Whether embarking on a road trip, boarding a plane, train, or bus, parents expect additional stresses during holiday season travel. However, crowds, unfamiliar people, and places also pose unexpected risks to kids.
To help keep your family stress-free and safe, we’ve compiled some tips from Consumer Reports and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children—both of which suggest implementing additional safety guidelines within your family to avoid holiday pitfalls.
Staying Safe During Road Trips
In the United States, motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of death among children—which is why it’s important to always make sure your child rides in an appropriate car seat, booster seat, or, once they are old enough, are properly restrained in a seat belt. If you’re traveling with a child that is bordering booster seat age, Consumer Reports suggests checking child safety seat laws for any state you may be crossing through.
Click on the image to enlarge. Source: cdc.gov
If your road trip is taking you through some very cold weather, keep in mind that children in car seats should wear thin layers, then a blanket over the top of harness straps for additional warmth. Dressing your child in a thick coat or snowsuit can reduce the effectiveness of car seat safety straps.
Considering renting a car seat from a car rental agency? While Consumer Reports warns that it’s worth the extra hassle of taking your own, as using a car seat you’re comfortable with reduces the chance of error, sometimes packing one extra item on a flight isn’t possible.
To help you navigate car seat rental options, the American Academy of Pediatrics developed an app that allows parents to quickly learn if a model of car seat is right for their child, based on their age, height, and weight. The app is available for both Apple and Android devices and includes installation instruction videos, audio clips, and articles help you select, install, and check any car seat safely.
If your children will be riding along in a friend or relative’s car, be sure that they’re aware of the most up-to-date guidelines regarding car seats and child safety.
Taking a Multi-Day Road Trip?
Be sure to prepare an emergency kit to keep in your car in case you become stranded—especially important for long road trips during cold winter weather. A kit should include:
- Food and water
- Booster cables, flares, tire pump, and a bag of sand or cat litter (for traction)
- Compass and maps
- Flashlight, battery-powered radio, and extra batteries
- First-aid kit
If you’ll be staying overnight in a hotel or motel on the road, be sure to read reviews on a website such as Travelocity to ensure the establishment is reputable.
Most importantly, when you arrive, take note of the proximity of the nearest emergency exit to your room. Be sure to count the number of doors and review with your kids how you would exit in the event of a fire.
Staying Safe During Flights
If you’re planning to fly with children to your destination, you’re probably already planning for a whole host of concerns—from getting through security to keeping your little one entertained (and fed) on the flight.
On top of expected travel stresses, any number of unpredictable events—from temper tantrums to traffic jams—can throw a monkey wrench in your attempts to make sure everyone in your family stays safe and together.
In that vein, there are things you can do before you leave for your airplane trip to make things a little easier. A lot to think about for sure, but with a little advanced planning, flying with children can actually be a breeze.
Play Musical Chairs Ahead of Time
Try securing as many seats together in the same row or rows as you can. Aisle seats are great because if your child needs to use the restroom, you won't disturb another passenger. Alternatively, window seats are a fun and easy way to keep your kids entertained, as there’s potentially lots for them to see. Just remember that no matter which seats you choose, children cannot sit in an exit row.
Know ahead of time if your airline pre-assigns seats or, if you’re flying an airline like Southwest, you’ll have to pick your seats on the plane.
If the latter, be sure that you arrive at the gate as soon as possible to reduce the risk that one member of your traveling party might be separated. Some airlines even allow priority boarding for families with small children, making the boarding process a little less stressful.
Have a Safety Plan in Place
Airports are big, overwhelming places, filled with plenty of opportunities for your little ones to get lost or separated from you. If possible, the simplest way to keep track of a single child is to consider using a stroller. At security, you'll need to fold it up to put it through the scanner, but otherwise you can bring it all the way to the gate. And don’t worry, airline staff will check it for you and bring it out so you can use it immediately at your destination.
If you’re traveling with children that are too big for a stroller—or there are too many—be prepared to keep a closer eye on them than usual.
