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Tips : Holiday Last Updated: Mar 19th, 2010 - 11:39:35

How to Keep Kids Safe this Holiday Season
By Pattie Fitzgerald
Dec 4, 2007, 13:56

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, etc?

Of course, nothing beats plain old-fashioned, hand-holding supervision. But let's face it; it's not always that simple. Especially when 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? It's enough to make you want to stay home and order everything off the Internet!

According to statistics from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, non-family child abductions are actually decreasing. That's encouraging news. Yet, it doesn't mean that we can let our guard down, or not teach our children some very important safety rules.

Whether you're driving across town for a shopping trip or headed to the airport, here are some common sense tips to help you navigate through this busy time of year.

Holiday Safety Tips for Grown-Ups and Kids...

1. Nothing takes the place of your supervision whenever you're out in public. However if you feel that you will be distracted during your holiday shopping, make other arrangements for your children. It's easy for you and the kids to get sidetracked with all the sights, sounds, and smells surrounding us at holiday time.
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 will never leave until you are reunited.
4. 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.
5. Dress children in brightly colored clothes to help keep them easily visible, and be sure to remember what they are wearing. Especially their shoes.
6. 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.
7. 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.
8. 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.
9. 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.
10. If you are comfortable with letting an older child (at least 10 years old) use the restroom alone, always stand outside the door and call in as your child enters, "I'm right out here if you need me." "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.
11. 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 looked nice" or "he didn't look like a stranger."
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.

Pattie Fitzgerald, founder of Safely Ever After, Inc., is a certified child predator safety educator. She provides non-fearful safety workshops for parents and kids, and trains crime prevention educators and children's advocacy groups across the country. Ms. Fitzgerald is also a keynote speaker, a published writer, and has been featured on Good Morning America, CNN Headline News, and MSNBC, among others. For more information, visit

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