When traveling with children safety is no accident, especially when you’re overseas. At home, you intuitively sense hazardous situations. Away from home, you must retrain your brain to be on the lookout for hazards in new surroundings and during unfamiliar activities.
1. When checking into a hotel room, crawl around on your hands and knees. (You read correctly.) See the room from a child’s perspective. Are there reachable unprotected electric plugs, lamps that can be pulled down, or coffee tables with sharp edges, for example? Check the bathroom. Can children who bathe and shower by themselves at home operate the plumbing without scalding themselves? Can they lock themselves into the bathroom? Check the balcony. Can infants fit under the railing or between the supports that hold the railing? Do the same checking when staying with friends and family
2. Stop at visitors’ centers in rural parks. Information is available on safe activities, areas to avoid, hazards to look out for, weather forecasts, and emergency telephone numbers. In such parks, children are injured by falls, cooking fires, and getting too close to wild animals. Many children have their own cameras. Don’t let them open car windows and lean out to take pictures when large animals are nearby. Camera-related accidents also occur from going too close to thermal pools or cliffs to get better views.
3. Check the safety features of new activities. Snowmobiling, scuba diving, and parasailing, for example, require training, proper equipment, and age or size limits. Get safety information before you go. Virtually all sport activities have national associations with websites. Many accident-prone activities take place in areas with no medical services.
4. You are the safety inspector at amusement parks. There are almost no mandatory federal safety standards for the rides and state and local government oversight is often murky. Don’t let kids “please, please, please” you into letting them go on rides not intended for them – even though you’re there to please them. Be especially cautious of rides at small, seasonal parks, even more so if the rides are part of a traveling carnival. Observe rides before allowing children on them.
5. Appoint a designated “toddler watcher” at family gatherings. Especially at outdoor ones. Everyone wants to play with infants and toddlers. But when “everyone” watches them, no one is in charge, and toddlers can wander or crawl away. When not overseeing your child yourself, make sure that someone responsible is, and that they personally return the child to you.
6. Be wary of pets. No dog is totally predictable, especially ones not accustomed to children. Two-thirds of dogs that bite have no history of aggressive behavior. Toddlers may innocently incite dogs by suddenly running towards them, arms flailing and making happy noises – behavior dogs may interpret as threatening. Pets are edgy during large gatherings: owners spend less time with them, many unfamiliar people are present, and there is much activity and noise.
7. Teach young children to “Hug a Tree.” If children lose sight of you outdoors, they usually panic, look all around, and then run as fast as they can in whatever direction they happen to be facing, greatly increasing the chances of hurting themselves and complicating locating them. Teach them to stay put and that you will be right back. Avoid using the word “lost” (it seems to scare them.)
8. Have children wear life vests when playing near the water. Most children who drown or near-drown were not supposed to get wet. They wandered away from family picnics, were walking along a canal, or slipped crossing streams, for example. At pools and beaches, check if lifeguards are present (don’t rely on signs) and whether the guards are attentive. Also check the depth of the water before diving. Stated depth may not extend far from signs. Partially filled pools reduce depths.
9. Think safety at waterfront facilities. Are older children roughhousing? Are waves too high? Drowning and falling while climbing on slippery rocks are the leading causes of death and serious injuries in many national parks. Toddlers who have learned how to swim with an adult standing next to them generally panic when they fall into the water and no adult is there.
10. Stop driving when children become distractions. Crying infants and unruly children are as distracting as texting and using cell phones. For drivers this compounds the fatigue of long hours on the road, driving after long flights, and driving on unfamiliar roads. The more children in the car, the greater the likelihood of problems occurring. Take a break if children need your attention.