Most importantly, have a safety plan just in case you become separated. This includes:
- Deciding on a pre-designated spot to meet
- Teaching them to look for someone in a uniform, a salesperson, or another mom who has kids in a stroller
- Reminding them that, should they lose track of you, they should stay close to the place where you became separated
- Making sure that each of your children are traveling with proper identification, including your own contact information and that of another parent or guardian—here are some printable emergency contact forms
An extra word of caution for single parents: If your plane is delayed and you wind up stranded in an airport overnight, you may find that you won’t be allowed to “camp” near the gate while you wait for your next flight.
This means that you could be asked to return to the main terminal and wait overnight with people who may or may not be ticketed passengers. If this should happen to you, stay in a well-lit area where many other stranded passengers have gathered. If you do not feel safe, explain your situation to someone at the ticket counter and ask for a hotel voucher.
Don’t Forget Their Delicate Ears
During takeoff and landings, the air pressure changes in the cabin and can cause your ears to pop—this can be extra-painful and even frightening for kids. The solution? Sucking a lollipop or chewing gum can relieve some of the pressure on their ears.
If you didn’t bring any lollipops or gum, ask your flight attendant for two cups. Have your child hold one against each ear—like you would if playing telephone, with the lips pressed tight against their skin. If your child is old enough to bear a little heat, it helps to add to paper towels that have been dampened with hot water. The cups create a small vacuum that relieves internal ear pressure, a process that’s aided by steam from the warm paper towels.
Staying With Family or Friends? Check Household Child Safety
Once you’ve arrived safely, it’s equally important to ensure that whoever is hosting your family has properly child-proofed their home. After all, while many people have kids in their homes from time to time, holiday gatherings tend to present many more distractions for adults—giving little ones unprecedented opportunities to get into trouble.
Know Where Cleaning Products and Chemicals Are Stored
Your home might be equipped with child-safety latches on lower cabinets, but chances are that your host might have bleach or other harmful chemicals easily accessible under the sink. Remember that common items such as nail polish remover are often in brightly-colored, enticing shades, which could attract youngsters.
When you arrive, ask your host if you can check bathrooms, the kitchen, and even bedrooms (unless locked) to make sure that all potentially dangerous items are safely stored and out of reach.
Close Appliance Doors and Lids
Hide and seek remains an all-time favorite activity for kids at family get-togethers, and appliances such as front-load washing machines can provide tempting hiding spots. Simply make sure that all appliances have doors closed and are inaccessible to kids. If there is a refrigerator or freezer outside the kitchen area, make that location off limits to kids and preferably securely locked.
Safeguard Swimming Pools and Hot Tubs
Tragedies involving hot tubs and swimming pools are often the result of kids not living in the house being tempted by the water and slipping outdoors unnoticed. Ask your host to keep hot tubs covered and make sure that access to the backyard is restricted (or wherever the pool, hot tub, or even a decorative pond, is located).
Finally, Tell Your Children What to Expect
However you’re planning to travel, it’s always a good idea to review what’s going to happen ahead of time. Talk to your kids about the process of what should happen each day.
If you’re going on a road trip, be sure to review topics such as “stranger danger,” not to get out of the car at gas stations, and who to call if they should get separated at a food stop.
If traveling by plane, it’s a good idea to talk about what to expect even if they’ve flown before. Particularly about things like airport security, which might be a little scary. Talk about the different lines you'll need to wait on—at check-in and security—and what you will be doing at each spot. Explain the security process, that they'll need to take off their shoes and walk through a metal detector, but nothing will hurt, and you will be with them every step of the way.
Also, talk about how once you are through security you'll head down to the gate, where they can sit, get a snack, go to the bathroom and if they are lucky, look out the windows and watch the airplanes take off and land.
If you’d like to test your family’s holiday safety awareness, take this Holiday Safety Screening Quiz with your kids to learn if they understand the right decisions to make during any situations that might arise while traveling this holiday season. Or, check out this extensive list of holiday health and safety tips by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to prepare for additional risks that arise during the holiday season.
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