As the grandmother of two little girls ages 3 and 6, I know what is involved in taking children out of the house.
Every little trip is a major production; running errands, picking up groceries, shopping at Target, or grabbing a burger at McDonalds. Personally, I believe that allowing children to experience this great big world is vitally important to their overall growth. It's worth the risks.
However, leaving the house with babies, toddlers, and kids involves tremendous forethought, ambition, and energy. Forethought is the most important. Anyone who wishes to venture into the real world with little ones and keep everyone safe from harm must keep these safety tips in mind.
Know Your Enemy
Take off your rose-colored glasses. Know the risks involved in taking children out of the cozy safety of their home. Even if you can't see them, know that there are bad people out there who prey upon children, steal children, abuse children, and even kill children. These horrible creatures are among us. (My teenage daughter was snatched right off her bike by a stranger one block from home in a safe suburban neighborhood!)
When I was a girl, everyone thought it was safe to allow children to roam freely about the neighborhood or in a department store. Not any more. In 1981, when John Walsh's son Adam was kidnapped out of a Sears toy department and later killed, stores were no longer safe spots for kids. There was a time when it was safe to send your kids to a public rest room alone or wait at a bus stop without parental supervision. Not any more.
Make sure you are prepared for the task at hand. Here are a few safe trip tips. Don't leave home without a charged cell phone and keep it in a handy place like your right pocket. Use a purse with a strap that crosses over your chest so both hands are free. Think ahead and put your diaper bag, baby carrier, stroller, etc in your vehicle before you bring the children into the car. If you have more than two children to take care of, get someone to help get them situated in your vehicle. Don't even think about leaving home without knowing for sure that you can handle the babies and the baby gear.
Prepare Your Kids
Teach your children about "stranger danger" and what to do if they encounter it: Yell, Run, Fight Back, and Tell Someone. Show them who do go to for help if they get lost or afraid while in a store or restaurant, such as an employee with a name badge, the service desk, or a security guard. If possible, make sure your kids know their names, their parents' names, and their home town. Try to have a cell phone with GPS tracking in your child's backpack or pocket and, of course, teach your children how to use a cell phone and how and when to dial 911. If you can swing it, enroll your children in self-defense classes.
Are you one tough mother? If you're not, it's time to toughen up. Your life and/or your children's lives may depend on it someday. Being a woman or a child in this world is a dangerous occupation. Learn some self-defense skills. Take a self-defense course, study a martial art, or read a book about personal safety. If you can't protect yourself, how will you be able to effectively protect your children? It's never too late to toughen up. I was thirty-eight years old when I earned my black belt in Taekwondo and fifty-seven when I earned my second degree.
In my new book, Outsmarting the Bad Guys: A Personal Safety Guide for Women, I suggest tips on avoiding danger as well as describe smack down techniques to use when needed. There are even chapters on how you can teach your kids self-defense techniques.
Be Here Now (alert, aware, & fully present)
Predators want weak victims. If they want a child, they will look for a weak or distracted mother or care provider. A distracted mother out with children is a perfect storm for trouble. Here are a few things that distract mothers: talking on cell phones, texting, shopping, chatting with companions, reading a book, fumbling with baby gear, etc. Whatever takes your full attention off your children is a dangerous distraction. Children are stolen in the blink of an eye. If you want to take your children out in public, be willing to forego distractions, and focus entirely on what's going on around you.
Hang on for Dear Life!
Never let go of your children when you're out in public. Hold onto them tightly in your arms or by the hand. Never let your children wander off without you. Never walk away from a baby in a stroller or shopping cart. Never assume you are totally safe in a particular location, not even at a playground or a school. I was shopping the other day and rounded a corner and came upon a newborn baby in shopping cart with no parent in site! If I wanted to steal a beautiful baby, there was my golden chance. Instead, I stood by quietly like a royal guard and waited for the baby's mother to return to her child. I gave her an intense glare and I could tell she got my message: DON'T LEAVE YOUR CHILDREN ALONE FOR EVEN ONE SECOND!
I hope I've scared you enough to really think about personal safety and the safety of your children. I also hope you'll care about personal safety as much as you care about safety in your home. Be safe out there!
Susan Martinez is the author of seven books, a black belt and a personal safety expert. Her new book Outsmarting the Bad Guys: A Personal Safety Guide for Women is available at Amazon.com.