5 ways to avoid losing your kid at a theme park
I can already hear the self-righteous snipes coming my way: "What kind of an idiot can't keep track of their kids?" But trust me, the most vigilant parents get tested at a place bursting with distractions that scream for your child's attention just as you are screaming his name.
With theme park season in full swing (in fact always in Florida), we asked some experienced moms how they keep track of their kids in crowded, noisy theme parks.
Talk early and often
People sometimes forget how excited a kid can be when they arrive at this long-planned destination and get caught off guard when the child goes racing into the crowd before they've had a chance to establish some ground rules. Before you even leave the car, talk about how you will all stay together. Establish rules about holding hands, or how far ahead or behind they can walk and how to find each other if you somehow get separated. At small spaces like a park, we establish a base camp at a picnic table or chairs and let the kids know where to find us before we let them go off and play. For larger spaces, you could pick a landmark to meet if you get separated.
Get some of those "Hello My Name is..." stickers, write "Mom's cell phone number" and the number on it and put it on your child's shirt. Don't put your child's name on the badge, however, because a stranger could use that to call out his name and seem less stranger-like. We know another mom who got those yellow LiveStrong bracelets for her kids and wrote her cell number on them with a Sharpie pen.
UPDATE: My friend Lindy sent along this great site. It's called Safety Tat and you can put a fancy temporary tattoo on your child that says "If Lost Call..." You can also use it to convey medical issues like autism or nut allergies. It costs $19.95 for 30 tattoos.
Dress 'em alike
I got this from a mom of twins, but I also know a mom of a 10 and 6 year old who does this. If you dress them alike, all you have to say to the security guard is "She's dressed like this." That's how one mom was alerted to her wayward 5th grader. Another mom recognized that panicked look on her face and said, "Does he have an older brother dressed like that? I just saw him over there."
Another way to ID them: Take a good picture of the kids at the beginning of the day on your digital camera. That way you have a way to show staff members what your kids were dressed in.
Lock 'em down
You have to be realistic about your kid's ability to pay attention, and frankly, some kids' feet should never touch the ground unless they are holding fast to a parent's hand. This is a judgment call for what age you think you can unclench a bit (for me it was 3-ish), but don't be afraid to make that a hard and fast rule for toddlers. It's the stroller, my arms or holding hands. No exceptions. If they have a fit, go sit on a bench and chill out and explain we will not be getting on the Booger Blast ride until Junior obeys the rule of harnessing.
One mom we know with a large brood had a bathroom rule that's great for when mom needs a bathroom break, too: Everyone went in their own stall and locked the doors and weren't allowed to come out until mom knocked. That way, no one was wandering off while mom was in the stall. Make sure they understand to wait to hear your voice before coming out!
I got this tip from the book Protecting the Gift, written by a security expert. Many parents teach their kids to find a policeman or security guard when they get lost. He says it's better to teach your kids to find another Momma and assure them, "She'll find me." The reason for this: 99 percent of child molesters are NOT women. Son of Sam was a security guard, so 'nuff said. Find a woman. Odds are, your child will find a lady who will make sure the kid is safe before moving on.
-- Sharon Kennedy Wynne