Ever had that rising panic when you turn around in a busy park and your adventurous toddler, who was playing on the slide, is suddenly nowhere to be seen? Or, found that a day out in a museum has turned you into a meerkat, constantly popping up and looking round to check that your children are still where they should be? We’ve all been there....
The good news is that there are simple things you can do to keep better tabs on an errant pre-schooler, or to make shepherding a less stressful experience...
Theme parks, museums and family attractions
Let's face it. Theme parks, funfairs, adventure playgrounds - great for entertainment but also great for crowds, opportunities to wander off and bright things to explore.
With older kids, agree on easy-to-find meeting points - either an official one or something simple, like a cafe or the loos. Many museums offer activity packs, which may help keep your kids focused on a particular task.
With toddlers and pre-schoolers, try to insist on hand holding, although we all know those independent toddlers who will try to resist. If you're really having no success, let your little one sit on your shoulders for a while or use a wrist rein.
Technology can help to set your mind at rest. There are now a number of GPS trackers for children, such as these Mooches wrist watches (above), which will help you locate any children gone astray.
Alternatively, a lower-cost version are write-on wrist bands, on which you pop your mobile number in case they get separated from you. Most importantly, it's never too early to teach them that if they get lost, they should go to another mum for help, or someone in a uniform.
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Looking after many children in parks or playcentres
One great hack - dress your children in bright or stripey tops as a quick and easy way to spot them in a play park or playcentre.
In large parks and playcentres with different zones, set rules about how far your children can go – such as the next tree or within the ball pit only. Make sure you know where the exits are and establish whether safety gates are in place which can only be released by staff. Keep regular headcounts by calling them back in for snacks and drinks.
At the petting farm or zoo
Remember the press coverage when a number of children were hospitalised with E Coli after a visit to a local petting farm? Without a doubt, there are germs and bacteria on farms, and so good hygiene is crucial, but follow the rules and you can have a perfectly safe day out.
First rule is 'wash your hands' frequently. The E Coli bacterium is transmitted through contact with animal faeces, traces of which may be on the sheep's wool or on the gates and straw. Thorough handwashing is essential to prevent the bug entering the human digestive system.
It’s also essential that you teach your kids not to put their hands in their mouths (watch out for thumb suckers) until they have scrubbed their hands. There will be places to wash your hands dotted around the farm, with anti-bacterial handwash. Make sure you visit these regularly, and each time before you eat.
Pregnant women need to be similarly scrupulous about handwashing and are advised to avoid pregnant sheep and baby lambs during the lambing season owing to the prevalence of toxoplasmosis.
Playing by water
Small children should never be left unattended by water – they can drown in mere centimetres. So watch out for paddling pools, ponds, lakes as well as the more obvious beaches.
If you're with other adults, agree who is watching who and ensure your child does not wander outside alone towards a pool or pond. Look for holiday venues where pools are gated. When playing on boats, encourage a life jacket at all times, whilst on the beach choose lifeguarded areas and ensure that you keep between the flags.
Keeping safe in the cold and sunshine
Checking weather forecasts is the smart way to ensure you have the right clothing and protection for your child in different temperatures. In cold weather, dress your child in multiple layers so you can peel them off if it gets too hot. In changeable weather, you'll need to consider whether you should be carrying a light waterproof, a small tube of suncream and a hat with you to cover all eventualities of the British weather!
Looking after other people's friends
Typically, you will be more alert when you have friends’ children with you. Whilst rules with your own kids might be unstated, spend time up front telling the group where they can go, where you will be located and who to ask for help.
Don’t be afraid to be more strict than you usually would be. Familiarise yourselves with each child's clothing and keep a running headcount. Make sure activities are simple and don’t be over ambitious about where to go with a large group. But prepare yourself - it will probably be exhausting!
When you're out with several families
So – who’s in charge then? Make sure you nominate which parent is looking after which child. It’s easy to get distracted chatting to your friends whilst thinking your partner has his eye on the kids. Before you get engrossed, agree verbally up front who is looking after who and don’t assume.
Plus when you have a large group of youngsters playing together, one child can easily slip away unnoticed, so keep doing a tally of the group.
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