If you are a parent that lives in suburbia like me you probably spend a lot of time at public recreational areas for children. The county in which I live has many beautiful parks available and we frequent these fine places during the warmer months. During the colder months we spend a significant amount of time at indoor facilities, be it shopping malls with play areas or other such locations. Indoor or out, most facilities built for the entertainment of children can get quite crowded. These congested spaces pose their own set of problems and maintaining visual of your children is paramount.
The key to protecting your kids when in crowds is to watch them like a hawk. As parents we have all experienced those moments when we get distracted for just an instant, and we look up to say to ourselves, “Where is my kid?” Usually we are fortunate and we eventually see our little one among the sea of other rugrats. We all know that the worst fate would be to look up and never find that little one again. This is very unlikely statistically, but when dealing with all aspects of our family’s safety I will remind you that it is not the odds we are concerned with, but the stakes. The stakes are simply too high. There are predators that specifically target children and many of them know how easy it is to make a child disappear while in plain sight.
Safety in Parks or Play Areas
The first measure I suggest when in a public park of any kind is to take note of who is there and what they are doing. This is the key to situational awareness under many circumstances. Look for anomalies. At a children’s park or play area one would expect that the only adults to be present would be parents or caregivers. If you notice a lone adult that has shown no signs of being attached to a child that might be a clue that something is amiss. Keep that individual in your mind and know where he is in relationship to your own children. When in crowded areas the reality is that we usually can’t rely on just analyzing the anomalies as there is often simply too much information and too many people to analyze. The single greatest importance is to watch your children. Know where they are and what they are going.
Keeping this constant visual can be very taxing and there are some things that you can usually do to help. For example, when in one of the usual crowded and noisy play areas at a mall, very often the perimeter is enclosed except for one entry way. When dealing with such a place I try to sit or stand at the entry way. For my children to leave on their own accord, or to leave with someone else, they will inevitably go through the entryway as a miscreant climbing over the divider into the play area usually raises some attention and is easily noticed.
If at an outdoor park you can also often position yourself in the location that will necessitate passage, for example, most people will probably approach the park from a parking lot. Be aware, however, of portals into or out of the vicinity that may go unnoticed. Many of the parks that I have been to are surrounded by woods with trails that often lead to other locations or neighborhoods. Be sure that your children do not walk off on such a trail unnoticed, and be aware of any characters that emerge from these locations.
When dealing with children in very crowded events like a county fair, a ball game, etc…, it is imperative to watch them, and perhaps physically control them, at all times. It takes literally just an instant for a child to disappear. Keep your children close and maintain as much awareness of your environment as possible. Look for the anomalies and trust your instincts when someone or something looks wrong. This can be hard to do in big crowds. As best you can, be aware of the exits and escape routes around you. If something bad happens the crowd itself may be the biggest danger. Getting caught with your children in the stampede of terrified people who attempt to flee a bad situation can be hazardous. Be ready at all times. Most importantly, if something does not feel right, act on your instincts. If something looks wrong, clear the area before you and your loved ones are stuck in the middle of a dangerous situation.
Events in which you must navigate pressing crowds are difficult to manage with young ones and watching your children becomes increasingly difficult the more crowded the situation. For small children the reality is you may need to hold them by the hand, or if young enough have them in a stroller, the whole time. A county fair is a good example of such an environment. Rapidly moving crowds of people can make it possible to lose your child very quickly.
If you can’t maintain physical contact with younger children in such an environment then one strategy to employ is to have them walk in front of you. I do not believe in leading young children in a crowd. You can turn around and find them gone in an instant. If you are with another adult, be it your partner or someone else, one adult can lead, the children can follow, and the other adult can bring up the rear. This drastically mitigates the possibility of a child getting distracted and wandering off, or of a child getting snatched.
Finally, I will close by pointing out the sad reality that we are seeing more of: vehicles are being used more often for committing mass murder. While many articles have been written on how to deal with this threat, here I wish to simply remind the reader that often where crowds gather there is access to the roads and, of course, vehicles. If in a crowded event with your family that is in an urban environment along the streets or parking lots accessible to vehicles, you need to watch what the cars are doing and you need to be ready to move quickly. If you have young children keep a hand on them so that you can pick them up and move quickly. The safest way to deal with the vehicle threat: position yourself so that you are out of the reach of vehicles. This may be hard to do in some environments, so you must stay vigilant.
Maintaining awareness of your environment becomes increasingly necessary when out with your family, particularly children. Stay alert and be armed at all times possible.