Visiting crowded locations is the most nerve wracking part of traveling with children. A packed museum or busy street in an unfamiliar city is the quickest way to get overwhelmed when trying to keep up with children. Balancing the love of family adventures with keeping kids safe while traveling doesn’t have to be difficult.
I’m a big proponent of traveling and adventuring with children, however as the single mom of 6 kids, I know first hand how quickly a pleasant day can turn into high stress when trying to keep up with kids in a crowded, unfamiliar place. After years of family travel, I’ve implemented some simple safety strategies which help keep my children safe in crowded places and allow me to stress less and enjoy the day.
Here are the very best tips for keeping kids safe while traveling.
1. Teach children to come (gather) and to stop (freeze) immediately.
Many parents have experienced the heart stopping moment when your toddler darts into a busy parking lot before you have a chance to grab her hand. Keeping that scary moment from happening is actually very simple.
Even young toddlers can learn to come and stop IMMEDIATELY when Mom calls.
First choose words that will make an impact on your child.
I learned quickly as I tried to teach my little ones to come to me and/or stop immediately that I use the words “come” and “stop” very often- “stop making that noise”, “come down for dinner”, “stop touching your sister”, “come outside with me”, etc. So, when I frantically yelled “STOP!” at a child approaching a potentially dangerous situation, she often took several more steps or simply hesitated. Stop wasn’t a word that made my children realize they should immediately stop moving their feet. I needed new words. What if a child actually stepped into that road before you could stop her? You need a word that will tell her to get back to Mommy ASAP.
Pick buzz words that will signify that you mean business to your children. We use the words “freeze” and “gather”, but you can choose the words that work best for your family.
Once you’ve chosen your come and stop buzz words begin teaching and practicing them frequently. When you use the words require that they always be obeyed immediately, whether you are in the backyard or in a busy parking lot. You can begin teaching by making it a fun experinece where you reward your children for how quickly they obey. Children should also know the consequences of disobeying these important buzz words. In our family, any child that does not immediately react to “gather” or “freeze” must hold Mommy’s hand (or keep a hand on the stroller) for a period of time.
2. Teach children to stay together.
Teach your children from an early age to keep up with Mom as your family moves through crowded locations. Tell your children that it is their responsibility to keep up with mom, not mom’s responsibility to keep up with the kids. Remind children that they must always be where they can see mom while in crowded places. They should never move where they can’t see mom or go from one location/room to another without mom.
While, of course, mom is really always keeping up with the kids, this simple tactic teaches children to be aware of their own location in respect to mom. It keeps mom from chasing after children as they turn corners. No more constantly calling out, “You are getting too far away!” or “Don’t leave this room without me.”
Before we exit the car at events and museums I remind my kids of this rule, “Remember, you are in charge of keeping up with Mom,” and I often point out what color shirt I’m wearing.
3. Teach children important identifying information.
As young as possible, teach your children their full name, mom’s full name, and mom’s cell phone number. Have children practice what to say if they get lost. “I’m lost. My name is ______. My mommy’s name is ______ and this is her phone number ______. For children too young to memorize you can obtain bracelets or temporary tattoos with important information to be used on outings.
4. Point out safe people and in charge adults.
In each location you visit be sure to point out employees by identifying uniforms or name tags. Also point out any uniformed security guards or first responders that your children may seek out if there is an emergency.
(I tell my children to first look for an employee or first responder. If they cannot easily locate one of those people, their next person to look for and ask for help is another mom with kids.)
5. Have a plan for what to do if the family gets separated.
Even the most careful families can sometimes get separated in crowded locations. Be sure your child knows what to do if he gets separated from the family.
My family experienced a scary lost child situation when my second daughter was 5 years old. She suddenly thought she was lost in a museum, though I was actually only a few feet away. When she didn’t see me, she immediately panicked, and went running through the museum to find me- actually getting herself lost! Thankfully as she neared the front of the museum, an employee caught her, and we were quickly reuinited.
After that situation we implemented this rule:
If you don’t see mommy, you don’t take any steps, you slowly turn in a circle looking for mommy while remaining in the same spot. (Generally that is all that is needed, as most often Mommy is nearby and the initial lost feeling doesn’t lead to panic that actually ends up in getting lost.)
If you don’t see mommy after turning a few slow circles, look for an employee or uniformed person in the same room you are in. If that fails, look for a person who looks like a Mommy with children to ask for help. Do not leave the room/location you are in without an adult.
Practice and repeat these steps with your children over and over again so it is second nature to act calmly without panicking.
Stop, do not move. Look and turn. Ask for help.
My family has been discussing and practicing this “lost protocol” for 8 years and we’ve seen the positive effects of this plan. On a trip to an aquarium, my four year old suddenly had a feeling of being lost. She and I were standing along the wall of a large aquarium. A crowd arrived in the room and got between us. Being so short, when she looked beside her and saw only strangers she feared she was lost. She slowly turned her circle, but still didn’t see me past the taller strangers between us. Without moving her feet, she located a uniformed museum employee in the corner of the room. She walked to him and started her sentence, “My name is Emily and I am lost. My mommy’s name is…” But before she could finish her sentence there Mommy was, standing right beside her. Because she didn’t panic, she didn’t go running even farther away from me. Even though she was never really lost, she felt lost and reacted just as she had practiced.
6. Get familiar with your travel destination.
One easy way to keep yourself and your children as safe as possible while traveling is to get familiar with your travel destination before the trip.
Moon Travel Guides offers FREE Printable Travel Maps, that are really great for familiarizing yourself and your family with your destination. Did I mention that these maps are free and printable?
I know my kids never feel more important on vacation than when they get to carry around a map of our travel! Simply print out a few copies of the map for your next travel destination. Use it to plan your trip and to get your children excited about where they will visit next. Then take those maps along on your travels so your children can have the thrill of using their own map during your vacation.
*Travel Tip – These maps are also included in the pages of the Moon Travel Guides, where you’ll find not only maps but also area specific travel tips, recommendations of reputable places to visit in the area, and contact information for local visitor centers that you can contact for even more information about your travel destination.
When it comes to travel safety, good planning is very important. After my first traveling experience as a single mom, I learned to never again just wing my travel plans- especially when traveling with my children! Researching each destination means I don’t unwittingly put my family in an unsafe situation in the first place.
Be sure to get your kids involved with pre-travel planning, preparation, and map reading. Not only will it help familiarize them with their surroundings, but will also be an important skill for them as they grow!
More easy safety tips:
Dress your children, and yourself, in bright colors when visiting crowded places.
Avoid visiting locations during their busiest times.
Take extra help, such as grandma or a responsible teenager, along on vacation when possible.
Consider a buddy system with an older child and a younger child if your children have wide age ranges.
Take a photo of your family at the entrance of museums and events. Not only does it serve as a great memory, you’ll also have a photo of what each person in your family is wearing in case you need to report one lost.
Keeping kids safe while traveling and adventuring doesn’t have to be scary. Teach, practice, and implement these simple safety strategies keep visiting crowded locations with children stress free and enjoyable.