Taking young, curious children and toddlers to busy public places can be stressful for any parent. The U.S. Department of Justice estimated in a 2005 report that 340,000 children became temporarily separated from a parent or caregiver, for at least an hour, nationwide. While setting and enforcing rules about not wandering off and making sure kids over the age of 5 know the parents' first name, last name and cellphone number are paramount, here are some additional tips and ideas for keeping small children safe in public places.
- Take a picture before you leave or right when you get there. A picture easily documents what your child was wearing can generally indicate height and size if you position them next to a landmark at the public place. Dressing kids in bright clothing and, if you have younger children, in matching clothing is also helpful to easily spot them in a crowd.
- Pick a meeting place. For kids over the age of 5, make sure you scout and agree on a place to meet should anyone get separated.
- Keep a buddy. There's safety in numbers on the playground, at the beach, going to the restroom, heading to the snack bar.
- Ask a mom for help. Remind your kids should anyone get separated that it's OK to ask for help from a mom with a stroller or kids. Stranger danger is real (kids ages 4 and up should be aware of this), but a parent with a stroller or kids is usually safe. Statistically, women with children are exponentially less likely to be predators.
- Leash 'em up. For toddlers, parents need not feel any shame, guilt or judgment about using leashes to keep small children close and unable to wander away. If a child age 3 or younger is not in a stroller, secure them with a toddler harness and leash to prevent them from slipping away in a split-second ($15-20 at most utility/drug/toy stores). While some parents argue that a toddler leash undermines a parent's ability to teach a child to stay close, think of the toddler leash as a reinforcing part of the lesson. Safety rules come first and should not be risked, even for the most watchful parents.
- Give everyone tattoos and bracelets. Is your child too young to know your cellphone number? SafetyTat.com offers a variety of temporary tattoos that can be easily personalized with phone numbers, names, allergies and other instructions should your child get temporarily separated from you in a busy place and last for 1-3 days (24 temporary tattoos for $20.99). Mabel's Labels offers durable yet disposable customizable safety bracelets (30 bracelets for $21). Additionally, you can always write your cellphone number on your child's arm, an article of clothing or a safety card that you stick in his pocket. If you're a DIY type, you can also create beaded bracelets or anklets with digits that make up your phone number for your child to wear on outings.
- Track those kids. Thanks to technology, dozens of credible, GPS-like devices ranging from $10 to $200 can help us keep tabs on little ones. At $40, Buddy Tag is a Bluetooth-enabled, Android and iPhone compatible app that allows you to monitor your child via your phone with a bracelet that alerts you when your child is out of your proximity. It also includes a water-safety feature. The Filip 2 is a watch worn around the wrist, offers two-way communication and acts as a tracking device using a companion iOS of Android app ($149.99). More options and resources for wearable child trackers here.
Most importantly: Talk to your kids about safety and danger, set rules before departure and enforce them throughout each outing and advise kids (and, remind yourself) to be extra alert. An extra tip? Pretend as though you're watching someone else's child in that busy public place.
What are your tips for keeping small children safe in public places?
Jill Simonian is a Parenting Lifestyle Contributor, appearing on CBS Los Angeles every Wednesday on News at 5pm and Friday mornings at 6:30am. Her personal blog is TheFabMom.com. Follow Jill on Twitter @jillsimonian and connect with her on Facebook.
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