Whether you're driving across town for a shopping trip or headed to the airport to visit grandma, here are some common sense tips to help you navigate through this busy time of year.
Guest blogger Pattie Fitzgerald: Like many parents at this time of year, I often find myself overscheduled and racing from one task to the next, frequently with my daughter in tow. In fact, at a recent parent workshop I was teaching, the subject came up about how to keep our kids safe during this hectic time of year. In other words ... how do we keep an eye on our kids as we juggle assorted holiday chores, shopping, and outings?
Of course, nothing beats plain old-fashioned, hand-holding supervision. But let's face it, it's not always that simple, especially if your children are not exactly toddlers anymore. And even if they are, when was the last time your toddler let you calmly drag them by the hand through boring, mundane, grown-up tasks -- without whining, squirming, or even making a run for it the minute something interesting catches their eye?
According to statistics from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, non-family child abductions have actually decreased in recent years. That's encouraging news. Yet it doesn't mean that we should completely let our guard down, or forget to teach our children some very important safety rules.
1. It's easy for kids to get sidetracked with all the sights, sounds, and smells surrounding us at holiday time. Have them follow the "3 Giant Steps Rule"... kids can only be 3 giant steps away from Mom or Dad at all times. It's a fun way to get the kids stay close by -- make it a game!
2. If children do become separated from you, teach them to look for a "safe stranger" who can help them. For example, a MOM with kids or the cash register person can help a child who is lost. Avoid telling children to go to the "manager." Any adult in a suit, who looks important, can look like the manager to a 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 would never go outside or leave until you are reunited -- no matter what anyone else tells them.
4. Dress children in brightly colored clothes to help keep them easily visible, and be sure to remember what they are wearing. Especially their SHOES. You may even want to take a quick picture with your cell phone before venturing out.
5. In busy places like airports or shopping malls, consider using a cute "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.
6. Remind children of 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.
7. 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.
8. 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.
9. If you are comfortable with letting an older child (at least 10 years old) use the men's room alone, always stand outside the door and call in as your child enters, "I'm right out here if you need me." If your child has been gone for a while, open the door slightly and say, "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.
10. 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 dangerous. Kids have been known to leave with a stranger because "he seemed nice" or "he didn't look like a stranger."
11. In an emergency, a loud yell is one of the best things a child can do. Teach them to yell out "MOM, DAD", "STOP," "HELP", "THIS IS NOT MY DAD." A child calling attention to himself in public is a predator's worst nightmare.
12. Review your home address and phone number with children. All kids should know their parents' cell phone number. If necessary, you can write in on a slip of paper, and tuck it into their pocket.How do you keep your kids safe during the holiday season?