The tricky thing about family travel is that there seems to be some expectation that you won’t only take the kids with you on that fabulous adventure but bring them back as well!
A bit presumptuous if you ask me.
Somehow it’s not enough that you forked out the airfare and gave them a great trip? Now, you’re expected to bring them home too?!? ;)
Here are a few way to make sure you don’t lose the little ones while you travel:
1. Start the rules about staying close long before you’re walking through that crowded Thai market:
My boys were 6 and 8 when we left for the around the world trip. They were just big enough that holding hands to cross the street was a fading affair, but before we left we explained to them that hand-holding would be making a comeback while we travelled. We assured them it wasn’t a reflection of our trust in them but of our lack of trust in our new surroundings. Often what might start out as hand-holding would loosen as we got more comfortable to shirt-tail holding, back jean pocket holding and sometimes, to just having a hand on a cart. But if we asked for it they gave in to our need to feel better in a new place. The rule was that even if we weren’t holding hands, they had to remain within arms length in busy places. We enforced it strictly until it became routine.
2. Change the stranger danger talk.
When you’re traveling, everyone is a “stranger” which makes the whole “don’t talk to strangers” thing really tough to enforce – especially when you want your kid to order their own gelato. Instead we try to teach our kids about assessing situations and trusting “gut feelings,” and give them non-verbal and verbal ways to let us know if they’re uncomfortable in any given situation. There has been a lot of talk about codewords in Toronto lately (recently a young girl thwarted an attempted abduction when the would be kidnappers didn’t know the pre-arranged codeword she had with her parents.) It’s a great idea. We have one too. The kids also know that just because we smile and say “hello” to a stranger, doesn’t make them a trusted friend. They learned to watch our cues during the course of the trip and continue to do so now that we’re home.
3. Make it fun
An airport can be an amazing place when you’re a kid. All of the people and wheeling carts and flickering signs…it’s no wonder kids tend to wander off. Hand-holding becomes tough there too. With all of the bags and carts, yours and others, it can be a lot like walking into the middle of an intersection in Vietnam – confusing. That’s why we created…”the sandwich!” Ish and I are the pieces of bread and the kids can decide which fillings they’d like to be. We usually end up with weird creations like tomatoes and macaroni, and they may change their new names a few times as we make our way to the counter, but it doesn’t matter. The key is that the fillings are never outside the bread. A few cries of “what’s happening to my sandwich?” and they dutifully fall back in line.
4. Consider labels and identification bracelets
We didn’t use any identification bracelets on our guys on this trip but it may be something you’ll want to consider if they’re prone to wander. I’m dead-set against the toddler harnesses that look like dog leashes. Sorry, I know some like it but it freaks me out. We do label their stuff (Mabel’s Labels were a god-send for that) but I’ve always been wary of things with their name on it in prominent places like the back of a shirt. It makes it really easy for “strangers” to catch the kids off guard. “Hey Ethan, your mom told me you should wait here,” is bound to get a kid to assume they might know this person more than if the would-be evildoer says “Hey kid, your mom told me you should wait here.” Why help the evildoers? Just my two cents.
5. Prepare for the worst.
Whenever we went into a new situation we’d be sure to point out the people and places in that situation that could be of help if they needed it.
Make sure your kids know what to do if they do get separated from you. Who should they turn to? What can they do? For example, our kids know that it is perfectly OK and they won’t get into any trouble if they scream. Even in a library, even in a church, even in their school. If they are in a situation where they’ve been separated from us or feel like they are in danger, it is perfectly OK to scream at the top of their lungs.
What about you? What tips do you use/have for parents trying to keep the kids safe?