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Side profile of young child starring at christmas lights next to safety during the holidays textThe holidays often bring opportunities to enjoy special events out in public. To have more fun and fewer problems, make safety plans together with your children before you go out! Talk about your safety plans – then practice the skills you each need in order to follow them.

Use these tips to make and practice safety plans that can help avoid meltdowns, arguments, and accidents – and to help prevent kids from getting lost or separated.

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 other people’s expectations. Simplify holiday meals, gift-giving, and social gatherings. Instead of hurrying, slow down. Drive more carefully. Take more time for transitions.

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. Anticipate potential temptations and triggers – and plan for them. 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.

Practice! A little bit of practice goes a long way in making outings safer, more fun, and less stressful for everyone. If you’ve been following Kidpower for a while, there’s a good chance you have already been practicing social safety skills – and if you are new to Kidpower, this is a great time to start!

Kidpower encourages parents and caregivers to incorporate social safety skills practices into everyday life with kids in the same way they practice and reinforce manners and personal hygiene habits. Important skills to practice before a shopping trip include Be Aware, Stay Together, Check First, Speak Up, and Getting Help in Public. The free, downloadable Kidpower 30-Skill Handbook will help you introduce and practice these skills and more!

Tell kids what to expect. You might say some or all of the following things to a younger child – but not in one big paragraph like we’ve written here! Your review will be more effective and fun if you weave it together with practicing!

You could say, “Today, we are going to visit three new stores at the Great Big Mall to get presents and look at the decorations. There will be lots of people out. 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 and Be Aware. If there are long lines, we will use our Wait Power. We can tell stories while we are waiting. We are NOT going to visit the pet store today. We will do that next month when things are not so busy. 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. I think 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 different kind of plan together. Again, you might include some or all of the following, which we’ve written as one long paragraph, but your plan will be more effective if it’s not a long lecture like this but includes back-and-forth conversation- and a lot of practicing!

You could say, “We are going to go to the mall. We will Stay Together until we get inside. We’ll Check First inside before we separate. You can visit the bookstore while I go to the department store. Then, we will meet at 2:00 at the pizza place in 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 just like we practiced. You will call me if you have any problems.”

For toddlers or children with special needs who don’t speak much, review key safety rules in simple terms: Stay Together, Check First, Stop, and Wait. Make your practices shorter and less detailed. If your family gets support from a behavioral therapist or other professional familiar with your child’s needs and strengths, speak up to get their input and guidance practicing specific strategies that can help you and your child plan, practice, and communicate about skills for successful shopping trips and outings.

Planning and practicing 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. We will bring our own water instead of buying drinks. You may have ONE small bag of popcorn if you’d like!”

If a family member requires constant supervision, be sure to make and review clear plans for passing responsibility back and forth. For example, “While I am trying on clothes, Maria will stay with Josephine, and we will agree on a fun place to wait.” 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 so kids know what you want them to do if they get lost or separated from you in public. Practice how to ask for help and how to persist calmly and confidently.

Decide the best way to make sure your mobile number stays with your child. Some parents even choose to write their number on a younger child’s arm. Coach them to practice pointing to the number and saying to a pretend cashier, “I’m lost. This is my grown-up’s phone number. Please call them!” Take a photo with your phone if you have a child who might get separated from you by accident. This way, you can show people a picture, and they will be able to help you find your child more easily.

Remind, watch, and intervene. When you arrive, review the plan or ask your child to repeat the plan back to you. At each new location, cheerfully 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 are doing all the time, especially if they are likely to wander off or give possibly unwanted attention to others. Stay Together to avoid trouble. Remember that a child who does not yet have strong awareness or an understanding of physical and emotional boundaries can get hurt, disappear, or do something unsafe in an instant. Be 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 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 Amari 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! Use compassion and humor to acknowledge feelings and redirect wishes. 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 Power Strategies
Holiday Boundaries
Making Family Gatherings Great – Not Awful!
“What If I get Lost?”
Preparing Children for More Independence

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Published: November 10, 2021   |   Last Updated: November 10, 2021

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; The Kidpower Book for Caring Adults: Personal Safety, Self-Protection, Confidence, and Advocacy for Young People, and the Amazon Best Seller Doing Right by Our Kids: Protecting Child Safety at All Levels.