other designated trusted adult) and tell us what you want to do. We will then say yes or no. This will help us avoid getting separated. Also, when we are at the hotel and you want to go visit your cousins in their room, etc - you don’t go anywhere without Checking First with us."
Tell your child that if by chance they do get lost, the safest person to seek help from is another mom with children. Then, explain to kids step by step what they should do. "If you can’t find us, walk up to a mom with kids and say 'I am lost, can you please help me?'" Make sure your children know all of the appropriate cell phone numbers. For young children and children with special needs, place a laminated ID card (make it yourself) with their information on it as well as two cell phone numbers where you can be reached and stick it in the bottom of their shoe. Tell your children that if they get separated from you, they should never ever leave the place they're at, no matter what anyone says.
4. Creepy Relatives
Be aware of relatives that make you or your child uncomfortable: Often parents have expressed to us that they are heading to visit family for the holidays and they have a concern about their child’s safety around a certain adult. They can’t quite put their finger on it, nothing concrete has occurred, but a certain relative makes them uncomfortable and they don’t want their children alone with this adult. How do you handle this without insulting the relative or creating a riff in the family? First and foremost, always and we mean ALWAYS pay attention to your intuition!! You are the first line of defense in the safety of your child. Always err on the side of protecting your child. If that means you are watching your child perhaps more vigilantly than usual, explain to your child that as nice and fun as this particular relative or any other relative may be, you must “Check First" before going anywhere with him or her.
So what should you do in the unfortunate event that you have someone in your family that you know is definitely unsafe? Obviously you would prefer your children to never be around this type of person, but sometimes the holidays necessitate proximity. For older children, explain that this particular relative or friend of the family is someone you do not trust and you do not want them to be alone with them at any point during this visit. For younger children your eyes need to be on them. Trusting your intuition means that you keep a watchful eye on your children or perhaps not attend the event. And of course, if you are a witness to any type of abuse, or a child reports it to you - take it seriously and don't hesistate to tell the proper authorities.
5. Hugs and Kisses
What if your child does not want to hug or kiss a relative or friend? Please do not force your child. When we force children to hug and kiss or touch an adult that they don’t want to, we are sending them a very clear message that the wants and needs of the adult are more important than your child’s. Empower your children that their bodies belong to them, and although they should be polite, they do not have to hug/kiss/touch anyone if they don’t want to. Our children’s book - My Body is Special and Belongs To ME! (a 2011 Literary Classics Award Winner) - educates children and parents about this concept, and teaches children that they have rights over their bodies.
One final guideline that is good to implement during vacation, and quite frankly, all the time, is that when having visitors or visiting elsewhere - when playing in a room all doors stay open and no playing in the parent’s bedroom. This always helps kids and adults make better decisions.
We hope you have a Happy Holiday, Great New Year and wishing all your children stay KIDSAFE!!