Whether you're enjoying outdoor events such as fairs, parades, amusement/theme parks, farmer's markets, a trip to the beach or any other outdoor venue, or simply enjoying an indoor visit to a museum, fun house, etc, parents must prepare themselves and their children to minimize the potential for danger. With large crowds, it's easy to get separated or for the experience to go awry; preparing your children for these possibilities can keep them safe!
Here are a few tips parents can do to prepare for family fun outings:
- Many fire halls, police stations and schools offer Child Safety Kits. If you do not already have one, you can make one of your own. Include your child's age, weight, height, hair color, and any distinguishing marks/characteristics and place the info on the back of the photo. (Use a Sharpie as it won't ruin the photo side.) If you want to go the simpler route, take a headshot of your child with a digital camera on your way out the door to your event, and take the camera with you. That way you will have a photo complete with what your child is currently wearing. Note: In the midst of a truly frantic situation it is easy to forget something as simple as what your child is wearing. The photo may really come in handy.
- Make sure all minors know your contact information and the contact information of a close adult friend/relative who has another phone or is NOT with them. Let's face it, technology is faulty. Can you count the number of times cell phones do not receive signal, batteries are low, or cell phones are dropped and stop functioning? To this end, children should be able to contact someone who is not with them, is dependable and is hopefully capable of driving in the case of an emergency. Arrange a code word that the emergency contact knows and must relay to the child to assure that it is safe to go with them.
- Discuss how children should handle encounters with strangers, or even people they know who may be putting them in situations that make them feel uncomfortable. Remind them to not talk to strangers, or even wave at people, and to definitely not go with anyone unless they are told to directly by their parent/guardian. Remind them to scream loudly if they are being dragged off by someone they don't know. They should not just make noise (which child does not make noise?), but to start screaming "STOP! HELP! You're NOT my mom/dad! I don't know you!" as loudly as possible.
- Dress your child in bright, super visible clothing. In the event that you are separated, it will make it easier to spot him/her. If possible, select a color and dress the entire family in it to make it easier to spot each other in a crowd. If a child gets lost, when asked what he/she is wearing, it's much easier to say we're dressed exactly alike, than to have to give a vague description. Remember, the brighter, the better.
- Remind children to be aware of their surroundings at all times. They should not get so caught up in what they are looking at/playing/doing that they lose track of their parents, or wander off. Especially for small children, it is easy to get lost in a crowd of taller people and grab on to someone with a similar color pants or dress. Make sure they remember to look up or that they have to grab onto a hands only, or a special item like a dangling belt - something unique to you that they can easily recognize.
Here are some tips for parents once they arrive at their venue:
- Upon arrival gather everyone and locate the help/information booth along with the first-aid center. Let children know what signs to look for to guide them back to the booth should they require assistance. Also, don't forget to let them know it's okay and necessary for them to actually speak to the personnel in the booth in order to receive assistance. If absolutely necessary tell a child to find a mom with several of her own children and tell her his/her predicament.
- Designate a meeting place in case anyone in the group gets separated. The child will then be able to tell help where they can meet up with their group. For ease, this should be the help/information booth.
- Children should never be allowed to go to restrooms alone. Even older children should utilize the buddy system - and an ideal buddy system contains THREE, not two people. Standing outside of the facility is not enough. Parents and buddies should go into the restroom together unless it is a single stall unit.
- At the event no one should be left alone. In addition to the bud-three system, arrange for someone to be watching children who go on rides by themselves. Stand with them while they line up for rides, and be waiting at the gate for them when they exit. With so many patrons, this can be a prime place for children to get lost. Even the older "cooler" kids should use the buddy system and check in with parents at pre-determined times. Safety at every age is important.
- If possible arrange for children to have cell phones or walkie-talkies to keep in contact with the group. However, the volume at the venue could rule out communication, so there should be a back-up plan in place.
- Make sure everyone is alert to their surroundings. If someone makes them feel comfortable, tries to speak with them in an inappropriate manner, or touches them - make sure they tell someone immediately.
- Make sure children know to use whatever means necessary to get away from anyone attempting to take them. While yelling loudly - this is the time that it is truly okay to use physical violence and they won't be punished for it.
Advance preparation and awareness are the keys to enjoying outings. Parents and children should work together to develop a safety plan and review it before each outing. While it may become redundant, knowing the rules inside and out can help make sure a bad situation never occurs.
Devising your event safety plan is a good way to to keep everyone safe while they're out and about in crowds. While it is necessary to discuss and develop pre-event and during event tips, it is also necessary to review safety tips post event. Here are a few things to discuss with family members after your outing:
- Evaluate and discuss how the event went. If something critical happened, discuss what happened, why it happened, how it was handled, if/should it have been handled differently and most importantly, how it could have been avoided. Listen attentively as each family member has their say.
- Ask children if they felt safe in their surroundings and if you/they could change something/anything to make them feel better.
- Discuss your choice of clothing and if it made your family easier to decipher, or if you need to make different color choices. Wearing a neon color that is the hot summer fave could be a safety faux pas. Or wearing the same color as the event staff could make you easy targets for unwanted attention. Sometimes you won't know until you get there, but you can learn from it and make adjustments for future visits.
- Ask children if they observed event employees, if they were easy to spot, etc. If not, this could be something that you could bring to the event coordinator's attention. Help should be readily available and easy identifiable, especially to children.
- Let children know the importance of the plan and reiterate that the plan is important in order to keep the family safe. It is when guards are down that situations occur. Explain that they may not find the plan fun, but it is the "family plan" and should be followed by everyone regardless of age or gender.
- If in agreement, it might be a great time to discuss self-defense moves, or enrolling in family classes as an extra precaution. It's always helpful to be able to defend yourself in a potentially harmful situation. Even in the event of an accident when people can sometimes be immobilized by fear, most people trained in self-defense react on instinct.
You know what they say, hindsight is 20/20. After the event you have a fantastic opportunity to implement any changes that could make your safety plan a better fit for your family. Children are our most precious commodities and parents should strive to keep them as safe as possible. A family safety plan is a great way to keep them safe while not putting the kibosh on the fun.