Festival grounds, beaches, amusement parks and other popular venues, provide some of the most stimulating experiences for young travelers. With plenty of opportunities to learn and experience new things, large-scale events are a staple of inspired family travel; however, these typically crowded locales can be pose a challenge for parents when it comes to keeping track of curious, excited children. Unfamiliar surroundings and a sea of people moving from one attraction to the next make it just as hard for kids to keep track of you as it is for you to keep track of them—especially if you have more kids than you can wrangle with both hands.
Perhaps the hardest part of a situation like this is finding a balance between keeping your kids safe and allowing them to explore and enjoy the experience to its full potential. Short of using a leash (I realize there are differing opinions on this matter, but my opinion has always been if I survived childhood without one, my kids certainly can, too), it’s understandable to want to do any and everything to avoid getting separated from your child. But ensuring your kids’ safety in a crowd really comes down to educating and planning.
Are you my mother?
I don’t have any traumatic memories of getting lost as a child; however, I will never forget my mother’s advice should my sister or I ever find ourselves lost: use first names when calling out for a parent rather than “mom” or “dad”. When kids are lost, their first instinct in those first stressful moments of realization may be to call out for you. By using first names, it’s much easier to reconnect with your child in a crowd. After all, there are hundreds of mommies and daddies floating around but just a handful of parents who share your first name.
Get your “Where’s Waldo” on
Outfits can play a big role in being recognizable in a crowd. Dressing your kids in bright colors or even matching outfits can certainly make it easier to keep an eye on them, but your outfit is equally important. Choose an accessory or article of clothing—a hat, unique shirt or even a brightly colored bag—that will make you easy to spot should your child find himself separated from the group. Before leaving the house, remind your kids about that particular item so they will remember to look for it or tell another adult that you are wearing it. Although you run the risk of filling a family photo album with the same ensemble, you can even choose the same item for all crowded events and make a family tradition out of it.
I’m willing to bet you can’t remember the last time you went to an event without your driver’s license or some other form of identification. So why shouldn’t kids do the same? Remembering your cellphone number in a moment of distress may not be easy, especially for smaller children. Whether you use a wristband, a notecard to place in their pocket or a sticker on the inside of their shirt, it’s easy to ensure your kids can contact you should they get lost by making sure they always have a form of identification. During a recent Pure Wander Twitter chat, one reader, Tara Hill @HillHouseRock, suggested using temporary tattoos as a water-proof, play-proof method of providing identification for your kids. SafetyTat offers customizable, temporary tattoos with 2-3 lines of text, or create your own using a marker and waterproof sealant like clear nail polish or liquid bandages.
The who’s who of a crowd
In a sea of people, it may be hard for your kids to distinguish who can help them should they get separated from you. Take time to review “safe people” with your children before entering an event. While police or other people in uniform are usually a go-to, they may be just as hard to find in a crowd as you are. Consider instructing your children to seek help from other mommies and daddies with kids in tow. Pointing out event staff, especially if they are wearing matching, easily recognizable t-shirts, can also ensure your child approaches a safe person for help if they are lost.
X marks the spot
Of course younger children won’t be spending time away from you (intentionally) at a crowded event, but older kids may enjoy a bit of freedom away from the adults. Instead of panicking at the thought of letting them out of your sight, think of this as a learning opportunity for your older kids. Before splitting up, review the map of the venue and discuss a meeting place as well as pointing out information desks, where they can stop for directions or help if anything unexpected happens. Be sure to discuss a meeting time as well. If your child doesn’t wear a watch, send along a cell phone, which will also ensure they can check in with a text or phone call on a regular basis. . They’re sure to appreciate this bit of independence and the practice in telling time and reading a map is an added bonus. Even if you don’t plan to split up, reviewing a map of the venue and picking an emergency meeting place is always a good precaution for older children.
A picture’s worth 1,000 words
If you lose your child in a crowd, it can be difficult not to panic. Giving an accurate description of what your child looks like or what he is wearing can be a lot easier said than done when your mind is racing in a million directions. Snap a quick family photo on your phone before entering the event so you can easily show and exact description in an emergency.
Meghan Miranda has worked with a number of travel and lifestyle publications including Little PINK Book and Four Seasons Magazine.