How to keep kids safe when out and about

Inevitably, parents get distracted and kids wander off. Teaching children valuable and potentially life-saving guidelines can help prevent the headache and distress caused by a lost child.

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  • The zoo on a July afternoon isn’t an ideal place to lose a child. A few years ago, I somehow lost track of my daughter. She was about 9 years old, and it was a hot, crowded day — a real zoo. One hour and lots of panicky moments later, we recovered her. Tear-stained, she was propped up on a stool licking an ice cream cone provided by a caring employee. I experienced all of the emotions a parent goes through when a child becomes lost and found: relief, joy, and annoyance.

  • Keeping tabs on our kids at the mall, grocery store, zoo, and other public places isn’t a walk in the park. Inevitably, parents get distracted and kids can wander off. It helps to teach your little ones some guidelines:

  • Ask for help

  • When lost in a store or other public place, it’s OK to ask for help. Look for someone in a uniform, wearing a nametag, etc. For example, point out that the employees at Target wear red shirts and badges.

  • Don't go alone

  • Accompany young children to public restrooms. Perpetrators can hide in stalls, ready to grab their next victim. Scary stuff!

  • Get loud

  • Teach your children to scream, kick, punch, and fight back relentlessly if ever grabbed by a stranger. In most cases, the perpetrator won’t want to deal with a noisy, combative child and will just leave.

  • Know the number

  • These days, mom and dad are just a tap away on a cellphone. Better to have your kids memorize your phone number in the case of an emergency, when they may not have access to their own phone’s contact list.

  • Stick with a buddy

  • When shepherding around a large group, assign children partners. Let them know that they have an important job: they are responsible for their partners. Hopefully this will help shift their focus from themselves to their companions.

  • Home base

  • Come up with a meeting place in the event someone gets lost. A visible landmark works best — for example, a Ferris wheel at the fair or the fountain at the mall.

  • Hug a tree

  • Teach your kids that it’s better to stay put if they become separated from the group. This is of utmost importance in an outdoor setting — when on a hike or campout, for example. Kids who wander typically distance themselves even further. Also, carrying a whistle can be a lifesaver in the outdoors.

  • Secure belongings

  • Remind your kids to keep track of their personal belongings. Wear purses or backpacks securely and tuck wallets or phones into deep, protective pockets.

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  • Helping your children be smart and safe in public will pay large dividends toward your sanity.

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Megan Gladwell, a freelance writer and sometimes teacher, lives in beautiful Northern California with her husband and four children.


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