Oh my goodness! How did it get to be December already? Here at Kidpower we want all our readers to have a safe, joyful holiday season.

Your family can have more fun and less problems by putting a clear, realistic Safety Plan in place with children before you go out shopping or to public events. The following tips can help to prevent meltdowns, getting lost, arguments, and accidents.

Do Less!  Avoid stress by making decisions about what you do or don’t do based on what is best for your family rather than on the expectations of others. Simplify holiday meals, gift-giving, and social gatherings. Instead of hurrying, slow down – drive more carefully, take more time for transitions, and prepare everyone.

Get Ready. Before you leave home, review the plan of what is going to happen and not happen in terms that make sense for your family, anticipating potential temptations and triggers. Be realistic about long lines, big crowds, impatient customers, and distracted drivers. Be as specific as possible, involving children when they are old enough in making the plan and getting their agreement.

For example, suppose you are about to go on a shopping trip. You might say to a younger child, “Today we are going to visit 3 new stores at the Great Big Mall to get presents and look at the decorations. We might have to park far away if the parking lot is full. Some drivers are not paying good attention so we will hold hands. If there are long lines and busy people, we will be patient and wait. We can tell stories while we are waiting. We are NOT going to visit the pet store today to look at the kittens but we can do that next month when things are quieter. We are NOT going to visit the ice cream store today but we can have a cookie when we get home. We are NOT going to buy presents for ourselves today but we can ‘bookmark’ in our minds if there is a present you might like to have someday. There will be lots of lights and noises.  It will be interesting and fun. We will Stay Together and Check First before we change our plan.”

For an older child who is starting to be somewhat more independent, you might make and agree on a plan together. For example, “We are going to go to the mall. We will stick right next to each other until we get inside and agree to separate. You can visit the bookstore while I go to the department store and then we will meet at 2 at the food court. You will stay where lots of people are and call me on my cell to Check First before you change your plan about who is with you, what you are doing, and where you are going – you will check before changing your plan even with people you know. If someone you don’t know well tries to single you out or anyone makes you uncomfortable, you will move away and go into a store, go to the head of the line, and interrupt to tell a clerk to call the security guard. You will call me if you have any problems.”

For toddlers or children with special needs who don’t speak much, you can still review key safety rules in simple terms: Stay Together, Check First, Stop, and Wait.

Planning ahead is important for other activities as well. For example, “Today we are going to the movie theater. We will all try using the bathroom before we leave even if we don’t feel like going. You may have ONE small bag of popcorn but we will bring our own water instead of getting any soft drinks. .. etc.”

If a family member requires constant supervision, be sure to have handoffs clear about who is responsible when. For example, “While I am trying on clothes, Maria will stay with Josephine and we will agree on a fun place to wait, such as the mirrors.” Or, “If Joey needs to go to the bathroom while the movie is playing, I will take him and all of you will stay in your seats until I get back.”

Review the safety plan in case someone gets separated or lost.  Have your mobile phone number with your child. Sometimes parents even write the number on a younger child’s arm. Take a photo with your cell phone if you have a child who might get separated from you by accident. Practice how to wait and how to ask for help.

Remind, Watch, Intervene, and Redirect. When you arrive, review the plan or ask your child to repeat this back to you. At each new location, review what to do in case you get lost or separated – where to wait, who to ask for help, etc.

Split your attention so you can stay aware of what children who might wander off or bother others are doing all the time. Keep them next to you to avoid trouble. Remember that a child who does not yet have strong awareness or an understanding of important boundaries can get hurt, disappear, or do something unsafe in an instant. Be very consistent in intervening to stop unsafe behavior.

If something unexpected happens, stick with your plan unless it is an emergency. For example, if you run into a friend, avoid socializing unless that was part of your plan. Adult socializing can cause kids to get tired out and frustrated and to feel as if the plan isn’t actually real. Instead, you can keep moving and say, “It’s so nice to see you. I can’t stop to chat right now because I promised Christopher that we would do our shopping quickly. Have a great day!”  Showing your commitment to keeping agreements about time and activities even if you see friends provides an excellent role model for your kids.

Redirect wishes with compassion and humor. For example if a child is tired, you might sit on a bench and watch for a few minutes. Or you might say, “I wish I were an elephant and could carry everyone.” You can then make a game out of thinking of different ways each person wished you had to get around – magic shoes,  transporters, etc.

Celebrate! At the end of each trip, review what went right. Congratulate family members on what they did to make this trip fun. Give a reward for a job well done! If something went wrong, discuss this at a different time, before you go out again. Remember that people and outings don’t have to be perfect to be great!

Additional Resources:

Holiday Boundaries: Protecting Children’s Boundaries and Helping Others Do the Same

How to Make Family Gatherings Great Instead of Awful

“What If I get Lost?”

A Five Step Plan For Preparing Your Child for More Independence


Kidpower Founder and Executive Irene van der Zande is a master at teaching safety through stories and practices and at inspiring others to do the same. Her child protection and personal safety expertise has been featured by USA Today, CNN, Today Moms, the LA Times, and The Wall Street Journal. Publications include: cartoon-illustrated Kidpower Safety Comics and Kidpower Teaching Books curriculum; Bullying: What Adults Need to Know and Do to Keep Kids Safe; the Relationship Safety Skills Handbook for Teens and Adults; Earliest Teachable Moment: Personal Safety for Babies, Toddlers, and Preschoolers; and The Kidpower Book for Caring Adults: Personal Safety, Self-Protection, Confidence, and Advocacy for Young People.

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