I’m sure it’s safe to say one of every parent’s nightmares is losing their child in a crowded place. As a single dad who travels full time, I have the additional concern of “What happens if something happens to me?” Sure, odds are nothing will happen, but that doesn’t help in an emergency. A safety plan is critical for families, even more so when you travel.
Situations requiring a safety plan
- Something happens to one or both parents.
- Child and parent(s) get separated on mass transit.
- Parent too ill to care for self and/or child.
- Separated in a crowd.
Preparing the child
A safety plan isn’t worth anything if the kids aren’t familiar with it. Children need to know where documents are, what to do in an emergency, who they should phone, and so on.
In addition to preparing them, it’s important to review the plan often. In the event of mass transit, we review the plan every couple of days when we’re using the bus or metro a lot. It’s easy to forget, especially when stressed. The more they hear it, the more likely they’ll remember the plan should something happen.
If you are staying in a hotel or similar lodging, make sure your child has their business card on them. My friend Theodora and her son were involved in a car crash while in Egypt. She suffered a minor head injury which caused some confusion. Her son had their hotel’s business card, so he could show that to the driver to get them back home. The’ve even taken a wilderness first aid course together since they often do back country types of activities.
As children can usually navigate electronics easily, and they’re comfortable with them, make sure to keep some lists, copies of documents, etc., on your smart phone and/or tablet. Show them where those items are stored on the devices and make sure they can find them on their own.
Review these items and their locations regularly. Again, the more familiar they are with them, the more likely they’ll be able to retrieve them under pressure.
Make sure they know to ask police or adults for help. Tigger also knows that if I’m unconscious he should have police or hospital staff contact the US embassy or consulate for further assistance.
In Cuenca, we came upon a peaceful protest, and I was quite eager to document it. Knowing that things can go sour quickly, especially as I saw riot police marching on the square, I identified where he should go in the event of an emergency. We also covered that if I turned to him and told him to run, he needed to do just that without question. He was to run to our meeting point and wait for me there.
Naturally, when you cover these things you want to seem as cool and casual as possible.
I also make sure Tigger knows how to say “help” in the local language.
- Kids should know where passports and bank cards are kept. These are items they may need to get a hold of if you become incapacitated or are in the hospital.
- Keep copies of your medical insurance cards on your devices. I have a copy on my smartphone and on our Kindle Fire. Tigger knows where they are stored as well.
- Tell children who they should call if something happens to you. Make sure they also know the local number for emergency services (911 doesn’t work everywhere).
- When Tigger was younger, I had a list of people and their phone numbers and email address for him to use. The list was laminated, and there were multiple copies—one was kept in his backpack and one in mine. Every so often we reviewed where the copies were located, and I made sure his was in an easy place to see if he needed to access it. Now he can just pull the info from my phone.
- You should have a call list (make sure phone numbers include the country code) that your child can give to emergency or embassy personnel in case they need to contact family back home.
- Have a will and make sure they know where a copy is kept. I don’t care how young you are, if you have children you need a will that includes information about guardianship. It’s better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it. My son knows who will be taking care of him if something happens to me, and while no one wants to ponder the likelihood it gives him some security knowing Dad has all bases covered. Obviously, whoever is going to be caring for your child should have a copy of the will as well.
- Make sure your children know and remember your first (and last name if different from theirs) name. “Mom” won’t help staff.
- As previously mentioned, they should have a business card or address written down for them. Don’t count on even the best of memories. Stress can really complicate things.
Dealing with crowds
Holding onto each other is always a good idea, but things happen. When we were in London, we had a bit of a heart-pounding experience on the Tube (subway). Tigger tends to visit his own special land when we’re out and about. We were standing up on a train. When some seats opened, I told him I was going to sit down and got seated.
Because he was in Tiggerland, he didn’t hear me. At the next stop, he looked up, didn’t see me and promptly hurried off the train. The doors shut on him just as he realized I hadn’t exited the train.
Following our plan, I got off at the next stop and waited for him. I’m sure you can imagine my relief when he exited a subsequent train. I was incredibly grateful we had this plan in place!
This is our safety plan for mass transit:
- Whoever is left on the bus or train gets off at the next stop and waits.
- The person who exited early gets on the next train or bus and exits at the next stop (make sure your child has their bus or train ticket on their person).
When at amusement parks, festivals, etc., we identify a location that is easy to remember and spot as our meeting point. Should we get separated, we both know where to go and wait. I always remind him to not go in search of me. Instead he is to head to our meeting point and not move from there.
If we’re at a very crowded place, I usually take a photo of him on my phone. When you’re panicked because your child is lost, it can be easy to forget what they were wearing that day. This way you have a photo to show police/security if needed.
Dealing with a separation
When you’re reunited with your kiddo, don’t lecture them. They were probably more scared than you. Try to find something they did right and acknowledge that. “I’m so glad you followed our safety plan!” Harping on the negative just makes an already scary situation worse.
As Tigger exited the train, I could tell by the look on his face he figured he was in for it. Me simply saying the above was enough for him to not only be more aware on subsequent journeys but to more actively remember our plan. Besides, sometimes silence is much more powerful than a lecture. 😉
Have you experienced a situation when a safety plan was necessary or would’ve been helpful? What was it?