Safe and Soundprovides the necessary preventive and proactive approach to assist parents in ensuring that their children--beginning in infancy and lasting through adolescence--come back from any travels safe and healthy. This book takes parents by the hand and walks them through the various aspects of travel planning and preparation in a variety of situations. It is designed to make parents feel as if they have a pediatrician assisting them before the trip and traveling with them on the trip to help them over the rough spots. It even provides specific guidance regarding the types of issues and at which points in travel planning the parents should be in touch with their child's pediatrician. More than anything,Safe and Soundhelps parents in preparing for known and unforeseen circumstances--making it much more likely that they will bring their children home happy, healthy, and alive.
Marlene M. Coleman, M.D., is a board-certified pediatrician with an adolescent medicine emphasis and a sub-specialty in travel medicine; an attending physician at California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California; and an Associate Clinical Professor of Family Medicine at the University of Southern California Medical School. As a Captain in the U.S. Naval Reserve Medical Corps, she served in Washington, D.C., at the Naval Annex to the Pentagon during Operation Desert Storm. In addition, Dr. Coleman is a frequent and popular speaker on a variety of health-related topics, in particular healthy travel with children. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Judge William Huss.
We gaze in horror at the photo of a lost child. Our hearts ache for the desperate parents. We wonder how a child can just disappear.... what the parents could have done to prevent it.... what we could do to protect our children. For many parents, the thought of having a child taken from them is too terrifying to contemplate. The most dangerous thing, though, is to put the possibility out of your mind. Mentally prepare yourself to minimize the chance -- even though it is actually an extremely small one -- that one of your children could be abducted.
* Do not get so involved in sightseeing that you forget about personal safety. Be aware of the possibility that a criminal can victimize you or someone in your party.
* In many places, Americans are perceived as fabulously wealthy, and are easy targets for crime.
* Avoid taking your children to places where anti-American sentiment could make you more vulnerable to crime or attack.
* Always keep your children close to you.
* Keep your family together as much as possible. Tell your children what to do if you get separated, and keep reviewing this instruction with them as the situation changes. Above all, make sure they-and you-will remain calm if separated. Being lost is not the same as being abducted.
* Trust your intuition. If someone who gives you a bad feeling approaches your party, everybody should be trained to move on when the designated leader gives the signal. Make sure that everyone in your travel party understands this tactic, or someone is likely to be left behind.
Abductions do happen. They happen in small towns and big cities, during the day and at night. Yet parents of abducted children always say, "we never would have imagined that it could happen to our family."
1. Educate children early-even before pre-school-regarding appropriate behavior toward strangers. Safety skills include not taking anything (such as candy) from a stranger or petting a stranger's puppy. Establish a family code word and teach your children never to go anywhere with someone who doesn't know it.
2. Be aware. Parents, relatives, nannies and babysitters need to be vigilant to be safe. Look around. Be especially alert if you have more than one child, especially twins or triplets.
3. Do not make slightly older siblings responsible for the safety of younger ones; they are only companions to reinforce your instructions.
4. If you hire a babysitter or nanny, check references carefully and be sure your instructions are clear and well understood before you leave home.
5. Public places, including parks, movie theaters, arcades, stairwells, basements, malls and parking structures are common places for abductions. Never leave your child unattended.
6. Teach children how to dial 911 and what to say. Make sure they know important names and addresses.
7. Help your children to feel empowered, not terrified. Show them where they can go if they need help (a neighbor's house, police station, church, etc.). Help them to recognize authorities who can assist them, such as police. Teach them they have the right to say no, to question a stranger's authority, and to scream and scratch to protect themselves from harm.
8. Communicate openly with your children and encourage them to talk with you about their activities, friends, concerns and plans.
9. Do not advertise your child's name on their clothing, bicycles or backpacks. Abductors may gain a child's trust by calling the child by name.
10. Teach your children door and phone rules for home and hotel: they should never open the door to a stranger-no matter what they say-and should never tell an unknown caller that you are not at home.
11. Instruct your children to avoid playing or taking shortcuts through abandoned buildings or fields and make sure they understand the dangers of hitchhiking.
12. Abductors may try to win a child's trust by asking the child to keep a secret or to help find a lost pet. Be sure your child recognizes this danger.
13. Make a meeting plan for public places so your children know what to do if you should get separated at the mall (go to the nearest cashier) or elsewhere (stay in one place and let me find you).
14. Some children first "meet" their abductors online. Examine carefully your child's online activities and friendships. You may need to help your child understand that this is an important part of the care you give them and, until they are 18, is both legally and emotionally more important than their privacy.
15. If you notice a change in your child's behavior, talk about it with them. If your child brings home unexplained money or gifts, question them carefully.
16. When you are traveling in unfamiliar places or busy with your shopping or cell phone, you may be momentarily distracted and lose track of your child.
17. Take notice of people who show an unusual amount of interest in your child.
18. Find out from local law enforcement whether a registered sex offender lives in your community.
19. Keep information about your child current: take photos at least once a year, more often for pre-school age children. Maintain fingerprints, footprints, dental and medical information, birth certificates and descriptions or photos of birthmarks.
You and your children should be aware and prepared, but you need not live in fear. The more positive communication and coping skills you teach your child, the safer and more comfortable you both will be.
Excerpted from Safe and Sound: Healthy Travel with Children by Marlene M. Coleman
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