Neon Shirts and Uh-Oh Feelings: Summer Safety for Kids

Reposted from June 2011

Summer Safety Tips from Pattie Fitzgerald

It was a crowded, hot July afternoon at the local amusement park and I was sitting on a bench with my two daughters taking a cotton candy break. Anticipating sticky fingers, I had just started to dig through my purse for some wipes, when out of nowhere a little boy appeared at my side, tugging at my arm and asking in a sweet-but-scared voice if I could help him find his mommy. “Are you lost?” I asked, though I already knew the answer. Switching into mom-on-a-mission mode, I steered us all in the direction of the public safety office. As we approached, I could see a woman about my age gesturing frantically as she talked to a security officer. Catching sight of us, she ran towards the little boy with her arms outstretched. “Mommy!” the little boy cried in relief.

After receiving profuse thanks and a hug from the mom, we were back on the roller coaster in no time. But for the rest of day I couldn’t stop thinking, what would my kids do in the same situation? And how do we teach children about staying safe in crowds and all those other less-supervised places we tend to gravitate towards in summer? For answers, we turned to child safety expert and founder of Safely Ever After, Pattie Fitzgerald. Because she’s a mom-on-a-mission herself, Pattie is sharing with all of us her top 10 “Safe Smarts” for Summer, a list of savvy safety tips both children and parents can use to play it safe—and still have fun–wherever our travels take us. –Jacqueline, TMC Web Content Producer

Summer “Safe Smarts”

1. Always Be A Phone Call Away

No matter where you are headed this summer, make sure your kids know your cell phone number. For very young children, you can order adorable temporary tattoos that come customized with your phone number (available from certain safety websites). Just make sure your child knows what the numbers on the tattoo are for and place the tattoo in an easy-to-see spot, like a forearm. Or simply write the number on a piece of paper and put it in their pocket… tell them it’s their “safety pocket”.

2. Fluorescent Kids

Navigating the crowds at the Fourth of July parade? Dress kids in bright colors so they can be easily spotted in a crowd. Neon colors were made for this. For added safety, snap a picture of your child with your cell phone just before leaving the house.

3. Freeze and Yell

If children suddenly can’t find mom or dad, the first thing they should do is “freeze and yell”. This means staying right where they are and shouting for mom or dad. Since they are staying in one place, there is a good chance their parent is nearby and will hear them. Remind your child to NEVER go out to the parking lot looking for you if you get separated. Tell them you’d never leave the store, beach, park, etc. until you were reunited.

4. Finding Safe Help

Let children know that if they ever become lost, they should ask a “mom with kids” for help. That’s a safe stranger. Studies show that a mom with children will take a vested interest in helping a lost child and will stay with them until their parent is found. Another option: kids can go to the cash register person to ask for help. In an amusement part, point out specific uniformed personnel, when you first arrive, who can help.

5. Three Giant Steps for Safety

To stay close in crowds, teach older children (beyond the hand-holding stage) that they should never be more than three giant steps away from you. Turn it into a game by stopping from time to time to have them verify their three giant steps–the kid who ends up closest to you after taking three steps wins! Kids enjoy the sense of freedom and it is a lot more fun than simply hearing mom or dad constantly harp, “stay here, don’t wander.”

6. Set Up A Meeting Place

With older children, decide upon on a “meet-up location” ahead of time. For example: “If we get separated, we’ll meet at… the merry-go-round, lifeguard station #25, right underneath the big ‘Target’ sign near the entrance. Have the kids take turns doing a “kid-count” after each ride, activity, or periodically during a hike or walk. This keeps everyone on their toes throughout the day. When kids are active participants in the safety rules, they are more likely to stick to them.

7. Check First

Kids at every age should practice the “CHECK FIRST” rule. Kids must always check first with you or the grown-up in charge, before going anywhere. This includes restrooms, another store, play area, the food court, hiking trail, etc. Make sure kids understand that an important part of checking first is waiting for an answer from a grownup.

8. Restroom Safety

Always accompany young children to the restroom, even if this means having your young son use the women’s bathroom. Avoid facilities that are down dark or long hallways. Look for well-lit restrooms in high traffic areas. Older children should use the buddy system when going to a public restroom. If you’re at the park and a game of hide-and-seek suddenly breaks out, first remind kids of one basic rule: no hiding in public restrooms.

9. My Body Is MINE!

Children must know that they are “the boss of their bodies.”  That simply means that their body belongs only to them, and that no one should try to play an uncomfortable or “yucky” touching game with them. Especially with their “bathing suit areas” or “private parts” of their body. This is especially important as kids head off to swim camps or pool parties where you may not be around. Talk to your child beforehand and make sure he or she knows to immediately alert you (or the chaperone or lifeguard) if anyone tries to play a “touching game”.

10.  Honor Your Uh-Oh Feelings

No matter where your summer plans take you this summer, let your child know that they should always listen to that little inner voice which tells them something just doesn’t feel right. I call it their “uh-oh” feeling, and you usually get it about someone who wants to break the safety rules or touches us in any way that feels weird or yucky. It’s always okay to say STOP to anyone who gives them the “Uh-Oh” feeling… even if it’s Uncle Bob, Auntie Sue or her new boyfriend, or even an older cousin. And… equally important, kids should always tell Mom or Dad anytime they get an Uh-Oh Feeling. That’s our instinct kicking in and it’s one of the best warning signs we have to protect ourselves. Reassure your son or daughter that by telling you immediately about an Uh-Oh feeling, you can help them. Remind young children that it’s not “tattling” if it’s about keeping your body safe.

Pattie Fitzgerald is the founder of Safely Ever After, Inc. and is recognized as a leading expert in the field of childhood sexual abuse prevention education. She is certified as a Child Safety Educator and Child Visitation Monitor, and has been working in the field of child advocacy for over ten years. As a former preschool teacher, Pattie blends her expertise as an educator and, more importantly as a MOM, to teach parents and kids every where the most effective, up-to-date safety strategies WITHOUT using fear tactics. For more information visit Safely Ever After.

The Mother Company aims to support parents and their children, providing thought-provoking web content and products based in social and emotional learning for children ages 3-6. Check out episodes of our “Ruby’s Studio” children’s video series,  along with our beautiful children’s booksappsmusichandmade dolls, and more.


Posted in: Expert Advice, Safety